Articles Analysis The Auteur Theory
 

The Auteur Theory The Auteur Theory Hot

stanley-kubrick2Pictured is Stanley Kubrick, the greatest director of all time. He wasn't just an auteur, he was the living embodiment of the term. He doesn't really have anything to do with gaming, but the auteur theory does.

Pop quiz. Name the author of the last game you played. Was it EON? Corey Koniesczka? Jim Bailey? Rudiger Dorn? No matter who you name, you're wrong. The designer is undoubtedly an authorial impetus in the creation of game, but ultimately we are the authors of the games we play. Give yourself some credit.

That's what this week's Cracked LCD is about, and you have due warning that it's one of those smarty pants "I been to kolledge" articles about games that may not interest you if you are more into objective reviews or component lists. I haven't done one of these in a while, and I thought it'd be nice to break up the Summer of Reviews with some highfalutin academic talk.



Michael is a member of the Fortress: Ameritrash staff, and a regular columnist for Gameshark.

Click here for more board game articles by Michael Barnes.

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Comments (74)
  • avatarJosh Look

    Very well done, sir. I've tried explaining this to some of my more euro-leaning friends, who think that a game is as fun as you are learning it. They'll be forwarded this one. Cash N Guns and Cosmic Encounter continue to be a couple of my go-to games year after year. Yet something like Middle-Earth Quest, which initially blew me away for just how unorthodox is was in it's approach of the adventure genre, now holds no fun for me. There's not a whole lot of room in that game for the player to shine through, it's all mechanics.

    Again, great article. I really enjoyed this one.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    Purely mechanical games- let's call them "technical" games- can be good, I don't want to imply that games with a really strong authorial/authoritarian angle are necessarily bad. A lot of Sackson designs are like that. But even his best games like ACQUIRE give the player room to author the experience.

    It's a good point about MEQ...it really does sort of force a particular narrative on you through a couple of mechanical means and limitations.

  • avatarscissors

    I've read a lot of articles the past few years on games and gaming and this article was honest and really nicely written. I come from a film background myself, so I got a kick out of the Kubrick lead-in and Truffaut mention... but I especially like your description how the gamer completes the process. One of the better things about this hobby that I've ever read.

  • avatarvandemonium

    Wouldn't board game players be the "actors" in the designer's "movie?" In other words - actors are an important element which is often essential to the success of the vision of the director. Actors have some amount of creative input which is important to the final product. Board game players creativity per se is not necessary for a successful design but I would think the ability *to be creative* IS important and the mark of a well designed game.

    In both cases, film and games, the "players" are important no doubt but ultimately the designer's/director's are the guide followed and if their vision and direction is good and the players have the ability to lift their performance, it is that opportunity which seems to me to be something to seek out.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    Well, the counter-argument to the auteur theory is that actors and other creative talent are equally responsible for authorship, so yes, I think that's a possibility and I don't object to that analog. But I also think that whether we're positioning the player as an actor or as an author we're getting at the same thing- that the designer is not the sole force that results in the finished game.

  • avatarscissors

    I think the game player is a co-author of the experience, in my mind there is no question about it and is the reason why I prefer games which offer the possibility of a strong narrative arc and a bit of'character' development. There have to be many different possibilities though for the thing to play out, so it isn't always the same.

  • avatarmoofrank

    The idea that players help author the experience is entirely valid, for the types of games you like. (And is the central reason you HAVE to play Valley of the Mammoths.)

    It doesn't address the aspect of challenge/puzzle solving. Really it is another axis of game design that just doesn't have a lot to do with story or degree of auteurness.

    A perfectly valid and good game can be put together by a designer in order to present a challenge. A lot of these games feel more crafted than designed. The set of tools for a Euro are much more well known. Each mechanic has been fairly well analyzed so player know exactly what that part will do to the overall machine. And sometimes there will be this odd bit stuck in there or a configuration that surprises you.

    I'm an engineer, so I can appreciate Euros. Unless I figure them out very quickly then bore of them.

    That's why I like Peloponnes. Is is a surprisingly complex machine that you have to run and tune with rather random cogs. And it ends in 45 minutes before you get bored with it. It is like having a giant all-wood gravity-powered grandfather clock whose gears change with temperature and humidity. (Oddly enough, I got it quite accurate one summer by tuning it with a high speed audio sampler.)

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    That's a great point about puzzle-solving, but that does seem to fall more into the domain of the "technical" game. And there could be an argument made that the act of solving a puzzle is the completion of its creation, therefore the solver is an authorial agent.

    I think the same could be said for "challenge" games...completing the challenge closes off the cycle of creation, again positioning the completer as an author.

  • avatarJonJacob

    That's an interesting read, thanks.

    I don't like the auteur theory as applied to film. I've always felt that it undermined the contribution from the rest of the people involved. One of my favorite aspects of the novel is that it actually is possible to get a pure, undiluted vision from a single person. Classical music can do this too if your reading the score. Comics come closer to film because there are so few people involved.

    I can literaly feel the difference when major players change in a film teams group. When the Coen's replaced Barry Sonnenfeld with Roger Deakins I could feel it. Tim Burton, to me, is only as good as Henry Selick. Not everyone will notice this.

    The other thing that I think is worth mentioning is that some films do require input from the viewer. Lynch's films are a good example. What Lost Highway or Mullholland Drive is depends on the viewer and I don't think the product is complete for any one person until you've seen it yourself. Louis Buenel also fits into this role for me... because the films from these directors are more open to different interpretations.

    In other words there is a lot of grey area here and as much as I liked your article I think it could use more space.

  • avatarShellhead

    I enjoyed the article, especially the insight about how the game is incomplete until the players are playing it. I do feel that music can potentially gain a new dimension when people dance to it, or even when it's used as a soundtrack to a visual of some kind... a movie, a video, even a series of static images.

  • avatarclockwirk

    In a way, you could say that anybody who is observing a creative work is "co-authoring" that work to a degree in that the work is shaped by the observer through experience, perspective, etc... After all, music means nothing if no one can listen to it. There is a measure of degree depending on what your medium is, of course.

    This is getting really close to the "board games as art" discussion.

