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02/09/2010

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What, you don't have a console, Jon?

Non principled reasons- I had an Atari when I was a kid, but then didn't have a T.V. while living in Germany (my dad was stationed there) and so missed out on the initial Nintendo 64 madness. Then I came back to video games by the PC and found that I loved world builder and RPG type games, all of which are still on the PC. And whenever I go to friend's houses and play their consoles now, I have no muscle memory for the controllers so do a very bad job. Weirdly, often when I'm at Mark or my friend Neal Hebert's house I just watch them play the console games as if I were watching a movie (actually I enjoy it much more than watching movies).

Almost principled reason- I really like playing games where there is the possibility of an unexpected, emergent narrative. When Civilization II came out, I at least felt like I could craft a fictional world history that told a new and interesting story. Even Diablo II, which walked you through a story (though there was some randomization that gave it a little bit of sandboxiness), had so much customization in how you leveled up various character classes that you still got this. In both cases of these games there was so much variability that designers missed what in retrospect were some very easy strategies. In Civilization II if you progressed in tech the right way you could develop "armor" (tanks) before anyone else and take over the world in short order. In Diablo II if you played a Necromancer and got and then ruthlessly leveled up the Corpse Explosion spell you could obliterate boss monsters in seconds. Note that later iterations of Civilization made it harder to get armor, and made it less effective. The first patch and expansion pack in Diablo II changed the algorithm for corpse explosion.

Anyhow, I like games not just that have a good story, but where I feel like the novelty of the story is a function of my idiosyncratic choices. From a ludological perspective, I like games where I'm intellectually trying to beat the algorithm (e.g. turn based god games) more than ones where my actual dexterity with controllers plays any important role (e.g. real time god games such as Age of Empires, which I still like). Up to this point at least, PC games are much stronger than console games in emergent narrative and a more intellectual and less dexterity based ludological virtues.

When my son and daughter get old enough to beg convincingly, I'm sure at that point we'll get a console. Hopefully by that point they'll have enough music lessons to play in an actual rock band and not just the game (cf. South Park episode about Guitar Hero).

Wow this is great! Thanks for posting this, Jon. The narrative possibilities of the game seem pretty strong; hopefully they don't screw it up. What other great works can we make games about? What about parts of The Republic, or The Symposium? I've long been considering laying the foundation for a game that teaches philosophical concepts for introductory classes...

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