The Community (of Practice)

  
Hi Nashwa,

I have taken the liberty (and I hope you don’t mind) of trying to be really open about our collaborative process. As I explained when we met, my blog is sort of like my notebook, wherein I reflect on my reading. It’s more often that not off the top of my head – I type and publish, without much editing (which goes some way to explain all the typos) or structure.

We agreed that, due to our various commitments beyond university, most of our collaboration would be on-line. So what I’m typing here might be what I’d written to you in an email, but given the experimental, open and collaborative nature of the Opposites Attract Challenge, I thought it might be fun to share our thoughts and discussions in this public way. Then, even if we fail to produce anything that works in the next six weeks, we’ll at least have a series of posts on this blog to share at the Festival! If you’d prefer not to communicate quite so openly, I totally understand. We can go back to more a private medium like email.

So anyhow, the challenge we set ourselves when we met was:

We are going to prototype an app for tutors and course leaders that will gamify the objective of creating on-line Communities of Practice among their students.

It might be worth catching up on what we mean by “gamification”, and handily, I recently wrote a blog post on that very subject. A paper linked to in that post suggests that gamification uses “motivational affordances” like: Points; Leaderboards; Achievements/Badges; Levels; Story/Theme; Clear goals; Feedback; Rewards; Progress; and, Challenge. Some of the other ludic affordances I’ve encountered in my reading include things like music and presence (the feeling of being in the virtual world) which might be affordances too far in the six weeks we have to complete this project.

You’ve already got a “game metaphor” going for your research work, and that’s a board-game, like Snakes and Ladders, wherein course leaders work their way up to a winning square. So in gamification terms, you’ve already been thinking about affordances like Acheivement and Levels, Clear Goals and (on squares 5 and 11) Feedback. What we are looking to add (I think – but stop me if you disagree) are some of the other affordances, like Story, Rewards and Badges.

So, I thought I’d share with you, to kick off the discussion, some cuttings from my sketchbook, and my thoughts so far. Our clear objective is the creation of a Community of Practice, and a story that I’ve been playing with (but I’m not committed to) comes in three acts: Gathering the Tribe; Settling the Farmland, and Founding the City, which correspond with the three levels of your original game metaphor.

  
So, for example, the first part of Gathering the Tribe, is the first square of your game board. (Actually, no, the very first thing our player does is came his/her course and input the number of students on it, on a simple screen I’ve sketched above, with some ideas for badges won for simply adding classes – the proportion of returns s/he gets from students will very likely be the trigger for badges as you will see later.) The first square of your gameboard is about getting students to do a self-assessment learning preferences test. As the cohort share their results, I imagined the tutor inputting them into the app – not as individuals (likely to be all sorts of DPA issues around that) but simply number of students of each type in the class. Of course, s/he could input them as Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, Kinaesthetic and Multimodal, but I thought it might be fun instead to represent them as characters within the story or theme, thus:

 
  Quite why our tribe needs safe-crackers, I have not yet worked out, there may well be a better role to represent those with the Auditory learning preference. Here’s a question for you, does the VARK test return simply these four types plus multi-modal? Or are there other results that we’d need to find character classes for?

I thought of a couple of other badges the tutor might win during this process, which have no real impact on the game result, but may well act as motivators. When the tutor first gets one student of each type, s/he might win a “Full House” badge:  

 And when the total number of students of each type matches (or exceeds) the number in the class, s/he wins a 100%! badge (this might be a badge that appears, possibly in variant form for other challenges too):

 Maybe on completion of this first challenge, s/he also gets a “Behaviorist” badge:

   (A rather poor rendition of a jug of knowledge, about to be pours into an empty vessel.) Of course our tutor might offended by being called a behaviorist, but if they understand that they can win a “Constructivist” badge by completing more of the quest, this might be a very effective motivator 🙂

Your squares 2 and 3 appear in my level 2, Finding the Way. As they complete the tasks set by your recommendations, the path to a place to settle becomes clearer. And our tutor might win Explorer and Map Maker badges too:

   

With Pedgogical and Technical plans completed and the Wiki Framework in place, we are into Act Two, Settling the Farmland (your square 5). I’m less certain about what the tutor’s tasks should be for these next few squares on your board, and thus the rewards, but for some reason I thought this “Dib Dib Dib” badge would be a good idea (it probably isn’t):

   I did think though, that we should reward those disgruntled behavioursists with a shiny new Constructivist badge as soon as they’ve completed your square 5:

