Posted by: Tj'ièn | January 10, 2010

Scale of authorship

As a designer of games I always strive to have a deeper understanding of what it is that I’m designing. What are games? What is play? What is fun?

My latest attempt at answering these questions started at the Tale of tales website. The discussion was actually on a different subject but for me it turned into a discussion about games and toys. I believed that one of their projects was more of a toy then a game. But then I started thinking; what is the difference exactly?

I believe that the main difference is in the kind of play that the experience allows. As I found out, players can have different levels of authorship over the actual play experience. With toys for instance, players have full – or at least a lot – of authorship over the experience. Players decide how play is experienced, what is being played and how it is played.

With games, this is different. The game decides what is played and how it should be played. It is up to the player to join the game and play it, or not play at all. With games, players are more like actors. Players need to stay within the by games defined space of possibilities and try to get the game to one or more of its end states.

Scale of authorship diagram

These thoughts of play with different kinds of authorship let to the scale of authorship which you see above.

Puzzles allow the least amount of authorship to the player as there’s usually one way of finishing them. They do, however, allow for some authorship, like in the order of completing them, for instance. That’s why I left some room at that side of the scale.

Games allow a bit more authorship as they allow for strategies and different tactics to reach their end state. Although the difference between puzzles and games isn’t as big as the scale suggests as authorship is limited in both instances.

On the scale of authorship, puzzle games fit nicely between puzzles and games, as they allow more authorship then a crossword puzzle for example, but not as much as say, Halo.

Toys do not have any means to control the player, like games do, and therefore are on the other side of the scale. Toys allow for maximum authorship from the player over the experience.

What’s maybe more interesting is the space between games and toys. Experiences that offer a bit of authorship while guiding the experience as well. ‘Games’ -for a lack of a better word for experiences in between games and toys- like Black and White guide the experience to the end state, but at the same time offer authorship in how to raise your creature, or when and how to pursuit the end state.

Sim City, often described by its creator as a toy, allows maybe even more authorship. As a mayor of your Sim City do you want to create a wealthy city that prospers or do you strive for your city to have the tallest buildings? In letting the player decide what the end state of the ‘game’ is going to be it offers more authorship then regular games and therefore becomes more toy-like.

Little Big Planet may offer even more authorship as it lets its players create their own levels and games for others to play. Mod tools and Second Life come close to offering a real digital toy experience.

It seems to be a trend that more and more traditional and non-traditional games are influenced by toys, letting the player have more influence over the play experience by allowing authorship over different parts of the game. Games 3.0 as Phil Harrison calls them, allow more authorship over the experience as traditional games have allowed.

So toys allow the player to be an author in the play experience, could that be the reason why so many players of toys end up making games out of playing? Maybe that’s the reason why I like toys so much?

The more players are allowed to author the play experience the more they are responsible for their own pleasure. The fun to be had with toys mainly comes from the way the player chooses to interact with it. And the opposite is true as well. The less the player is allowed to author the play experience the more responsible the game or puzzle is responsible for the fun the player can have.

The latest trend seems to suggest that players of games and users of the web want more and more ownership over the experience. Websites like Hyves, Facebook, Flickr, MySpace and YouTube seem to offer more and more authorship to its users, and with great success. It is clear that games like Spore and Little Big Planet want to have the same results.

I’m sure there will be more games that will offer more and more authorship. But can designers go too far in offering authorship? Are digital toys the future, or do we as players like the guidance and limits of games? In the end it may be another aspect of taste, but at least the scale of authorships helps us ask more questions. How much authorship do we want to offer the player? And how much authorship do we demand as player?


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