Posts Tagged ‘play’


Spring cleaning is traditionally done in the spring, for reasons unknown, but my family always tends to have a post-Christmas bout of cleaning as well.  We try to declutter a bit, maybe just to compensate for all the new clutter from the holidays.  I find myself doing this with gaming as well, going through my game library and either finishing games or uninstalling them and calling them “done”, mostly so I can get on with playing other games in the bits of time I get here and there to play.

…and there’s the crux of the matter; I almost never have blocks of time to play.  I get an hour here, fifteen minutes there… and that’s about it.  That’s part of why MMO subscriptions are a pathetic value for me; I simply don’t get 20+ hours a week to sink into any gaming, much less devote myself to a single game.  There are way too many good games out there to tie myself down like that.  (As my Steam library, GoG collection and Humble Bundle folders will attest.)  So, I have a large library of games, and way to little time to play them.

As a result, my gaming is more like grazing than gorging.  I nibble a little on something like Uncharted, then I go munch on Tactics Ogre, then savor a little bit of Guild Wars 2.  (By which I mean, I create my characters before the game inevitably crashes, then maybe move around the starting areas a little bit.)  The next week, I ruminate a little on Journey, then chew a little on LEGO Batman with the kids.  Once upon a time, I’d ride an exercise bike and play FFXII for a nice 45 minutes or so, but circumstances have made that indulgence obsolete.  (And I find that FFXII just doesn’t work well as a game I only play for 15 minutes in a sitting.)

So it’s no surprise that I play more Plants vs. Zombies, Symphony, Triple Town and Puzzle Pirates these days.  It’s all I can sneak into the schedule.  I still haven’t finished FFXII, and I have FFXIII, FFXIII-2, FFVII: Crisis Core, Blue Dragon, Infinite Undiscovery, Lost Odyssey, Batman Arkham City, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean, LEGO Batman 2, LEGO Harry Potter and a host of other, smaller games that I really want to dig into… but just can’t right now.  They aren’t really grazing-friendly.  Heaven help me if I get the itch to play an MMO.  I still have WoW, STORIFT and GW2 installed, and I grudgingly uninstalled LOTRO.  I want to play all of them.  I probably never will.

…there’s something sad about that.

Still, I’m not complaining.  I have a lot of gaming options, and that’s a good spot to be in.  Since I work in the industry, it behooves me to play a variety of games, and be aware of what’s out there, rather than simply be a game fan and devote my gaming time to a single or few fandoms.  And then there’s the fact that my kids and I still love Minecraft (if I only had one game for the rest of my life, that one would do), and my oldest wants to learn the Pokemon card game… yeah, my plate is full to overflowing, but it’s all I can do to nibble at the edges.

Is it any wonder why I like the Tauren, perhaps?  Moooooo

Tishtoshtesh, Tauren Druid


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Rowan has a great article up that digs a bit into the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for play.  Penny Arcade fortuitously has a similar article from a game developer (for the game Don’t Starve, a curious game that I’m looking forward to playing).

I come down firmly on the intrinsic side.  I love Minecraft because it lets me just go do stuff (especially in Creative mode where I can fly and have access to everything).  I love Burnout Paradise because I can just go drive around and see what the city holds.  I love SSX 3 because you can start at the top of the mountain and just snowboard down to the base, purely exploring the terrain.  I love flying in World of Warcraft.  I love just moving around in game spaces.

I want to do things that I do because I enjoy doing them, not because there’s a reward for doing them.  Living and doing things you love are rewards in themselves.

Carpe Diem, as it were.  Live, don’t just survive.  Play.

It’s good for you.

…though I can admit this is fun.  Metagaming the achievements, whee!

 Achievement Unlocked

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It’s a simple thing, really.  Just a matter of philosophy.

I play video games with my four year old daughter.  Maybe that makes me a terrible father, but it’s a way to show her what I do for a living and how I have fun.  And, well… she loves Minecraft.  She calls it her “daddy-daughter game”, something that just the two of us play with sometimes.  I believe kids need that, and to be honest, I think parents need it too.

