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February 11, 2008


6) Incompleteness: in your view, how important are the visual and auditory aspects of simulation, and accuracy of rendition in creating a game play experience that faithfully captures the essence of the circumstances to which the serious game artifact provides testimony?

When is it better to leave some of the surfactant details of the rendition to the imagination? In your view, might the current emphasis placed on graphical verisimilitude* (“the appearance of being real or true”) be forcing the cultural evolution of games towards an evolutionary dead-end?

Eric Zimmerman pointed out in an interview originally published Merge magazine, in 1999, that games are a flattening. Insofar as games in general and videogames more specifically may model or simulate aspects of physical realities, they are mappings. Mappings are translations from fuller dimensions onto fewer dimensions. They (games) are not like the maps of Borges. They are shadows or projections of one system onto another. Mappings of this sort necessarily leave things out. In choosing what to include, what to render present, one simultaneously chooses what to exclude, what to render absent.

I've thought alot about Zimmerman's statement. It reminded me of the concept in poetry of "enjambment" where the implied silence at the ends of lines can be crafted to carry meanings that nuance, augment, or contradict readings that obey the conventions of punctuation. In poetry that employs enjambment, the poet has attended to the spaces between lines and found opportunities for meaning to accrue in those spaces. These spaces are silences, absences, thought to be voids or vacuums. Yet through considered attention to the framing of those silences, they are made full with meaning.

This particular fragmentary model from poetry offers game makers opportunities to make something from the limitations.

Posing the question as "Incompleteness" may not be fair. Certainly a map is incomplete when compared to the reality from whence it was derived, but the map will provide a bias that helps reveal certain specific truths about that reality and make them explicit.

The drive toward visual verisimilitude in videogames recapitulates cinematic fiction's drive toward verisimilitude in "special" effects, and they both recapitulate the drive that painting experienced in the 14th and 15th centuries. Animated cartoons also have long experienced this drive. Chuck Jones, famed animator for Warner Brothers, is reputed to have questioned why animated cartoons should strive to replicate visual reality when that goal imposes limits on the expressive potential of the medium. The elastic reality of his animation models potentials for expression that far outstrip versimilitude.

I realize that the source of the original question comes from looking at "serious games" and their potential for use in training contexts for military and business applications. This would locate the question in the realm of simulations that have measurable outcomes (a perversion of Salen & Zimmerman's definition of games, with my humble apologies to both). The military applications may be a logical extreme test case for this. Militaries have the need to ramp up experience levels of ground soldiers without risk of catastrophic harm. In order to do so they have always had to create war "games" in visceral reality where risk of bodily injury to the trainee is mitigated to a degree that rendered these also "incomplete". Serious videogames have been hoped to help get closer to real and yet keep the risk level manageable.

Jesper Juul offers a definition of videogames as being half-real, and that this is there special condition. I need to make a closer reading of Juul's work, but I will hazard an extrapolation. Videogames in general, and - by extension - serious, humane, or socially conscious games in particular, are complete in and by their "incompleteness".

Posted by SWEAT at February 11, 2008 08:45 AM