  • avatarmjl1783

    Eh, I think this gets us into a morass of fussy definitions and analogies.

    What you're talking about here is performance. A piece of music is a finished work when somebody writes it down, not necessarily when the musicians perform and record it. Bach did not compose the Brandenburg Concerto in his head, learn it with his band, lay it down on CD, and call it a finished work.

    The composition, the notation on the paper, is the finished work, everything else is just an individual performance. Conductors, or individual musicians may deviate from what he composed, but I don't think that constitutes joint authorship of the work. That would be like declaring yourself co-architect of your house because you decorated it, and replaced the fuse box with a circuit breaker.

  • avatarmjl1783

    Also, before a game even gets from the designer to the players, it passes through the hands of developers, playtesters, editors, etc., so I think the notion that not just one guy is responsible for this kinda' goes without saying.

  • avatarwolvendancer

    A couple of points:

    Auteur Theory never denied that the final product of, say, a film was the collective result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. As a writer, I am constantly fed things by my environment which I then turn into a rough draft, which then is read by quite a lot of smart people, who give me ideas on how to change it for the better, some of which I accept. That said, without me, my writing would not exist. I am the Prime Mover - the Auteur, as Kubrick was for his films. To say a game is not complete unless it is played is both true and missing the point. A book is not complete without being read, a play seen, but that doesn't change the fact that there was a mind, or a small group of minds, that birthed the thing, though indeed a lot of people may have helped the project 'grow up'.

    As MJL perspicaciously points out, part of what you are getting at here is Performance. If you've not, you might do some reading in Performance Theory. It was all the rage when I was in Anthro graduate school, a bit like Deleuze is now. To say gaming is a performative act is, I think, obviously correct. But that has little to do with the author(s).

  • avatarJonJacob

    Auteur Theory never denied that the final product of, say, a film was the collective result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people.

    Obviously, but for some of us (myself included) it does undermine the role of others and over-empasiazes the directors importance. I can think of several films where the script is more important to the vision of the final product then the director is(Clooney directing Confessions of a Dangerous mind is a good example). Or a single actor (I wouldn't watch Gangs of New York with DDL), the cinematographer...

    With games it's different entirely. I like what it is that Michael is getting at, but I think borrowing terminology from another medium is a mistake. These concepts need their own language and as aresult the article needs more space.

    Still, this is all nitpicking, the thoughts are there and the piece is still solid.

  • avatardragonstout

    Nowhere is your theory more true than in Collectible Card Games, which is a huge part of what makes them so beloved despite their expensiveness. People who are really into Magic don't just admire Richard Garfield or Mark Rosewater, the nominal designers: they admire PLAYERS like Brian Weissman, who introduced the concept of control to Magic, or Dave Price, who introduced the idea of a mana curve, or moves like the infamous Long bluff in the first world championships; every player has their own style of play and style of deckbuilding that is completely unique to them, to the point where some players become famous for it and certain cards are thought of as belonging to a player who made that card famous. Despite the Magic designers having designed all the cards for it, there would possibly be no "Dredge deck" if John Friggin' Rizzo hadn't created it. Everyone who's ever played Magic has probably authored at least one Magic deck in their life that no one else in the world has ever made.

  • avatarMattDP

    It's a nice theory but I think you're overstating your point. Although a game requires players to be "complete" and those players participate in forming their own experience of the game there's no doubt in my mind that the designer remains the primary influence. There's a big chicken and egg question here: how can players be co-authors of the game itself if, without the designer there would be no game for them to play? I think you're confusing authorship of the game with authorship of the play experience. To continue your film analgoy, the designer is equivalent to the director, and the players are more like a dinner party group discussing how they interpreted the film as opposed to actual co-authors.

    It's al little disingenuous to suggesst that only games like AH and BSG have staying power. Sadly there are plenty of very dry & mechanical games that also have proven longevity.

    But it's nice to see such a theoretical piece for a change.

  • avatarmjl1783
    Quote:
    Nowhere is your theory more true than in Collectible Card Games, which is a huge part of what makes them so beloved despite their expensiveness. People who are really into Magic don't just admire Richard Garfield or Mark Rosewater, the nominal designers: they admire PLAYERS like Brian Weissman, who introduced the concept of control to Magic...

    I'll see your M:tG, raise you a Chess, and use Poker terminology to hopefully illustrate that this is not a quality inherent or exclusive to CCGs, but is just part of the nature of tournament play.

  • avatarGary Sax

    Definitely one of your better articles of the last year. Nicely done.

  • avatarwolvendancer

    JJ: a play or film is obviously less of an auteur act than, say, novel writing. Particularly, writers of screenplays are often given laughably little credit for a project. Games seem far closer to novel writing, however. There just seems to be some conflation of two separate realities here.

    1. The game (as an artifact) is mostly the brainchild of the developer or developers, with input from a variety of sources.

    2. Each particular play is a performative act wherein a group of people take that artifact and interact with it.

    Neither of these things deny each other, but in Barnes' opening, it seems clear to me that he's confusing these two separate issues as one.

  • avatarmikoyan

    This was a pretty good article.

  • avatarJacobMartin

    Tabletop RPGs, even though you don't play them Barnes, remain one of the most earth-shattering gaming experiences of my life.

    Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Ed ruined me for World of Warcraft - I quit World of Warcraft in a week, because to be honest I felt a video game RPG shackled me too much to not be able to tell my own stories. As a writer of novels, I can contest that while some decry RPGs as too time intensive, a good storyteller is essential for a good tabletop RPG game experience.

    In a way, tabletop RPGs are like the cinematic adaptations of Stanley Kubrick in the sense that a DM skillful enough to "get" a game's feel and mood can bring a ripping yarn into a game instead of it being a pale retread of Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. After my old DM left, I became DM for a while of my D&D group. The last year of high school being DM, it was like I could tell any story I wanted to tell, and people would experience it with me - only... in the context of my novel writing abilities, when I used my storytelling craft in a game, people cared. It became clear after about six sessions that I was taking the DM angle a bit more seriously than the players would have liked, but they began to appreciate it soon enough. Even the silly stuff like "Golden Underpants of Groin-Grabbing" - which protected any character who wore these fabled undies protection from being kicked in the nads. Of course, I didn't tell my players that I thought it up to prevent the dorkiest member of the group from being kicked in the nads repeatedly by the Lawful Evil player, but that's beside the point.