  And square 9 should be when they get their Socio-constructivist (or should that be Connectivist? I’m a bit confused) badge:  

 Between those two levels, I was floundering a bit:  

 I thought that at square eight is might be fun to reward our tutor with a role/grade according to what proportion of their students are suggesting topics and resources. Using a corporate metaphor for example, just 10% of your students suggesting topics would earn you the lowest Team Leader rank, 100% would make you Chairman of the Board, and in between you might become Assistant Manager; Manager; Head of Department; VP; President; or CEO. The whole corporate metaphor doesn’t fit very well with my Tribal story, but I’m nervous of making up ranks in a tribal society for fear of being too “orientalist”, and I already discarded a military one from Cadet to General. Given that by square 8 we’re about to move in Act 3 of our story Founding the City, a civic ranking system, with Mayor at the top might be more appropriate. What do you think?

By your level 10, I was feeling more confident suggesting  an “Architect” badge:

  And on your square 11, the tutor earns a “Wise Old One” badge, because at this point we are preparing the tutor to let go of his/her community building, and let the Community of Practice that they help create survive on its own terms (I think? Am I right?).
  And that’s about as far as got. How about you?

Narratives in social science

I ought to watch out for the literature rabbit holes I can fall down. After my last foray into narratives and sociology, I got sucked into another work that was only tangentially about what I’m studying. This one though did at least have a few quotable quotes I might want to use later.

Brian Alleyne kicks off his Narrative Networks; Storied Approaches in a Digital Age by asking (on page 2) “What is narrative?”

“Narrative, in its simplest sense, consists of a series of connected events, and a particular way in which theses events are told. The first element is the story, and the second element is the narrative discourse… It follows from this that a story can be rendered through different narrative discourses”

He goes on (page 40) to reference “Jerome Bruner (1986; 1991) [who] has argued that humans make sense of the world in two fundamental ways, in two cognitive modes: paradigmatic and narrative. In the Paradigmatic mode the human mind recognises elements as belonging to two categories in a classifying operation.So in this cognitive mode, when we encounter an object, we seek to map it onto already existing classificatory schemes pf objects, trying to work out what kind of object it is. […] For Bruner this mode of cognition is most characteristic of science.
“In the the narrative mode of cognition we seek to connect people and events into a temporally coherent whole. The passage of time is important in this mode.As Paul Ricoeur (1984) argies, some sense of the passage of time is quite fundamental to how humans understand themselves and the world around them. The narrative mode of cognition is one with organises ideas and experiences into stories and is seen to contrast with the paradigmatic, scientific mode in that it operates in an emotive or emotional and expressive register as opposed to the rational register of paradigmatic cognition. These ideas are obviously abstract ideal models of cognition and cannot always be easily separated from one another in seeking to account for how people go about making sense of the the world.”

So it can the argued that a label in a museum or cultural heritage site, which categorizes an object, can’t connect the visitor emotionally to that object, unless they bring a story with them. But a purely story led interpretation of a site or collection can’t help the visitor understand it.

Later on in the book (page 92)he touches upon the Narrative Paradox “The fundamental issue here is that however defined, narrative text is characterised by a coherence that links human, and non-human agents, their actions, experiences and other happenings into a temporal chain – the following of which leads us to some kind of conclusion. The problem here for thinking about “hypertext narrative” lies in the very nature of hypermedia: unless the author of a hypertext network deliberately imposes a narrative structure on that collection of texts, the collection will have a degree of openness which militates against narrative coherence” using classic text adventure games Zork and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as examples he concludes “Interactive fiction therefore sacrifices the open-ended possibilities of hypertext in order to maintain some degree of narrative coherence.”

He also summarises the Narratology/Ludology debate, on page 93 and later (pages 116-121. As a gamer and a narrativist, he offers a balanced view, citing many ways in which games are not narratives but also pointing out that “Narratology has been part of the videogame designer’s toolkit from the start (Crawford, 2003; Rollings & Adams, 2003; Ryan, 2001; Salen and Zimmerman, 2010). Many computer are based on the three-act narrative structure of situation, conflict and resolution, that that same structure being repeated as the player moves through the game.”

In his debate on whether games can be analyzed narratively, he looks specifically (page 119) at history themed games like my old favourite Civilization: “In order to make these games worth playing narrativity has to be be balanced with playability, which means departing from the tight emplotment of historical that is at the core of historical narrative.”

