While reading these assigned pieces, I found it difficult to step outside of the mainstream gamer that I am and attempt to understand the connotations and objectives behind the alternate movement games. There were, however, games that I could completely relate to (Spacewar, for example), but their births were of foreign decent compared to my own understanding of game development. One could almost feel bad, or should I say “intellectually challenged”, for enjoying the testosterone-filled, blood splattering kill-fests present in many mainstream games. But in the end, play is play, and essentially the goal of said games could be thrown out the window leaving play all alone to be analyzed. Most high-end titles aren’t viewed in this respect, but like the games played during the New Games Day at USC, the “play” is where it’s at.
Another “stepping back” moment I had while reading was the idea of Open Source and emergent gameplay. These days it’s too uncommon to find people that are willing to subvert the intended linearity of a game to find new ways to play. Ludica’s discussion of groups that were dedicated to the development of games within games was an unfamiliar concept to me (at least in its explicit form). “In a sense the ruins of D’Ni became a playground in which players could inscribe their own rules and game activities,” mentions Ludica after describing a few methods of “new play” found within the D’Ni Olympics, an alteration of Uru (Fron 4). Also a form of emergent gameplay, the modification of “Open Source” software is a more prevalent and recognizable action that takes place in today’s digital world. It was a neat realization that the first* video game was born through this pipeline: “Spacewar was spreading across the country to other computer research centers, who began adding their own wrinkles.” (Brand)
At the time, Spacewar subverted traditional games by means of its medium. Up until then, games had been played with dice, board pieces, and paper calculations. Other than physical games of sports, most romps didn’t require any physical dexterity or hand-eye coordination. The hackers and MIT changed all of that, essentially creating the first “twitch” shooter. Spacewar also differentiated itself from its predecessors by encouraging the education of a newly discovered science. “…The students [were] learning computer theory faster and more painlessly than they'd ever seen before,” boasted Albert Kuhfeld in Analog Magazine (Brand). Although a bit dodgy on the traditional game scale, many common characteristics of games can be found in Spacewar when grading it by the rubric provided by Pearce’s article. Without going into details, one could easily identify these aspects within Spacewar: Parameterized play, goal, obstacles, resources, consequences, and information (Pearce 4/69).
Built upon the idea that games weren’t only a waste of time, rather, they could teach valuable lessons, the New Games movement sought subliminal teaching methods though the use of games. One in particular mentioned by Ludica was DeKoven’s Rock-Paper-ScissorsTag, a game that combines team competition and loose affiliation. When a player on one team is tagged, he is then moved to the other team and expected to cooperate. Now imagine you were watching baseball, and a player hits a fly ball to dead center – when the outfielder catches the ball, the batter that was just deemed “out” removes his jersey and becomes a player for the opposing team. Another applicable comparison, which I’m sure was the hopeful thought provocation, would be that a soldier for one country is captured, then gives his full allegiance to the enemy (who is now the friend). In a time of controversial war, these games didn’t teach programming or stock brokering, rather it promoted “a ‘global allegiance’ to the play of the game itself, rather than to the success of any particular team,” (Fron 3).
Lastly, one great thing about games played through physical means (board games, new games, etc), is that they are and always have been “Open Source”. They are always modifiable to accommodate new rules and more or less constraints. De Koven provides us with an example of a bored volleyball player who would like to discontinue play, but feels obligated to stay with the team (De Koven 54). This decision does more harm than good by creating a physical and mental void represented by the player and their unwillingness to focus on the game at hand. Out of concern for the game's enjoyment, our player identifies a solution to his/her problem - bend the rules to allow for static (not rotating) positions on the court. The rest of the participants agree and allow this to take place, thus refilling the void with an eager player. Had one been playing a digital game, say "Olympic Volleyball", they would not have the ability to bend the rules for the sake of fun. But digital games, especially those of the multiplayer variety, are slowly incorporating more options that promote experimentation, in turn allowing the traditional rules to bent similar to their real-life counterparts. The digital practices of modding and open source distribution is simply an evolution of previous openness in games and their malleability.
Brand, Stewart. "SPACEWAR: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums," Rolling Stone, December 7, 2001. http://www.wheels.org/spacewar/stone/rolling_stone.html
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, December 2005.
Pearce, Celia. "Games as Art: The Aesthetics of Interactivity." Visible Language: Special Issue on Fluxus. January 2006.
De Koven, Bernard. "The Well-Played Game: A Player's Philosophy." New York: Anchor Books. First Edition, 1978.