    I should probably get back into RPG tabletop, since I'm at an age where I am increasingly surrounded by the bored and dorky. Hopefully they'll just be dorky by the end.

  • avatarmikoyan

    I would have to agree with the sentiment that RPG's are the epitomy of the players making the story. The game itself gives you the framework but it is up to the Game Master (or whatever you want to call it) to make the world and up to the players to give the world it's flavor and the story. And to make it work, these are so dependent upon having the right players that it's not funny.

  • avatarTamburlaine

    A fine article, Mr. Barnes. I would throw my lot in with the player as actor crew, but I think the analogy works better when we think of the actors in a Shakespeare play than in a movie. They have no direct contact with the author of the play, just as most of us have no direct contact with the designer of a game; they have only the script to go on, and we have just the rules. Their interpretations of the characters and our strategies in playing a game will both be influenced not only by the 'script,' but also our own experiences, our other 'reading,' histories of interpretation, etc. We play the game within the constraints of the designer just a production of Shakespeare--assuming it's not too avant-garde--will perform the play within the constraints of the poet. I think the analogy becomes even more clear when I think about games where I've played it a few times, but didn't really get it or understand why people liked it so much until I played it with a really good player, a situation which is very much like seeing a great actor really bring out the strengths of a play.

    I think we are also liable to become confused because we rarely watch board games as a spectator, the way we watch sports or poker, even though it is perfectly possible for someone to enjoy merely watching a game of Arkham Horror or Command & Colors or any good game really. If we watched games more often, instead of playing them (or if people only ever acted in plays, instead of watching them) I think it would be clearer how the players of a game are part of the full 'production' of the game.

    Barnes' point bears repeating over and over again, however, that a game sitting in its box is not a complete game. "The game- whether it’s a tabletop game or a video game- can not exist as a completed work until we finish its creation through play."--That's pure gold. Here again we get confused because we would like a game to be like a novel or a painting. But a game exists not just in dimensions of space, like a sculpture, but also dimensions of time. It will take time to read through a novel or to look at a painting, but the whole novel and the whole painting are there the whole time: we just can't process it all at once. With a game, however, it's not a matter of our merely needing time to process it: the full experience is not yet there when we first sit down to play. In this it is different even than a play or an opera or a concert, because, although those performances are extended through time, there is never, for example, a chance that Siegfried will not be dead by the end of Gotterdammerung, whereas in a game of Arkham Horror we cannot be sure who will or will not be devoured, where gates will open, etc. Every session of a game is different in a far more fundamental way than every performance of an opera or every reading of a novel is different, and it is for this reason that the players are truly co-creators.

  • avatarmjl1783
    Quote:
    Every session of a game is different in a far more fundamental way than every performance of an opera or every reading of a novel is different, and it is for this reason that the players are truly co-creators.

    Almost every performance of jazz music is different in significant ways, but we don't credit Ella Fitzgerald with co-creation of "Mack the Knife," or Al Jarreau with "Take Five." They changed the particulars, but the songs are not theirs. That's why, in music, there's a distinction between the arranger and the composer.

    If you're going to argue that differences in each performance constitute co-creation, you'd might as well ascribe authorship to the D6 while you're at it. Most of the changes from game to game are more attributable to random elements than the players themselves.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    That's exactly true Tamb, that there are variables and uncertainties that come into play when we play a game that really separate it from the act of performing a play or acting in a film. ALso, playing a game is different from those because it is a kind of participative spectatorship. We have a stake in the creation, and the initial author relies on us to complete the work. But it's something very different still than a performance, because we are engaged in observing the work and processing it as we effectively follow the directions laid out by the designer.

    Some of the comments here (all good, BTW) suggest that there is something of a disagreement as to when a "game" actually comes into existence. Matt brought up the "chicken and egg" thing. Those who hold closer to an auteurist idea would argue that it happens when a designer creates a set of rules. But I don't think that. A set of rules is raw material. It's not like a screenplay that can stand on its own as a completed work. It's really more like a score, that's a closer analog but even then there are differences.

    We're not just "interacting with the artifact" as Wolvie put it. That's undercutting what we actually do when we play games. And I don't think that a set of rules is anything like novel writing because I'm not required to finish the novel, nor is there the potential for the novel to take a different course each time I read it.

    And I think it's seriously undervaluing the process of play and what we as gamers contribute to the creative process when we're relegated to nothing more than a dinner party discussing interpretation. We almost completely author the play experience, I agree with that, but the game simply does not exist until we play it. Before that, it's rules and components, nothing more. COSMIC ENCOUNTER has likely never been played the same way to the same resolutions twice precisely because every session of it has been authored differently by the players. So is the game really just the rulebook and pieces?

    As for the perfomance issue, I think there are valid arguments that the performance is as authorial as the act of writing the drama, score, film, game, or whatever that requires it. There are interpretive matters, logistical differences, contextual and cultural approaches, and other issues that contribute to a degree of authorship. Take "Tainted Love" for example, a song written in the 1960s by Gloria Jones. Moderately successful Northern Soul hit in the UK. But the entire world knows the song as a Soft Cell single and most would assume it's a Marc Almond/Dave Ball composition (if they know their names). Their performance and arrangement of the song has imparted a sense of authorship, and the song is now effectively a Soft Cell song despite the writing credit. So who is really the author of that song when you're listening to it? The answer is both Gloria Jones and Soft Cell.

    Likewise, there are reasons why some folks might like a Von Karajan performance or a Julie Taymor production over another conductor or stage director's version of the same piece. Is it not valid that these interpretors also connote authorship?

    This is what I'm getting at in all this, that this elevation of the designer is undercutting our role in how games are made and played, and it definitely falls right in both with the auteur theory as well as the objections and appeals to collaboration and distributed authorship.


