Monday, April 23, 2007


According to a recent article on Next Gen, the BBFC have published a report that identifies 11 key things about games and gamers. Many of the points are rather obvious and well-repeated, but a few are interesting:

6. People view game playing as a risk-free means of escapism and feel in control of game experiences as opposed to real life.

7. Game playing is active and brings about feelings of achievement as opposed to passive forms of entertainment such as TV and film. Gamers are driven by achievement but are unlikely to become emotionally involved. They care more about progress than elements such as storytelling.

Imagine if similar research was done with regard to readers. Most of the reading done on a day to day basis is probably newspapers, websites, emails and other functional reading. After that, perhaps glossy magazines and tabloid celebrity journalism. Then perhaps cookbooks, gardening manuals and educational textbooks. Based on this, as a global picture, you could be forgiven for thinking that

People view reading as an information gathering exercise that informs them of their world.


Reading is active and brings about feelings of knowledge imparting. Readers are driven by the need to acquire knowledge, and care more about that than storytelling.

A mad conclusion?

Perhaps not, going on the majority use.

Of course it's mad. The reason it's mad is that we can distinguish between different kinds of reading activity. Any study would begin from the point of view that reading poetry, fiction and the sports page are different things. A poem is not a play is not a web page is not a novel is not a technical manual. We understand it because it's convention.

There exists no such convention for games. Where we see different forms of reading, surprisingly few see different forms of playing. They see "games" and they see "gamers". Beyond that they see "hardcore gamer" or "casual gamer" maybe, but that's about it. In terms of game genres they see functional categories (puzzle, shooter, etc) and also aesthetic categories (survival horror, freestyle crime, roleplaying game) all sort of jumbled together as "genres".

What they don't see is forms.

It is my suggestion that there are in fact several forms of what we call game, and what we call gamer, and that by assuming that Minesweeper and Resident Evil are the same means that we will assume a series of majority-based ideas about what all games are.

There is a difference between those who interact to "game" and those who interact to "play", and the difference between gamers and players is one of perspective, much like the difference between factual and fictional readers.

Gamers play because they see a game as a system. Their perception of interactive games is very literal, about understanding the semiotic language of a game and figuring out how it ticks, how far it goes, or a combination of the above. Gamers are not automatons, and they much enjoy the visual or auditory elements in games, but they enjoy them because of their signifier value rather than their cultural content.

Players, on the other hand, see beyond the edges of the game into fantasy. Players see an imagined world in their heads when running down a corridor, flying a spaceship or typing "Go North". A player sees a conversation between himself and the game. They're the ones who think they can see things waving at them in the distance in Another World, and the ones for who adventures and some sense of creative direction tend to matter.

Of course, we are all gamers and players in part. Most of us are habitually more one than the other and most games cannot please both types equally. That's like hoping that the latest cookbook will entertain us both in terms of what it can teach us about boiling a Christmas ham and its lyrical evocation of Greek poetry. Gamers are like factual lovers, whereas players are fictional lovers.

The problem that both types have is that they are messing up each other’s turf. At the moment we have an ongoing debate and/or struggle between gamers and players over what the direction of the videogame should be. There are those who think it should be about the innovation and those that think it should be about the creation, and ne’er the two do meet but to fight. At the moment the gamers are in the ascendancy, but the players are due for a comeback.

There is no such thing as an all encompassing label that can define everything for both players and gamers. That is an anachronistic idea that belongs in the 80s. "Videogame" in that sense is old news. There are "videogames" and there are "videoplays" and they are different.

Some of you are going to think this is nonsense. You're going to say games are games are games. It’s only appeared that way up to now, as the medium is still young and has been finding its feet. Games are games, but they're not plays.

Poetry and cookbooks are both texts written in a common language, but there the similarities end. They are two forms of the same thing: reading. Videogames and videoplays are two forms of the same thing: interaction for entertainment.

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