The guys behind my favourite web show, Extra Credits, have recently done a two part episode on the issue of game addiction, the second part of which is a wildly different format to their usual set up due to the fact that it’s a subject that’s close to home for show writer James Portnow, and consisted of a very heartfelt retelling of his own personal experiences with game addiction/compulsion.

They make the point that games aren’t addictive in the medical sense as they don’t create a chemical dependency, but that they can be remarkably compelling and grown adults can turn away from real life to sink themselves into a virtual one.

They also make the very valid point that if you have fallen into this sort of lifestyle, you are not alone.

I know there are a couple of people who read this blog who politely (and often quite rightly) complain whenever I write something a little bit more personal than usual, so for you guys, this post might be one to skip.

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Any careful development or thoughtful planning on the part of anyone making games can be undone in one fell swoop from every game’s worst possible enemy.  Their nemesis.  Their one stumbling block on the way to greatness.

The player.

Any player has a unique ability to completely and utterly destroy any game.  There are several ways they can do this with some of the most popular methods being to play another game along the lines of making sure everyone else isn’t having fun, but the one that can scupper just about anything, online or offline, is where the player is given free reign to exercise their creativity.

Playing Space Marine at the preview event I went along to the other day (and look, here is my write up over at Bit-Tech), I started thinking about how the developers must dread players when we started playing the multiplayer part of the game.  Space Marine comes with the option to customize your power armoured super soldier down to the colours of individual parts of armour.  The intention here is that you can create unique designs or anything you might have painted if you happen to have been a fan of the miniatures.  The reality in most cases is however wildly different.

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It’s inevitable that in this modern era, a lot of media that gets green lit and produced is going to be based on a franchise.  This is for the simple reason that the sheer amount of time effort and money that goes into these projects is enough to make you sink into a little inadequacy filled puddle of awe and they have to stand a decent chance of making a profit or at the very least not cause a loss.  If your project is based on a pre existing franchise with a pre existing fan base, then some of your work is done for you.  You don’t have to market the thing quite so aggressively, you’ve got people providing the hype for you, and you’ve got a large group of people who will pay you for your work regardless of the eventual quality.

It can be heartbreaking to see something handled badly.  There is a lot of resentment towards fan-loved properties that are somehow distorted beyond recognition by a translation to a different medium.  Sometimes it even comes from the original creators and you suddenly realise that you attached more significance and meaning to something that was somewhat a fluke.  Although it happens a lot with sequels and reboots, it’s even more common when something goes from one form to another, for example a line of toys to a line of blockbuster action films that seem to be focused on borderline racist one liners and extended screen time for American military types.

Every now and then though, somebody gets it right.  Somebody manages to take something that is complicated, dense, rich and sometimes awkward, and usher it into a new form.  The world of franchise translators and rebooters and sequelisers should take notes from Relic Entertainment for their work on the upcoming video game Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine.

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After playing through Stanley Parable which I mentioned yesterday and having a bit more of a think about Swordquest, I started to reflect on what a game can be.

The more I learn about computer games (and indeed board games) as a medium, the harder it is to accurately define what a game actually is.  Even the notion that a game requires a specific win condition is starting to get increasingly hazy.

Many games now no longer resemble anything remotely game like and are often more accurately described as digital interactive experiences that in many respects are introspective explorations of the self rather than anything else.  In a similar way that comics in larger and longer formats tend to be called graphic novels, I can see that video games in some cases are going to lose the game part of their description in the future.

I foresee that playing a game pretty soon will often feel less and less like an actual game.  We already see this in the sense that high scores haven’t been a core aspect of games for a very long time.  Many games of course still have them, but many more don’t and even when they are present, they are rarely a driving force for playing, mainly being included because it just feels like they should be there.  Outside of online multiplayer, games are now story driven as opposed to skill driven.

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Making a habit of coming in late to any party, last week I was clued into The Stanley Parable, a fan made mod for Half Life 2.

Playing this has the potential to redefine what you think of as a game, and its very existence as an entry to the medium makes actual definition of what a game is increasingly difficult.  It’s an exploration into the nature of free will, of fate, of futility, and of the way we are conditioned to respond in certain situations.  At least, that’s what I got out of it.  It’s also grimly rather funny.

There were also moments where I identified that the narrator was starting to sound a lot like I do after GMing for Dungeons and Dragons with a particularly inventive group of players.

The mod can be obtained here.  It is possible to play on Mac and PC through Steam and you require the Source SDK Base 2007 (If you have Half Life 2, you’ll have this).  Further instructions can be found on its download page.

In their words, the game is best if you don’t know anything about it before you play it, so actually, sorry for telling you something about it, but my original post of just a link and a name didn’t seem like enough.