  • avatarSpace Ghost
    Quote:
    This is what I'm getting at in all this, that this elevation of the designer is undercutting our role in how games are made and played,

    However, doesn't knowing the "personality" of the designer allow us a certain degree of prediction with how much leeway will be given to the players to actually "complete the game". Like anything else, games are going to lie on a continuum from "novel" to "shakespeare", where some are very mechanical in nature and others are quite freeform. Most videogames have a very linear way of "how to beat this" (although we are moving away from that more and more).....while some boardgames are a race to see who can successfully check off some of the win conditions the fastest.

    Knowing the designer gives us some confidence in where on the continuum a given game is going to fall (Knizia to towards the "novel" end, Kevin Wilson towards the "freeform" end). Not that it should be all that we evaluate when we see a new game come out, but we have to be careful not to claim it isn't a useful data point.

  • avatarwolvendancer

    MB:And I don't think that a set of rules is anything like novel writing because I'm not required to finish the novel, nor is there the potential for the novel to take a different course each time I read it.

    Writing a novel is to rules writing as reading is to playing.

    A game is not finished until it is played as a novel is not finished until it is read.

    I would disagree with the latter as well. No, the book doesn't change, but you do, so every reading experience is a new creative act, as your new self interacts with the words on the page and finds new gifts within. And it should go without saying that different people will often come away from the same book having had profoundly different experiences, just as two troupes enacting the same play will have profoundly different products.

    These are all performative acts. You, and Jacob, might be interested in the book "The Fantasy Role-Playing Game: A New Performing Art," which analyzes tabletop RPGs in the light of performance theory.

  • avatarmjl1783
    Quote:
    Some of the comments here (all good, BTW) suggest that there is something of a disagreement as to when a "game" actually comes into existence.

    That's not it, it's a acknowledgment that there is a difference between a game of Cosmic Encounter, and Cosmic Encounter, the game. While nobody would argue with players being the authors of the former, your article implies we're creators of the latter, which is a leap too far as far as I'm concerned.

    Quote:
    But it's something very different still than a performance, because we are engaged in observing the work and processing it as we effectively follow the directions laid out by the designer.

    If you were to pick up your guitar and play "Tainted Love," wouldn't you then be observing the work (i.e. hearing the song) while following the direction laid down by the composer (i.e. playing the correct chord changes)?

    The song, defined as what you hear, relies on somebody to play it. The song itself, the rhythm, melodies, and harmonies, whether written down or existing in somebody's head, is done. It simply isn't observable until somebody translates in into actual sound.

    Quote:
    Take "Tainted Love" for example, a song written in the 1960s by Gloria Jones. Moderately successful Northern Soul hit in the UK. But the entire world knows the song as a Soft Cell single and most would assume it's a Marc Almond/Dave Ball composition (if they know their names). Their performance and arrangement of the song has imparted a sense of authorship, and the song is now effectively a Soft Cell song despite the writing credit. So who is really the author of that song when you're listening to it? The answer is both Gloria Jones and Soft Cell.

    No, the answer is Ed Cobb. He wrote the song. Gloria Jones and Soft Cell just performed it.

    Yes, the song is more closely associated with Soft Cell because their performance was more popular than Jones' (though, I would argue, not as good). They didn't re-write or reinterpret the music in any meaningful way, they just changed some of the instrumentation. The rhythm is the same, the chord progression is the same, the melodies etc., and all that stuff was Cobb's doing.

    Frankly, it's just artistic freeloading to claim authorship of something for which you did fuck all of the creative heavy lifting. It's also illegal.

  • avatarJonJacob

    Frankly, it's just artistic freeloading to claim authorship of something for which you did fuck all of the creative heavy lifting.

    MJ... your a huge dick. But man, your my favorite dick around. Nice line.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    Bah, damn it...yeah, it's Ed Cobb...I _swear_ I knew that, I just skipped right on to Jones...next, I'll claim that Elvis Presley wrote "Blue Suede Shoes". :-P

    your article implies we're creators of the latter, which is a leap too far as far as I'm concerned.

    No, it doesn't. I'm pretty clear that credit is due to designers for creating the product that we buy, but ultimately we are engaging in at least a kind of authorship by playing a game and completing its creation. And the fact that whatever that creation is varies from session to session, from group to group, and from player to player is significant.

    This article wasn't intended to reduce the contribution of the designer at all- just to call into question the degree of authority that the hobby with its talk of "Designer Games" has vested in them.

    Writing a novel is to rules writing as reading is to playing.

    I totally disagree. The nature of reading is completely different than the nature of playing, and the fact that playing is a social construct in the context of tabletop gaming separates it even further from reading.

    I do agree that the act of observation is a creative process, and I do agree with you that there are things we contribute to that stage of reception. And undoubtedly, playing games gets into this more subjective, internalized area as well.

    However, doesn't knowing the "personality" of the designer allow us a certain degree of prediction with how much leeway will be given to the players to actually "complete the game".

    Oh, I definitely agree. There are game designers whom we can identify authorial constants, and in fact the better designers are often defined by these qualities. It's a valuable data point, I'm discounting that. But in the end, we're still talking about sets of rules and products- not games as they are played.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    Frankly, it's just artistic freeloading to claim authorship of something for which you did fuck all of the creative heavy lifting. It's also illegal.

    Am I going to go to jail?

  • avatarSpace Ghost
    Quote:
    But in the end, we're still talking about sets of rules and products- not games as they are played.

    But it is bigger than that -- for the games we seem to like here at F:AT, anyway. The designers create the boundaries of the "rule space", defining what is admissable and what isn't. In turn, they decide how much interpretation (or in authorial liscense) the players can claim. Either too constrained or too unconstrained will result in a rule space that not even the best group will be able to recover from.


    Games are kind of like building relationships that start from a blind date. The worse the rules and design at the beginning, the less likely you are to come back for another date. Ok rules might net a couple of dates. Rules that are too loose will also doom the relationship because they don't challenge you to participate with the most freedom while respecting the institution it has established. Similar to why there are few extremely long relationships, that is why there are very few "classic" games that are rewarding for years.

  • avatarmjl1783
    Quote:
    No, it doesn't. I'm pretty clear that credit is due to designers for creating the product that we buy, but ultimately we are engaging in at least a kind of authorship by playing a game and completing its creation. And the fact that whatever that creation is varies from session to session, from group to group, and from player to player is significant.

