Ambient lenses

Struggling with writing up my literature review, I turn to some of the theses I have on file, to see how they have structured theirs. And of course I’m sucked into reading some part of the actual thesis, because something captures my attention. The thing that’s caught my eye this time comes from Mark Eyles‘, who I wrote about … (yikes!) just over two years ago, just before his thesis was released upon the world.

In an effort to distinguish “ambient” from merely “pervasive” Eyles describes six “lenses” (from Schell, J. (2008). The Art of Game Design) that help define what ambient means, in game terms.

  1. Persistent gameplay – Eyles cites MMORPGs, like World of Warcraft, as examples of games where things carry on happening even while you aren’t interacting with them.
  2. As an extension of the above,  player initiated game actions occur away from the player’s attention, for example, in Civilization, there are agents at work within cites, producing food and researching technology, but the play has the option of leaving them to get on with it, or zooming down to city scale to direct the work themselves.
  3. Gameplay events occurring simultaneously at different locations within the game world – Eyles says: “In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim there are many ambient background tasks occurring, hidden from the player; skills are increasing, experience points are being won and so on. However, although the world in Skyrim is large, complex and rich it is not functionally ambient, only aesthetically ambient. Events are only occurring in the immediate vicinity of the player, triggered by the player’s presence and the missions the player has started.”
  4. Modelessness (that’s Mode-less-ness) – players have the option to ignore game mechanics. The example Eyles gives is Skyrim again, wherein players don’t level-up automatically, they are told they that can level up, but can choose to ignore it until they are ready. He explains that this sort of philiosphy makes a “range of levels of engagement” available to the player.
  5. Automation – for example, in Civilization you can order an agent to, say, build roads and it will continue to build roads while you are concentrating on something else.
  6. Abstract representation – using another example from Civilization Eyles describes how icons hide deeper levels of complexity “This method of using abstract representation of systems and events not only supports complexity but can also facilitate ambiguity, since players may incorrectly interpret symbols and their implications.”

He only talks about four of these when I met him a couple of years ago, but as my own thoughts have developed away from simply locatative game mechanics and more towards a responsive environment, I only be come more convinced that these lenses (and maybe others like them) might also help me define exactly what I meant by “responsive environment.”

PS Maybe this little thought-journey has helped me with my literature review after all – I’m thinking about breaking it down thus (working titles for all these sections): Digital Storytelling; Interpretive Technologies; Narrative Structure; and, Personalisation. I’ll sleep on that and have another proper crack at it tomorrow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s