Before Minecraft, though, her favorite was World of Warcraft.  She really just loved my Druid in Travel form and making it jump when I was running around.  Kids love that sense of control; she could make Daddy’s character change into a cheetah and then make it jump.  She also loved to go play in water and change into the Aquatic form, but really, the cheetah is what she loved most.

These days, she still loves to make the character jump, even though the Minecraft avatar is typically first person, not third.  And yet, Minecraft gives her another layer of control over the gaming experience.  She can go anywhere and do almost anything she wants to in the game world.  If there’s a hole in the ground, we can go explore it.  If she gets the itch to find some clay to make some bricks which then can be made into red brick building blocks, she tells me to drive to the beach (she’s still learning how to use the WASD steering and is usually content just telling me where to go).  She can swim upstream and upwaterfall.  She can punch sheep and take their wool.  She can plant flowers or dig up snowballs.  She’s excited by finding coal to harvest, even though sometimes she still asks why we need it.  She can place torches in the dark spaces that she might find scary, or just tell me to wall off the really spooky caves.

I’ve recently started a Dwarven Hunter to share some more time with her, because she loves the pets in WoW.  (A Druid/Hunter hybrid would be perfect for her; shapeshifting and the Pokemon itch, all rolled into one.)

So when I took her for a spin through the newly revamped Stormwind on the way to Bloodmyst Isle to tame yet another blue moth (she loves blue, and those BI moths are just so… blue), she naturally spent a fair bit of time looking around for things to do.  She asked if we could explore a well we rode past.  I had to tell her “no, sweetheart, we can’t do that”.  As children are wont to do, she asked “why not?”, to which I had to fall back on the old copout answer of “the designers don’t let us do that, dear”.  Naturally, she asked “why?” to that, too, and I had to stifle an insult to the designers and just answer with the unsatisfying “that’s just how they do it, I’m sorry”.  She then asked if we could go catch fish in the canals, and when she made my Dwarf jump into the canal, she saw the crabs and naturally wanted to go grab them.  Since we didn’t have the fishing skill or a quest to gather crabs, again, we couldn’t do much more than swim around and wish.

She lost interest in the town until she happened to notice an apple tree.

Ah, to see things come full circle.  She got excited and wanted to pick the apples.  She is truly her father’s daughter, a quirk which is quite heartwarming.  When I told her she couldn’t pick the apples, she got quiet for a while.  She then announced that she wanted to play Minecraft.

Ah, they grow up so fast.

I hugged her, and we went to go work on our spider trap.  We need some more chicken feathers, too, for the arrows she loves to shoot at the spiders.  She’s getting the knack of fishing, too, even though she still wishes she could go underwater and look for fish rather than just fish for them.

So, if WoW is going to be lambasted for being on rails, for me and mine, it has nothing to do with overwrought quests, pacing issues or the race to the endgame (though those can certainly be a concern, they are irrelevant to our playstyle).  It has to do with the complete inability to go out and change the world or explore wherever you feel like.  You can’t dig out a cave and call it home, you can’t just go wherever your whimsy takes you (because the wildlife will eat you).  You can’t really partake of the world of WoW and make your own mark in it, you just play on a stage.  It’s a marvelous, intricate stage, with plenty of things to do, but it’s just not the same as going and remolding the world with your own hands, digging into something just because it looked interesting.

Minecraft scratches the Explorer and Scientist itches in ways that WoW is flatly unequipped  to.  They are both fun in their own ways, but for my daughter, all the glitz and dings of WoW, even her beloved blue moths, can’t compare to the simple joy in making the world of Minecraft her own.  The best part is that she doesn’t get that from me directly, it’s just how she’s wired and how the games appeal to her.  Like daughter, like father, and I couldn’t be happier.