    What you're doing is conflating "game," as in session, match, or individual play, with "game" as in the work of a game designer. The game is the rules, processes, and to some degree, the components. Those things are a finished work in the same sense that the underlying music of an improvised solo are a finished work. The particulars played over top may vary, but the fundamental parts remain constant. We have to have a word for those things collectively, and whether you like it not, that word is "game."

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    OK, we really are getting into the art talk weeds at this point.

    I'm not conflating anything, there's a difference of opinion as to where the "game" as a work actually occurs. I don't think it occurs when the rules are written, at least not completely. Otherwise, there would be no need to playtest it or do anything in terms of pre-productive work. There wouldn't be a need for art, packaging, components, or anything. Just a set of written rules, and that's a game.

    Semantically, a set of rules is all that a game is required to be, and even then it doesn't have to be anything written or authored in the first place. It can be a mutually agreed-upon limitation of action, it can be an ad-hoc definition of relationships or movement, any number of things that are beyond what we're defining as a "game" here. Who authors "Punch Bug" or Hopscotch? Those are games. But when we play those, are we effectively authoring them in the act of playing them?

  • avatarJonJacob

    I'm liking this discussion.

    This is how I feel about old folk music. I go to the library a lot and pick up books of notation. It may be "Japanese Folk Music" or "North American Ethnomusicology" and invariably it's some European guy who's gone overseas and tried to notate what he heard. I sit at home and try to figure out how this is supposed to sound. I may or may not nail it... I can never know. Either way I usually play around with it until I get a result that I like.

    Now, someone wrote that song a particular way but I'm not playing it like that (chances are) and the same goes for the games I play. Many of them have house rules or rule ambiguities that are long forgotten because we've come up with an agreed upon interpretation that we enjoy. We've co-authored to some degree when this happens, but only a tiny amount. I don't know the original authors intention anymore and we've become active participants in the social exercise that is gaming.

    What I like about the article is that it encourages people to try and remember to be creativly active in the art of playing (but it's not an art!!) and that will encourage people to be better gamers. If you can walk away from a game with a good story or a song idea or even just some memories that exist outside of the ruleset then you've accomplished this goal.

    Most of the discussion here that involves nit-picking Barnes article is enlightening but intentionally missing the point (myself included). We all know what he's saying and I think we all agree more or less with it. MJ's point about claiming authorship is solid, but really, I'm pretty sure Barnes didn't mean that we author the games anymore then Chandler actually meant that one thug hit Marlowe like a truck. It's just a writer trick.

  • avatarmjl1783

    Sorry to get all semantic here, guys, but words mean things. The word "author" exists precisely to distinguish the originator, the creator, the father of the work from the translators, arrangers, performers, editors, or any other bit players involved in the complete work.

    If we're going to extend authorship to include anyone who has even a marginal creative contribution to the original work, we really might as well extend it to the dice as well. On your best day, you can't mold and shape a game's narrative in unexpected ways to the degree simple chance can.

    Quote:
    I'm not conflating anything, there's a difference of opinion as to where the "game" as a work actually occurs.

    You're doing it right now! You're taken it as a given that the game occurs rather than simply existing. Occurrence implies an event. The only time I've ever heard the word "game" used to describe an event is in reference to an instance of a "game" (rules, processes, stuff in a box) being played (i.e. performed).

    It's not a difference of opinion over when a game occurs, it's a difference of opinion over what a game is.

    Quote:
    I don't think it occurs when the rules are written, at least not completely. Otherwise, there would be no need to playtest it or do anything in terms of pre-productive work. There wouldn't be a need for art, packaging, components, or anything. Just a set of written rules, and that's a game.

    A first draft of a novel still needs revision, proofreading, editing, etc. It's not a complete work because the author isn't done working on it yet. When he is, it will be complete. The same goes for plays, screenplays, songs, or any other authored medium.

    Yes, a set of rules is a game. What the hell do you think pen & paper RPGs are? You don't buy Poker, you don't buy Chess. You buy a deck of cards or a Chess set. The art and components exist because you need tools to play the game with, and it's hard to convince people to pay money for rules.

    Quote:
    Who authors "Punch Bug" or Hopscotch? Those are games. But when we play those, are we effectively authoring them in the act of playing them?

    No, we're not. We're not creating anything when we play them, other than an individual performance. The first person to say "Hey, first person to yell "punch bug" when a VW Beetle drives by gets to punch the person next to him" authored the game.

    Initiate a session of "Punch Bug," and it won't be long before a creative player starts punching back. He may punch harder, or even twice, to discourage the original puncher from playing the game effectively. That may lead to the institution of the "punch bug, no punch back" rule.

    At that point, you're arguably co-authoring the game, because you've changed the rules. You're still not the game's creator, though, and the only reason you came up with the "no punch back" rule to begin with was because punching back is obviously not what the designer intended.

  • avatarclockwirk

    MJ-
    What about a game like WEREWOLF, where the basic rules of the game are incredibly simple and a certain level of participation by the players is required for the game to work as designed? In this case, the rules are more like boundaries that give structure to the game, but the game itself doesn't function correctly without the negotiation, arguing, and accusing that only the players can provide. DIPLOMACY could maybe be another example. The rules provide the structure, but the game (or whatever you want to call it) is in the interaction that the players bring to the table.

    I totally see your point about authorship and the creation of the games rules. What would you call the creative, participatory act that the players provide when the game is beyond the rules?

  • avatarscissors

    I'd agree that when we play a game (and in how we play it) we are co-authors of a particular game EXPERIENCE, one with defined or less defined, rigid or looser rules that have have been pre-set. Games that are more than a mathematical exercise, with RPG elements, may allow a little more room for improvisation and certain freedom. But co-author of the game is a stretch: the streets of Arkham are designed with a certain tone and progression that are set, even if indivdual events play out differently each time. Playing can be creative, but it is no way as creative as sitting down to write something, write music, or even trying to invent a game of your own.