Does any of this leave me any more enlightened? Not particularly, but I enjoyed reading it.

Ludology vs Narratology Revisited

My previous post on the Ludology vs Narratology debate is one of my most visited, and I note that that the term frequently appears in searches that bring people to this site. So, in the spirit of “give the people what they want”, let me offer up this morsel.

I’ve been reading Espen Aarseth’s paper, A Narrative Theory of Games, and he both offers insight into the debate (as, it seems, a pretty early participant), and, more importantly, does a reasonable job of debunking the whole thing. Along the way, he demonstrates a masterclass in academic rhetoric, but you can’t help but feel its personal too.

In reality this is not one, but two debates conflated: one is the design-oriented discussion of the potential and failings of game-based narratives, and another is the discussion of whether games can be said to be stories.

Aarseth points the finger at Henry Jenkins’ Game Design as Narrative Architecture, for setting up the two sides of Ludologists and Narratologists. (Though in that paper, Jenkins appears to point the finger back at Aarseth for coining the word ludology in the first place.) Aarseth argues that pitting one side against the other was “unfortunate, because it obscured the fact that all the so-called “ludologists” were trained in narratology and used narratology in their studies of games.”

Aarseth argues:

The “ludologist” position was not, as has been claimed, “to see the focus shift onto the mechanics of game play” (Jenkins 2001) but to emphasize the crucial importance of combining the  mechanical and the semiotic aspects and to caution against and criticize the uncritical and unqualified application of terms such as “narrative” and “story” to games. In other words, the ludologists’ critique was a reaction to sloppy scholarship (in which key terms are not defined), one-sided focus and poor theorizing, and not a
ban against the application of narrative theory to games as such

(This next bit, I love)

That this challenge has been mistaken for a ban on the use of narrative theory in game studies is nothing less than amazing, and perhaps goes to show that humanist academics are often less astute readers, scholars and interpreters than their training gives them occasion to presume.

Oh, but what’s this?

Anyone who echoes Jenkins’ misleading nomenclature of “ludologists” vs “narratologists” simply has not read the literature itself.

That’s me well and truly told.

Holiday Reamde

Last week, for my holiday in Cornwall, I took some “hard” reading with me, but I was determined to have some holiday reading too. Having mentioned Neal Stephenson in a previous post, I was reminded that I hadn’t ever picked up one of his more recent books, Reamde. Shopping around, it was pretty cheap on Kindle so I downloaded it, and took it with me.

I wasn’t expecting it to immerse me back in the world of games and cultural heritage, in fact, I was hoping to be taken on some flight of scientific fantasy. But as Mick Jagger once sang “you don’t always get what you want…”

IF THERE WERE going to be K’Sheteriae and Dwinn, and if Skeletor and Don Donald and their acolytes were going to clog the publishing industry’s distribution channels with works of fiction detailing their historical exploits going back thousands of years, then it was necessary for those two races to be distinct in what archaeologists would call their material culture: their clothing, architecture, decorative arts, and so on. Accordingly Corporation 9592 had hired artists and architects and musicians and costume designers to create those material cultures consistent with the “bible” of T’Rain as laid down by Skeletor and Don Donald.

 Reamde page 46

Reamde follows the adventures around one Richard Forthrast, co-founder of a company that produces a wildly successful MMORPG called T’Rain. The game is based on (and portrayed as a competitor to) World of Warcraft but the attention to detail in material culture is reminiscent of Skyrim, which has of course inspired more than one “ludic archaeologist“.

I got quite excited as the opening chapters progressed. The last Stephenson book I read, Anathem taught me a lot about mathatics and quantum theory, and I thought he might blow my mind about game design too. Sadly (though entertainingly) the novel became an extended transcontinental shootout involving the various members of  Forthrast family, a couple of chinese teenagers, a Hungarian hacker, a Russian “security consultant”, a British MI6 agent and a Welsh muslim terrorist.

The references to the game are quite fun and experimental though. They do suggest that the author is a narrativist:

Because Corporation 9592, at bottom, didn’t make anything in the way that a steel mill did. And it didn’t even really sell anything in the sense that, say, Amazon.com did. It just extracted cash flow from the players’ desire to own virtual goods that could confer status on their fictional characters as they ran around T’Rain acting out greater or lesser parts in a story. And they all suspected, though they couldn’t really prove, that a good story was as foundational to that business as, say, a blast furnace was to a steel mill.