Tomorrow, we’re going to try to make some sound effects.  I showed her the DVD extras for WALL-E, and the bit on sound design really intrigued her.  There’s just something wonderful about seeing a little one learn and experiment.  “Why” and “How” might bug some parents, but they have served us well in our home.  We probably won’t be putting lava in buckets any time soon, though.

Ed: I’m actually still having fun with the new Shattered content in WoW, it just doesn’t scratch the same itch that Minecraft does, and it’s not working for my little one.  Gaming time together is all Minecraft these days.

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Financial Times, of all places, has a great article up on “German” board games:

Why We Still Love Board Games

Here’s the money quote for me, from Klaus Teuber, quiet genius behind The Settlers of Catan:

It is a part of mankind to play games. We played in the Stone Age. We played in Roman times. It’s an escape from the everyday grind. Every day we work hard and we make mistakes and we are punished for those mistakes. Games take us to another role where you can make mistakes and you don’t get punished for them. You can always start another game.

Games are experiments, ways to tinker and noodle around with thoughts and actions, all in a place where risk is minimized.  That’s part of why I keep working on game designs; I think they serve a purpose that other entertainment and education forms don’t.  Play, after all, is healthy.

And you can always start another game.

It really is OK to put down that MMO treadmill and try something new (though Altitis can be a good middle ground, leading to new experiences as BBB notes).  Sometimes, I really do think we lose some of the joy and promise of games by insisting on perpetual progress and persistence, constantly comparing ourselves to others and their achievements in an effort to validate our time spent, rather than just… playing.

Bonus reading:

Greg Kasavin’s classic review of Chess

Above 49’s Of Mice and Dice, more on “German-style” board games.

The Escapist:  Digital Cardboard and Electric Dice, and a good quote…

In my games, I’m always looking for a very simple set of mechanics or rules that lead to these complex situations,” says Creative Director Jay Kyburz. “I enjoy games where everybody understands how the game works, and has a simple set of decisions to make, but find themselves with lots of interesting problems to solve because of how the players are interacting within that simple rule system.

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My inspiration for this relatively quick post(considering the expansive topics, anyway) comes from two somewhat disparate sources.

First is the talk given by Dieter F. Uchtdorf recently about how work and learning sustained him during his rough childhood in post-WW2 Europe.

Two Principles for Any Economy

As refugees from East Germany, he and his family had almost nothing, and had to work hard to stay alive.  Things eventually got better for them because they kept working.  I’ve long believed that work is essential to mental, physical and spiritual health.  The natural question that I come back to whenever this comes up is simply:

What would you do if you didn’t have to work for a living, and had all your material needs and wants satisfied?

I’d still design games, produce art, and find ways to teach people art, science and math.  (Those aren’t incongruous; I believe that art and games have vast teaching potential.)  When I wanted to work up a good sweat, I’d find someone who needs help moving, or go build something in a woodshop.  I’d go pick up that Ph. D. in Astrophysics that I’ve wanted for years.  I would spend more time with my family, working and playing (play is a child’s work in a lot of ways), learning and teaching.  I love being productive and creating things and/or fixing things.  I couldn’t sit still for long.  Is it any wonder why I’m allergic to the Big Brother welfare state?

The second source is Wolfshead’s article over here:

Why Scaling Challenge Should be the Future of MMO Content

It’s an excellent article that is quite obviously about play, but it prompted a similar question for me:

What would you do in an MMO (or any other game) if you didn’t have to work for gear or levels, and all your in-game wants and needs were satisfied?

I’ve already answered that a bit in my Game Tourism article, but to recap, I’d play the game.  In other words, if the “game” is nothing but the loot treadmill and chasing levels, well… there’s not much there for me.  I’d play with that for a while, and probably have fun, but it’s ultimately a shallow set of experiences to build a game on in my mind.  There is a LOT more that can be done in game design.

Now obviously, these are somewhat different questions, but to me, they both dig to the same core questions:

What is important to you?  What motivates your actions?  If you were freed from mundane concerns, what would you spend your time on?  Are you a consumer, a constructor, or a contributor?

What is the measure of your character?

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