    Regarding auteurs, a game by Vlaada Chvatil is likely to have elements that are typical for a CHvatil title, based on his development as a player and designer, his likes and dislikes and personal style. When you play, youre experience may beunique , but you're still in "his world". Players do complete the game's purpose.

  • avatarmjl1783
    Quote:
    I totally see your point about authorship and the creation of the games rules. What would you call the creative, participatory act that the players provide when the game is beyond the rules?

    Again, this gets into some hazy, metaphysical definition of "game" as some ethereal thing above and beyond the devising and execution of the rules, but equal parts both. The word just isn't used that way outside of nerds waxing philosophical about games, or maybe in sports, when people talk about the "state of the game."

    At any rate, it's not a practical, day-to-day definition.

    Quote:
    What would you call the creative, participatory act that the players provide when the game is beyond the rules?

    Per_for_mance. That is a creative act, but it is a different kind of creation, and it's sloppy not to draw a clear line of demarcation between it and the work of the designer. The players-as-authors conceit not only crosses it, but fails to recognize it.

    Barnes is swearing up and down that that's not what he's doing, but...

    Quote:
    The designer is undoubtedly an authorial impetus in the creation of game, but ultimately we are the authors of the games we play. Give yourself some credit.

    Here, he reduces the inventor of the game to a mere impetus of its creation, and credit for the actual creation to the players. There's recognizing our creative role as players, and then there's aggrandizing it.

    I'm sure the counter-argument to this is that I'm just picking semantic nits, and that I'm intentionally missing the basic point. The point is that we bring something valuable to the table when we play a game which is creative, and as necessary as the rules the author has written for us.

    My counter-argument to that is: No shit, Sherlock.

  • avatargeneralpf

    Congratulations Michael and the rest of Fortress: Ameritrash. F:AT has finally crawled up its own ass.

  • avatarMad Dog
    Quote:
    generalpf wrote:
    Congratulations Michael and the rest of Fortress: Ameritrash. F:AT has finally crawled up its own ass.

    Well we had to wait until you crawled out first.

  • avatarDeath and Taxis

    generalpf said:
    Congratulations Michael and the rest of Fortress: Ameritrash. F:AT has finally crawled up its own ass.

    Just wait a bit, the other half of his split personality will be back shortly to apologise.

  • avatargeneralpf

    I'm sorry this article sucks, that's as far as the apology goes. At least it's only here and on Gameshark.com, where no one will see it.

  • avatarTamburlaine

    MJ--

    I would be more cautious in insisting that the word 'game' can only have one meaning. When we say "I bought a new game" or "put that game on the shelf there" we are certainly using the word the way you are insisting on. But how about (to continue with Shakespeare) when Henry says "the game's afoot?" Is this line supposed to evoke images of checkerboards and dice cups marching off to war? Or suppose you are arguing with someone and they say "it's all just a game to you, isn't it?" Are they suggesting that you are treating the issue at hand as though it were made of wood, cardboard, and plastic? In these latter two cases, the word 'game' is used to describe the experience of playing a game, and not the physical artifact; it is in this sense that we are using the word. This is not some 'hazy metaphysical definition' of what a game is: it is a way we use the word all the time. Nor must the one sense displace the other. I can say "this game was well crafted" and be speaking both of the physical components and the design of the play experience.

  • avatarStephen Avery

    Too many words to read...

    Does this article have anything to with Boobs and Bombs?

    Steve"I like to blow up stuff"Avery

  • avatarMad Dog

    generalpf, I look forward to reading your next article. At least with your high standards I know it won't suck.

  • avatarSleightOfHand12
    Quote:
    Does this article have anything to with Boobs and Bombs?

    Not specifically, but I think the moral is this: it's not about who makes the boobs, it's about how much fun you have with them.

    Or: no set of breasts is truly complete without some dude all up in them.

  • avatarmjl1783
    Quote:
    I would be more cautious in insisting that the word 'game' can only have one meaning.

    I'm not insisting it can have only one meaning, but there's a difference between a common, accepted meaning and an ad hoc definition invented to support an argument. I've already said I agree with the concept of the article in principle, but Barnes is overstating it when he uses the word "authorship."

    Don't blame me, blame the rest of the English-speaking world.

  • avatarscissors

    It's a good thing Barnes is not the author of this article - his readers are:P

  • avatarsgosaric

    Good bless you mr. Barnes (or damn you, whichever you prefer). I've been waiting for an article like this for a while now.

    Funnily enough I've had a similar discussion with J C on TOS a while back, where I claimed a game (rules or better gaming protocols) is merely a potential or possibility of a game experience to happen. Of course J C went on about game theory and whatnot, but of course a game founded in game theory has no need of realisation, of ever getting played. It's a perfect autonomous system. The kind of game I'm after is the one that facilitates interaction (which is contra as defining it), which makes a platform from which players can jump off in creating a one-off experience. If a game can do that there's no limit to replayabilty as each group of players will effectively make for a different game (I admire this in Genoa, though I prefer a more cut-throat experience which particular players can provide, the game also be played differently).

    "Matt DP" wrote:
    It's a nice theory but I think you're overstating your point. Although a game requires players to be "complete" and those players participate in forming their own experience of the game there's no doubt in my mind that the designer remains the primary influence. There's a big chicken and egg question here: how can players be co-authors of the game itself if, without the designer there would be no game for them to play? I think you're confusing authorship of the game with authorship of the play experience. To continue your film analgoy, the designer is equivalent to the director, and the players are more like a dinner party group discussing how they interpreted the film as opposed to actual co-authors.

    Now to put my 2 cents as somebody heavily involved in contemporary theatre (we call it contemporary performing arts) and contemporary dance - I work as dramaturge, director, critic, writer, even a performer (plus I can do a PR, a bit of light design, whatever pays, really). Today I just though about parallels to table top gaming. What makes contemporary performing arts different than theatre is the role of the spectator. Spectator has an active role in the creating (or reading) of the meaning(s) the piece CAN create. Which means the piece will create starting point for spectator's associations or reflections. However not all readings are relevant, you can have all sorts of associations, but there are some the piece itself wants to create - a piece wants to be read in a certain way (simple example - a comedy should be read as comedy, not drama), but this it's potential. In between each spectators viewing point and preferences and intentions of a piece an "event" is created and each spectator will perceive the event a bit differently than the others. But again - the fraim of the piece will provide a common point.