Reamde page 209

Which is why this fictional company has a department called Narrative Dynamics. But his leading character does think ludically too: the novel recounts how they come up with the idea that the core “Medieval Armed Combat” mechanic could be used to help with monotonous real-world jobs. This is like an idea my wife had mentioned a couple of years back. The example in the book was airport security, but it made me laugh when I saw the story about Fraxinus.

The other thing that I liked about T’Rain (and something that I miss in Skyrim) was the vassal system – players were not simply lone adventurers, but could recruit (or be recruited into) a gang, warband, household or army, in something like a pyramid selling scheme, all of which feels like a more realistic medieval style world than one in which everyone is equal. The novel recounts how this eventually divides the players into two factions, not the artificial Good and Evil factions invented by the games creators, but the Forces of Brightness (Manga inspired players who dressed their characters in lurid colours) and the Earthtone Coalition (more eurocentric gamers who enjoyed more Tolkienesque fantasy). These two factions of course starting to produce material cultures that built on the created archaeology of the world, but which were something entirely new and unplanned.

A fun read, even if not quite the escape I was hoping for.

My first abstract

I’m excited because my first conference paper proposal has been accepted, and it gets financial support to help me go deliver it. So in September I’m off to the University of Rochester, NY for their Decoding the Digital conference. I thought I’d share the abstract here. Now, of course, I have to write the paper.

Abstract

The creators of digital narratives, in the form of computer games, are experimenting with form as they explore story telling in virtual spaces. Different approaches to so-called “open world” games all succeed in creating emotionally engaging diageses, three-dimensional virtual story spaces around which the player can wander with apparent freedom.

Cultural heritage institutions, including museums, built heritage, historic and ancient sites and heritage landscapes, have long been telling stories in three dimensions. Where it’s done well, visitors to those sites can immerse themselves in stories that they co-author as they make choices  about what to look at first and subsequently and how deeply they want to explore individual points of interest.

Digital content creators have long had the opportunity to learn from heritage interpretation (Carliner 2001, Sylvester 2013), but what can cultural heritage institutions learn from computer games?

This presentation reports on early research comparing narrative approaches in digital games and cultural heritage institutions. Using case studies of open world games such as Red Dead Redemption, Dear Esther, and Skyrim, the presentation identifies different narrative techniques, structures and emotional triggers and seeks comparators in a number of UK cultural heritage sites. Highlighting the relative strengths of the digital and real-world media, the presentation discusses how cultural heritage sites might adapt some of the techniques of game narrative, including structure and music, to interpretive use. The results of an evaluation of a digital ludic interpretation case study, Ghosts in the Garden, at the Holburne Museum, Bath, illustrate the discussion.

The presentation concludes by setting out the plan for further research, including an exploration of adaptive narrative and the narrative braid (Hargood et al, 2012), and experiments with more considered use of music to trigger emotional responses at heritage sites.

A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer

Diamondage

There are a lot of things in Neal Stephenson‘s The Diamond Age which I love. If I’m honest with myself I hope to see mediatronic paper and animated digital chops, for example,  become real in my lifetime. There are other aspect of the world created in that novel, for example massive inequality in a post-scarcity society, which I hope we won’t see, but I fear we are already walking down the path towards. At the core of the book though is one idea that some of my recent reading has prompted me to think about again.

The 2009 paper, Serious Games in Cultural Heritage, by Anderson et al., is a fun read, reporting on the state of the art at the time. There are some lovely lines which I’d like to take issue with. The authors, for example, hint at an opinion that a serious game doesn’t need to be fun. To which my reply that if its not fun, then its all “serious” and not a “game,” even if it does make use of gaming technology. The authors cite two examples of virtual reconstructions of Roman life, Rome Reborn and Ancient Pompeii, which use gaming technology as a research tool: “[Rome Reborn] aims to develop a researchers’ toolkit for allowing archeologists to test past a current hypotheses surrounding architecture, crowd behavior, social interactions, topography, and urban planning and development.”  More fun comes from the Virtual Egyptian Temple, and The Ancient Olympic Games examples which have playful or ludic elements in them, even its its only piecing pots back together or successfully answering quizzes set by what the paper calls a “pedagogical agent.” (Crikey! I’m returning to the Ludology vs Narratology debate again – on the side of the Ludologists!)

