Reading: Imaginary Games and Patterns in Game Design

I am probably about to do two books probably a great deal of injustice. I do not mean to, but I feel like I have been a bit lax in some of my reading lately.  I have had two books on my radar for a while, bought them about a month ago, and I hadn’t really gotten around to reading them yet. One was Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling by Chris Crawford (no surprise). I’m still working on that one because it is really interesting to me and I want to give more than usual.  The other book is Imaginary Games by Chris Bateman. You may have noticed that I also indicated Patterns in Game Design as part of the post title.  A few days ago, I was skulking about on Twitter, following conversations back for context, when I came across a book recommendation from Brenda Brathwaite. She mentioned Patterns in Game Design (by Staffanto Bjork) to someone as a must-read book.  I casually checked my university library and found we had an electronic copy. I didn’t read it right away, but instead tried to find someplace to buy the book (with no luck as the book appears to be a bit rare).  Eventually I got around to reading it in my own way.  The injustice I am giving these books is, for the most part, that I did not read every word. In fact, I read only parts that I thought were relevant to my topics. Even still I am going to talk about them anyway.

First Imaginary Games.  For what little I have read of it, the book feels like it would be an interesting read if I didn’t have pressing projects to do (I note that I always have projects to do). It’s a philosophy book. It even says so on the back cover, I noticed. The book sells itself on the question of if games can be art.  I picked up the book because I had already two of Bateman’s books and I was directed to the book by Bateman himself in relation to a post on stories and games he wrote. The post I was excited about and may reference it in one of my projects, but I don’t think that Imaginary Games will. It is a good book, but it is very philosophical. It is also a bit inaccessible for me, but perhaps that is just because the book doesn’t have anything very useful for my projects in it. I find this a bit contradictory, considering that the post (which I love) was written with the book in mind. An index is desired, or a conclusion that reiterates each chapters’ main points. I can’t allow myself the time to read every word of the book right now. This is particularly true as it is a bit denser and/or filled with theory that I have never interfaced with.  That said, I have nothing against the book as something to read and think about. If I were writing with less of a focus on design and more of a focus on the nature of games, I would probably be forcing myself through it carefully.  Please feel free to let me know if there is something I am overlooking in my quick and dirty run through the book’s pages. My apologies to Chris Batemen for being so disrespectful of his book and its layout.

Now over to Patterns in Game Design.  I fell less guilty for skimming through this book and pulling out just what I need. This is because the chapter titles and subheadings clearly explain what I should expect in a given section. That said, there are sections of this book about narrative, and I have regarded them as completely unhelpful. The book, however, has both destroyed and saved one of my projects.  To me, the most useful chapter in the book is chapter two, entitled “An Activity-Based Framework for Describing Games“. If you recall from my outline I was attempting to make something I was calling “ludic narratives” which was a way of describing the narrative of the actions of the player.  Patterns in Game Design has a framework for describing games via the actions that the player performs. It seems eerily similar, no? It is so similar that I am now considering using the framework as a backbone and using “activity-based narratives” rather than “ludic narratives” which is helpful as it verges on “ludonarrative” that Clint Hocking used to great effect.  What this means, though, is that most of the first half of my project is already written for me. I will need to find something else to talk about there (perhaps difficult narratives). Maybe I will make a case for procedural (systemic) narrative as well, but that remains to be seen.

As for the parts in the book related to narrative, it feels unuseful. It is meant to be exemplary: this is how you use the framework to talk about narrative.  It is also heavily based in literary theory. I find this to be a bit of a faux pas, but the book was published in 2004, so it has a bit of an excuse. Further, direct literary theory is not really applicable to an action-based narrative. Literary theory relies on the reader to be unable to alter the order of the words on the page (and before we get into the postmodern and reader agency and all that: I really don’t want to bicker over semantics). Action-based narrative necessarily requires the player to have agency and make choices, to co-create the game.  I have a feeling that I will be using a lot fromChris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling to talk about narrative in a game.

The book is valuable to me. It gives me an established framework so that I don’t have to make my own. This is great, as I don’t really have the authority to go making new methods all over the place. One a year is probably enough.

Next time on this subject, I’ll be going through Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling. It is bound to be an important book for me.

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