    The role of the author is different than in traditional theatre. Now in the most traditional - drama theatre, the author is the writer of the drama/script, everything in the theatre production is there to serve the text "coming to life". Then somewhere in the 1960s (well, the first cases were in historical avant-garde)emerges a modernist style of theatre - "directors theatre", where the director and his vision of performance (not text) would be the focus of entire piece. The practice of contemporary theatre is a bit different. The central point is now the performance itself with focus on the spectators point of view. This means that the crew (authorship is essentially shared between the director, dramaturge, performers and whoever is also involved) is both inside and outside the piece. They are inside as they're creating it, but are outside, because the piece is not about them, but what the audience can get out of the piece. And I'd make a point I would say that although in this model you also have "authors", you have a director who still caries most of the responsibility, you could also have dramaturge writing a script, the roles are put into different hierarchy with spectators/the audience having a bigger influence to the point they are considered co-authors of the meanings the piece creates. They are still not on the same level as performers and cannot be, as the responsibility is not shared, but it is responsibility of authors to create something audience can INVEST in.

    If I return to boardgames:
    The "contemporary" boardgames would be the one where focus is on each specific design (not designer) and design is aimed toward creating a specific platform for players to play with and experience. And I totally agree with mr. Barnes that it is about trust. I am sick and tired of games where I feel the designer is somehow afraid of players "not getting it", not "playing in the spirit of the game" (as if there is only one spirit of the game possible). It a case of trottelsicher (idiot-proof) games which treat you like, well you would basically be an idiot.

    (And I claim the same is the same in traditional theatre where they tell you the same story with text and acting and lights and costumes as if you can't get it just from one source. Traditional AND modernist theatre is all bout author putting his point across to the audience and audience is there just to be a recipient, to "get it". In contemporary theatre you have a situation where spectator can make his/her own conclusions on the spot - within the frame the authors put in front of them)

    Examples of trottelsicher games - Michael Schacht designs in particular (more than Knizia), arg, as if you'd have 10 cards in front of you with a word written on each to make for an hour of meaningful conversation. Well, if you can't converse at all, I guess it's much better than what you'd do without these cards, but not all people are socially inept and treating them as if they are is a matter of distrust. I mean I guess there's a market for people who cannot have a rich interaction and need games to provide them with at least something(a case of "how boardgames saved my marriage"). And there is a case of people who just need STRUCTURE from which they can build there multifaceted interaction. As someone once said - RPGs provide for the best possible gaming experience but also the worst as they are dependant on their players imagination and social capabilities - which means they are open.

  • Canttakethisanymore

    Kubrick does a terrible job at directing actors, he manages to get the worst out of them. The people that gravitate to him must not notice how contrived and awkward so many of his scenes are. I guess this comes down to what people value in a film. He focuses on a technique, usually with an associated with shock value - some of them are great, and some just gimmicks that for some reason many people are seduced by.

    Learn about film techniques, make some yourself and he becomes glaring poor in many areas. Best director - not even close. Creator of some innovations and memorable scenes -absolutely.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    I have a film degree and have made and worked on number of films, and somehow I've missed how Kubrick becomes "glaring poor". I guess it's like that phase when you become too "cool" to think CITIZEN KANE is a great film...or when SETTLERS OF CATAN becomes "overrated".

    As for his direction of actors, it's highly stylized and clearly intentional. Don't confuse that with lack of skill or talent. There's a reason that some scenes are contrived and awkward, and there's a reason that practically all of his films feature at least one career-best performance. You could see a film and not know it was Kubrick, but when the actors speak, move and interact with the camera it becomes clear who the author is. It's part of who he was as an artist and as a filmmaker.

    Sgosaric- I'd love to see you take this article forward given your expertise and develop some of its ideas more thoroughly. Like JonJacob suggests, it needs some more space to develop and it goes somewhat beyond the scope of what I'm doing at Gameshark.

    It's a good thing Barnes is not the author of this article - his readers are

    I'll tell you, it sure feels that way sometimes.

    Does this article have anything to with Boobs and Bombs?

    It all depends on what you bring to the table, Avery.

  • avatargeneralpf
    Quote:
    I have a film degree


    LOL

  • avatarmjl1783

    So, generalpf, do you plan on ever having anything substantive to say about anything around here at any point, or are you just going to continue to show up periodically to make petty little snipes at people whenever you're feeling cranky?

    I only ask because I can't remember the last time when you inserted yourself into a conversation without acting like a mean-spirited jackass.

  • avatarJonJacob

    acting like a mean-spirited jackass.

    He's even worse then you!!

    But I still love him

    Love Out Loud !!

    But you know what he means. He could illuminate us with his opinion by expounding on it but I garuntee that I know exactly what he means and could write a paragraph or two about it if so inclined (I'm not). It would be a fair opinion if Barnes didn't warn everyone ahead of time that it was a pretentious article.

    But he did warn us so it's the Gerneral's fault for reading it.

  • avatargeneralpf

    This is the exact same pretentious bullshit that you guys complain goes on at BoardGameGeek. All the "chin-scratching Eurogamers" to quote Barnes. Well what the hell is this article? It's a bunch of crap. Barnes thinks he can redefine the word "author" so that he can make a shocking statement that game PLAYERS are game AUTHORS. Well guess what Michael, if I redefine the word "author" to mean "toast" then I *ate* an author this morning. How's that for shocking?

    And don't let me get started on a film degree. Sounds like someone's mommy and daddy wanted him to go to college and were footing the bill. I met some film grads the other day... they served me at McDonald's and rented me a game at Blockbuster.

  • avatargeneralpf

    And the actual point that he's trying to make through all the pretentious mentions of Kubrick -- the director of the shittiest movies I've ever seen -- not to mention fucking TRUFFAUT is that a game's worth depends on the people playing it. Gee, what a revelation. As if we didn't know that for YEARS. And yet all the back-slapping comments up top like Barnes is the messiah of board games.

