So it turns out that all of those years of me running underneath a giant parachute or eating asphalt in a last attempt to capture that one person in a game a blob weren’t entirely pointless or merely just children’s’ games. Apparently what I had been doing in my free time as a child was exactly the aim of reactionaries years ago who sought to break out of the norms and rules of everyday gameplay in order to create a more dynamic and interesting form of gameplay. Alternative game movements were a reinvention of the way we play. While the normal structure of games produce a winner and a loser, in most alternative games usually everyone wins, both in the amount of fun they are having and in the actual game itself. It’s also interesting to note that alternative games don’t have an exact set of rules. It’s the same concept of giving Ryan Styles of “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” a goofy looking prop and telling him to make people laugh. Playing with a parachute would be a great example of this. There aren’t really rules persay, other than the ones that are made up as you go along. As the play progresses, rules are kept or thrown out depending on how well they fit with the other rule sets. The gameplay may start as one thing and by the end have evolved into something completely different. This phenomenon was explained perfectly by Fron et al in Sustainable Play:
“One of the key revelations that participants came away with was
the importance of subjective engagement in the game experience.
It is as easy to get ensnarled in theoretical intellectualism as it is
to become preoccupied by the technical demands of game making.
This exercise brought us back to the central purpose of creating a
satisfying player experience, and awakened in the participants the
possibility that there might be more to gaming than the marketing
departments of mainstream game companies would have us
believe.” (Fron et al, 4)
This phenomenon isn’t just limited to outdoor activities. New media such as massively multiplayer online games have provided a new space for players to explore their creativity. Most of the time alternative play comes purely out of boredom. I remember back when I played Ragnarok Online, after reaching the level cap there was really nothing more to do. My friends and I would constantly be trying things out of the ordinary. We would play hide and seek, hiding in different areas of the world, we would create characters that began with the word “Oob” and invade popular pvp spots, often nagging higher level players by trying to kill them even though we knew it wasn’t possible. I remember those moments much more fondly than I do playing any of the normal parts about the game. Those moments felt very real to me, we had taken a game which everyone played and made it our own. Fron et al also cite this in Sustainable Play describing a same sort of experience that occurred in Lineage. Players decide to use a common item in the game to craft designs and messages for one another. (Fron et al, 4)
The ability for people make games within games has become so popular that people have been able to commercialize games out of the modification to games. In “Games as Art” they explain the origin of Counter-Strike. It was a game that originated from a mod in half-life. Ironically today there are now mods of counter-strike which are commercialized games. One example of which is Team Fortress 2. While the art and mood is completely different, the core gameplay mechanics that came from the original mod of counter strike are still there. This model of making new rules for old games to create a whole new experience has helped to diversify the game industry and make it as interesting as it is today.
Brand, Stewart. "SPACEWAR: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums," Rolling Stone, Dec. 7, 2001.
Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) (2005). "Sustainable Play: Towards a New Games Movement for the Digital Age." Digital Arts & Culture Conference Proceedings, Copenhagen, Dec. 2005.
Peace, Celia. "Games as Art: The Aesthetics of Interactivity." Visible Language: Special Issue on Fluxus. Jan. 2006.