The paper also discusses the pedalogical value of some commercial games, which Burton calls “documentary games.” The most recent example of this genre brought to my attention is Call of Juarez: Gunslinger (with thanks to Chad at westernreboot). Of course another feature of many modern commercial games that the paper highlights is the bundled content creation tools that allow you to create your own cultural heritage environment, and indeed the Virtual Egyptian Temple mentioned above was built with the Unreal Engine toolset.

There’s also a section on all the various “realities” that gaming technology has to offer, which I’ll return to when I finally get round to writing up Pine and Korn’s Infinite Possibilities. and a section on the various gaming technologies (rendering effects and artificial intelligence) and the like, which a cultural heritage modeler can use, which makes the paper a very good primer on the subject (and one I wish I’d found earlier).

What led me to that paper was looking deeper at one of the poster presentations I saw last week. I didn’t get a chance to talk to (I guess) Joao Neto who was deep in a conversation I didn’t want to interrupt, so I did some Googling. Part of a team working to interpret Monserrate Palace in Sintra, Portugal, Joao and Maria Neto did some of the usual stuff: creating a 3D model from architectural drawings and laser scanning to show how the palace developed over time; an interactive application called The Lords of Monserrate, exploring the lives of the different owners of the palace over the centuries; and The Restoration, which appears to be a mobile app which recognizes the distinctive plasterwork in each room and interprets the restoration process in that room. But they also experimented with what they called Embodied Conversational Agents.

These are virtual historical characters, “equipped with the complete vital informational [sic] of a heritage site.” The idea was that the virtual character would capture the visitor’s interest with a non-interactive animated opening scene, in the manner of a cut-scene on a video game, but then would open up a real time conversation that would immerse the visitor with realistic “face movements, full-body animations and complex human emotions.”  The conversation would be more sophisticated than a simple question and answer system, by being “context aware,” breaking up the knowledge base into modules, to make interactive responses more possible.

In order to achieve this ambition, we developed an Embodied Conversational Agent Framework – ECA Framework. This framework allows the creation, configuration and usage of virtual agents throughout various kinds of multimedia applications. Based on a spoken dialogue system, an Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), Text-to-Speech (TTS) engines, a Language Interpretation, VHML Processing, Question & Answer and Behavior modules are used. These essential features have very different roles in the global virtual agent framework procedure, but they all work together to accomplish realistic facial and body animations, as well as complex behavior and disposition.

Which all sounds like an amazing feat,even if the end result is (and I’m sure it must be) a little bit clunky. I’d love to see it in action. But what does this have to do with Neal Stephenson and The Diamond Age? Well, the subtitle of that book and the McGuffin (though plot wise, it’s much more than a McGuffin)  is A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. In the story,  A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer is an interactive book, a pedagogic tool commissioned by a very wealthy nobleman to ensure that his daughter’s educational development is superior to her peers. Many of the characters that the reader meets in the Primer are sophisticated virtual agents like those described by Neto and Neto. But some are voiced by a “ractor,” an interactive actor whose voice, expressions and movements are transmitted live to become the voice, expressions and movements of the character in the Primer. One of the characters in Stephenson’s novel make her living as a ractor, playing characters like Kate “in the ractive version of Taming of the Shrew (which was a a butcherous kludge, but popular with a certain sort of male user),” and to “fill in the blanks when things got slow, she also had standing bids, under another name, for easier work: mostly narration jobs, plus anything having to do with children’s media.”

I used to be a “ractor” of sorts, as a costumed interpreter in all sorts of historic sites. I’m proud that my colleagues and I became one of the most interactive and immersive of all the interpretation media available. But having professional people on site is expensive, and not all volunteers have the skills, confidence or desire to take on historical roles. So I’m wondering if another approach to Neto and Neto’s Embedded Conversational Agents is now, technically a possibility.

Could a virtual character be distantly controlled in real time by a human “ractor”? And could that ractor fill their working day becoming different characters (and even at different cultural heritage sites) as and when required? The relatively small audience for cultural heritage after all makes a live ractor experiment a more realistic possibility than it would be for a popular commercial video game.

I REALLY want to try this out. Who wants to help me?

Twitter is your friend

I note that one of the most popular searches driving traffic to this blog is “narratology vs ludology.” I must admit, I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve written only one post addressing that debate, and over all, I guess I’m taking quite a narratological point of view. This post however may begin to address the balance, as this is where I begin to get all “ludological.”