  • avatarbill abner
    Quote:
    I'm sorry this article sucks, that's as far as the apology goes. At least it's only here and on Gameshark.com, where no one will see it.

    It's true.

    I can't believe the money we pay Mike has been those clinky coins from Age of Empires 3 for the past 3 years and he hasn't noticed yet. Keep that on the down low.

  • avatargeneralpf

    Mad Dog: I don't have to write better articles than Barnes to criticize his. It's the nature of being a critic. But if you want, I can upload one of my bowel movements to gameshark.com, then will I have your permission?

  • avatarStephen Avery
    Quote:
    This is the exact same pretentious bullshit that you guys complain goes on at BoardGameGeek.

    Which is why I insist we get back the basics I.E. Boobs and Bombs.
    Frankly, high minded discussions of "Games as Art" and "Gaming as Metaphors", Gaming having a cultural Impact, Games as a social vehicle, Games ad naseum leave me disgusted. The whole thing is so overblown that some people would rather talk about gaming than actually *play* a game. Shut up and roll the dice. Its your turn.

    Steve"over it"Avery

  • avatargeneralpf

    Well said Stephen. It turns out, outside of this website, people ARE playing games -- board games, not video games -- and the Barnes' of the world are on the outside looking in.

  • avatarJonJacob

    The thing is that this kind of intellectual masturbation, which admittedly is just the same points we've all made before... can be fun for those of the right mind set. It is a game in and of itself for those willing to participate and taken as such can be a good way to blow some time at work. But on the opposite side there is a "too cool to sound artsy" bullshit attitude in your posts making fun of Barnes which is easily as pretentious, as if your too good for the rest of us and can see through all of this. The ultimate hipster taking refuge in the notion that all our words are just so much garbage compared to mister shoot straight from the hip all the time.

    You were warned that it was a pretentious article... your still free to sling shit in responses, I don't mind, it's not my article, but you were warned.

  • avatargeneralpf

    Point taken Jon.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    So GPF...how many of the 1100+ hits this article has here (which does not include the number at Gameshark) are yours? How many times a day are you coming on here to get yourself worked up into a tizzy?

    Don't like it, don't read it. DONE!

  • avatargeneralpf

    I'm guessing I've been to this article 10-15 times since it was posted.

    It would be harmless but it pushed a real article off the front page when it showed up.

  • avatarMichael Barnes

    So why don't you provide us with a "real article" next time you want to see something of mine off the front page? Or can you not sustain such protracted bitchcraft over the course of a couple of paragraphs?

  • avatarmjl1783
    Quote:
    This is the exact same pretentious bullshit that you guys complain goes on at BoardGameGeek. All the "chin-scratching Eurogamers" to quote Barnes. Well what the hell is this article? It's a bunch of crap. Barnes thinks he can redefine the word "author" so that he can make a shocking statement that game PLAYERS are game AUTHORS. Well guess what Michael, if I redefine the word "author" to mean "toast" then I *ate* an author this morning. How's that for shocking?

    See? Now you've got an actual point behind your ranting, and a pretty good one at that. Was that so hard?

    Quote:
    It would be harmless but it pushed a real article off the front page when it showed up.

    So? Just because it's not on the front page doesn't mean it's gone forever. Unless you have the attention span of gnat, it's pretty easy to suffer through the two clicks it takes to get to it.

    And I believe the article you're talking about was basically a blog post from Matt Drake, which had even less to do with playing games than this one does.

  • avatarSchweig!

    mjl1783: "So, generalpf, do you plan on ever having anything substantive to say about anything around here at any point, or are you just going to continue to show up periodically to make petty little snipes at people whenever you're feeling cranky?"

    Just admit that you don't fancy the competition.

  • avatarmjl1783

    Go fuck yourself, pinko.

  • avatarJonJacob

    No one ever tells me to go fuck myself... :'(

    That's ok though, I do it all by myself.

  • avatarShellhead

    "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room. "

    (generalpf, that's a Kubrick reference for you)

  • avatarHatchling

    As Avery requested:

    http://images33.fotki.com/v1141/photos/5/1222605/8359296/ladygagaexploding290-vi.jpg

  • avatarscissors

    (To my own suprise) I enjoyed this article (something I dislike admitting 'cos it's Barnes) but I wonder if the author really takes the argument all that seriously, especially compared to some of the repsonses. At the end of the day, we all know that games are designed by designers and not the players, and the article anyway was more of a launchpad to get people talking about the player's role - than to "really" reinvent the language or key terms. I think :)

    The suggestion that players really co-author the game would be preposterous.

    That said, players can take some games in different directions than even the author expected (the reason there are house rules, home-made expansions, homemade artwork (Like those 3-D Space Hulks), etc. That IS a process which is creative and which sometimes are picked up by producers in additional releases or influence further design decisions (perhaps the introduction of more 3D elements - Adventurers, Horus Heresy, Runewars). Imput, feedback, whatver, as far as I know influenced at least the expansions to Pandemic and TI:3 and probably others I can't think of right now, so in that sense players can help take individual games further.

    Though I kind of object to the term 'performance' in the context of game playing (that seems to me highly pretentious - suggesting an audience and additional layers of meaning I don't think are there as opposed to artistic mediums), players obviosuly DO form the experience and a game is just an ouseless object if its not used as it was intended. That's nothing new to anyone, like General PF says, but I enjoyed the take in the article because it is one of the things that sets many AT games apart from the more deterministic designs: deep player involvement and deeper emotional investment.

    For me, Game Z would be the one that would allow even more room for interpretation or action than you generally get in board games but designs seem to hit a wall where they can go no further without breaking down and becoming unplayable or becoming an RPG.

    As for Kubrik and Truffaut references, to my mind they are more important than any game or game designer... their mention might be pretentious to some, but I don't take the comparison of them as auteurs all that seriously, because no game is quite AS important as the films of the French new Wave,and the greats Kubrik or any other world-class filmmaker who changed the language of cinema. But that's just my opinion.

    Boobs and bombs - I agree with Avery there - it's the anti-intellectual reaction, the "fuck all this theorising and let's just play some games" - it's hard to argue with that :)

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