On friday I attended a double lecture here at Katrinebjerg which had to do with computer games. The speakers were Jesper Juul, a respected Danish game researcher, and Gonzalo Frasca, who apparently is Uruguayan - but I think he majored in the States.
I am very interested in game design and I've also been involved in some courses at Uni on the subject. Though mostly game design with an educational twist. I'm not an avid gamer, although I try to keep informed. I once was, but lately my interest has dwindled a bit. Mostly because of the staggering stagnation (!) in original game material that has been evident during the past few years.
The lecture was fairly good. Jesper Juul was a bit messy in his presentation, but then again 45 minutes is not a hell of a lot when you've got several years worth of academic research to rap about. He had some good ideas about categorizing and defining computer games. I must admit, though, that this activity is getting tired, in my opinion. I don't really understand some game researchers' almost manical preoccupation towards defining computer games in philosophical/descriptive categories. As Juul himself said, you'll most likely spend a couple of years creating a great conceptual framework, only to see it all battered either by emerging technologies and/or freak surges of genuinely creative gameplay concepts. So essentially, you have to choose between defending your own definition (losing battle) or constantly redefining it (losing battle). I'd much rather do actual practical experiments and point out interesting observations to be remembered. At least you get to produce something entertaining that way.
This is actually what Frasca seemed to have in mind. I once read some of his articles - and I liked them because they never strayed too far from the practical design situation or the practice of the gamers. Now it seems, he has turned towards political games that make a stance and try to change something through their gameplay. As he pointed out, political games are definitly not new. They are however having a marked rennaissance, especially considering examples like America's Army. You can actually enroll right from the game! Bastards!
Frasca has made a good example himself through the game September 12th. As he mentioned, the spawning of terrorists due to a simpe formula, "Killing terrorists will only make terrorists of the mourning relatives", was actually directly implementable as a gameplay algorithm. Interestingly, he also said that when reading newspapers, he tried to visualize how to model different article headlines as actual games. Nice thought. Maybe I'll adopt it.
Oh, check out Frascas two blogs...the academic one and the one on ideological games.
As far as my own gaming goes, I'm waiting patiently for Tribes:Vengeance to reach Danish stores. I need to get a new graphics card for that plan to work - so I'm thinking of doing the long jump and claiming an ATI x800 as my weapon of choice. It's a jungle these days, though...