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Original entry posted: Wed Dec 8 13:43:10 2010

Matt @ Wed Dec 8 09:59:02 2010 EST

Did our conversation about Angry Birds inspire this post? I totally agree. I think part of me is a Grinder, even if I totally hate the idea of it. I enjoy Borderlands, but at the same time I just want to finish the $#%@ game already.

That Fuzzy Bastard @ Wed Dec 8 10:37:03 2010 EST

Well, "psychological manipulation" is part of any art form---anyone who's made music knows that deploying certain chords changes will make people feel good, and others will make them sad. Hitchcock used to brag about "playing the audience like a piano". That's how art works. The question is just whether that manipulation is well-intetioned and ultimately rewarding.

On to your main point: Tycho of Penny Arcade posited a simplified version of this system: he divided gamers into "explorers" and "conquerers". The former want novelty, and like games in which gameplay mechanics, story, or visual elements were constantly being added. The latter go for deep mastery, and prefer games with limited variables (from Starcraft to Rock Band to Desktop Tower Defense) which they can become ever-better at.

What's nice about that divide is that it makes no distinction between casual and hardcore gamers, and pulls the focus away from genre and towards the specific satisfactions of one game. For example, two FPSes: Half-Life 2 appeals to "explorers", with its mysterious world full of varied enemies and situations (though it has achievements and difficulty levels for "conquerers"); Left 4 Dead is for "conquerers", with its limited selection of maps which you can learn and exploit with ever-greater depth.

K @ Wed Dec 8 10:55:23 2010 EST

I'm not a gamer, but I'm somewhere between storyteller (Deus Ex was AWESOME!) and partier (Rock Band and Guitar Hero are awesome - on medium).

Thomas @ Wed Dec 8 11:42:16 2010 EST

Matt: Yeah, in part due to our conversation. Been mulling it over for about a week now.

TFB: I think gaming has a deeper manipulative palette than other art forms, though, because it's interactive. As Blow argues, that gives it a toolkit for worming through thousands of years of evolved psychological defenses--playing with reward scheduling, perception of time, ubiquitous gameplay, etc. Passive media don't really get a chance to do that in the same way. I don't think that makes games better, but I do think it makes them different.

Explorer-Conquerer is a decent binary, but I wanted to explore a little more shading to the question. After all, both of those designs are mechanically very similar, and both HL2 and Borderlands would be Explorer-type games. So why do I love Half-Life, and Borderlands bores the snot out of me? That's what I wanted to answer.

That Fuzzy Bastard @ Tue Dec 14 19:54:27 2010 EST

Haven't played Borderlands, largely because it looked like straight-up Conqueror territory---no story, and the only incentive to keep playing is to build stats. But maybe I'm wrong?

But then, even Explorers can be taken in by the right sort of Conqueror experience. Rock Band, for example, though you could argue that new DLC is more about exploring the experience of playing the song, rather than conquering it. Or more strongly, the original Jet Grind Radio for the Dreamcast, which I played obsessively trying to shave moments off my best time. Although even there, the reason I was playing so obsessively was because I so massively enjoyed the experience of being in that world.

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