When I wrote my funding proposal, I predicted that I’d struggle to find much literature around narrative in games. I haven’t found much so far. I suppose I should not be surprised, all the people who know about games are rightly making games rather than writing about how to make games.

However, a couple of days back, just as I was packing up for the evening, and shutting down Tweetdeck,I glimpsed an interesting looking item:

I followed the link and had a quick look at the article, which was intriguing, but I had plans for the evening. So I retweeted it in lieu of making a note and shut down my computer.

When I came back to it the next day, I read the article. The author Tynan Sylvester had worked on Bioshock, which was interesting because I’d recently read a paper on the use of music in that game, and also had my niece’s boyfriend recommend it as a “must play”. The article is about simulation and emergent story, and Sylvester related how the stories in Bioshock had been intended to come out of a complex simulated ecology, however:

While BioShock retained some valuable vestiges of its simulation-heavy beginnings, the game as released was really a heavily-scripted authored story. There was no systemic ecology at all. It worked fantastically as a game – but it wasn’t a deep simulation.

Attempts to create realistic models in games are misguided, he says, because:

What we really want is not a system that is complex, but a system that is storyrich. […] Interestingly, real life and most fictional worlds are not story-rich! Most days for most people on Earth or in Middle Earth are quite mundane. It’s only very rarely that someone has to drop the Ring into Mount Doom. Follow a random hobbit in Hobbiton, and you’ll be bored soon.

He goes on to point out that whatever the model in the computer program, “The whole value of a game is in the mental model of itself it projects into the player’s mind” [his emphasis]. He calls this the Player Model Principle. He goes on to talk about apophenia, the human mind’s tendency to project human patterns and behaviors onto non-sentient objects (and in this case, computer animations). Using an example from the Sims, he shows how a story of love, jealousy and murder can be imagined out of a couple of variables in computer code interacting. He discusses how to encourage apophenia in the player, and concludes that modelling can create successful and compelling narratives as long as the designer remembers to “Choose the minimum representation that supports the kinds of stories you want to generate.” Which is to say, keep the complexity of the model as simple as you can get away with, adding complexity for the sake of realism only creates noise.

Which is all very interesting, even if its relevance to those in my field, cultural heritage interpretation, is mostly a useful reminder  not to over complicate things. Sylvester writes well, and explains complex ideas in very understandable ways. So I was particularly interested to see that he’s recently published a book called Designing Games, a Guide to Engineering Experiences. Could this be, I wondered, the elusive literature on designing narrative in games that I’d been looking for?

YES IT BLOODY CAN!

I downloaded a preview, and the first page set out Sylvester’s thesis, in the bold title of the first part (and then the first chapter) of the book “Engines of Experience.”

These are the droids you’re looking for.

I devoured that preview and wasn’t disappointed. I bought the full e-book (direct from the publishers). This is exactly the sort of book I envisaged finding when I wrote that funding proposal last year – not a guide to 3D modelling or programming games, but rather a games designer explaining (as he says) “the trade-offs in every design decision.”

And what gets me, is that I didn’t find it in a literature search, slogging away on Google, library catalogues or trawling though endnotes. It came to me on Twitter. I don’t know Thomas Grip, who posted that original tweet. I can’t even recall why I started following him. But thank you, Thomas, for posting that link.

And what if I had turned off five minutes earlier? Or ignored that tweet in my hurry to shut down? Would I have found this brilliant, helpful book at all? I hope so, but this has been a massive shortcut. I can see why my supervisors were so keen when I started my studies that I should up my Social game. Twitter is truly your friend.

But so is Google, and so for all those to find their way to this blog searching for ludology vs. narratology, let me quote Sylvester’s take on that debate.

This fiction-mechanics conflict is why some see a great debate between mechanics and fiction. The ludologists (from the Latin ludus, for “play”) argue that games draw their most important properties from mechanical systems and interactions. The narratologists argue that the mechanics are just a framework on which to hang the fictional elements players actually care about. This debate is the game designer’s nature versus nurture, our plot versus character, our individualism versus collectivism. But like all such debates, the conflict exists only on the surface. The pinnacle of game design is combining perfect mechanics and compelling fiction into one seamless system of meaning. Fiction and mechanics need not fight (though they easily can), and neither one need be given primacy (though one often is). Used together, they can enhance and extend each other in ways that each can not do alone.

Sylvester, T. Designing Games, O’Reilly Media, 2013-01-03. ePub.

I’ve got a suspicion you’ll be seeing a few more posts from me about this book.