The usefulness of proceedurality

This blog post is a response to Against Proceedurality by Miguel Sicart. So go read that first, if you haven't already. I should also note that I'm not super-familiar with the literature in this area, so, er, tell me if what I'm saying is old hat, or obviously wrong.

I largely agree with Miguel's arguments against proceedurality. I think that playing through another's experience is ultimately constraining, and can't be as exciting as being a full, equal active participant in a game can be. But nevertheless, within this contrained space there's room for a galaxy of brilliant, enjoyable games.

But proceedurality provides something quite useful, from the creator's perspective. It gives a model of how to make a "meaningful game". Broadly, it goes:
- Have a theme, a thing you wish to convey with your game
- Develop mechanics which reflect your theme. Have them in some way embody it.
- Make aesthetics which support those mechanics, and allow them to be properly comprehended.
- Test it, to be sure that players get the mechanics, and ideally also the theme.

Do all that, and do it well, and do all the other things you need to do well to make a worthwhile game, and you've succeeded. 

If these games are suddenly not so good any more(1), if we've all got to jump to focusing on each individual player's interaction with the game(2), if that's where the action is -- well, us game designers are buggered(3). What good is that for us?(4) If before our point was to convey meaning through a game(5), and suddenly that meaning can only arise separately within each play session(6), well, we either have to be the player or the game to convey that meaning(7), and that's a hard thing to sell to a mass market.(8)

But then again: maybe this is just fear of the new and un-fleshed-out. If Passage is the poster child of proceedurality, J.S. Joust is the poster child of the new approach.(9) It's creation provides a model for making games according to this new school - provide a minimal set of rules, enough to bring people together to play. Let most of the rules remain fluid, and instead allow them to be negotiated and enforced by the players or the play community. 

It's also worth pointing that this isn't uncharted territory we're entering. This is the the way things are normally approached, outside of digital videogames. Bernie DeKoven has consistently stressed that the rules are there to serve the players, that the peak experience is the well-played game. The LARP concept of the "first-person audience". These people are making games, and finding their point elsewhere - so if we're going to see digital games this way, we should look to them for how to do it. 

More to come, I think...

(1) I am aware this is not true.
(2) I am aware this is not true. And besides, we can still see that players behave in ways with similarities to each other, so it's not as bad a crisis anyway. 
(3) Metaphorically speaking.
(4) If we were Doing It Wrong, it would be better to know than to ignore it.
(5) Was that our point? Honestly, was it, I haven't read enough literature to know if anyone had claimed that. I still think explosions are enough reason for a game to exist, just on their own.
(6) This is how I understand Miguel's argument to go. I apologize for butchering it so.
(7) The classic example of this in videogames is Sleep Is Death. But more generally, we end up at LARPing, and roleplaying, and other games where people are trying to play to fun, rather than playing to win.
(8) This being the only other point of making games.
(9) Not that it's new. Also, sorry Doug.

11 January 2012