Who would have ever thought that a time would come when kids would answer the age question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” by telling their parents, “Mom, Dad…when I grow up I want to study video games!” Thanks to Ludology and our present engulfment in new media, all of those kids that stay glued to their Xbox’s and Nintendo DS’s may actually have the chance to pursue their dreams of studying videogames by entering into the field of Ludology! Ludologists aim to study games, particularly video games, in terms of gaining an understanding of the underlying structure, elements, and rules of the game. Games should be understood not in the narrative sense, but in the simulation sense. While of course they possess many of the same qualities as the typically understood notion of “the narrative”, video games go a step further to offer a virtual world through this model that further simulates behaviors. Players have the chance to navigate this simulated space through game play and virtually interact with all aspects of the game (sometimes even having the ability to modify the simulation via meta rules).
Manovich’s piece on Navigable Space acts as a nice compliment to Frasca’s reading on the introduction to ludology that explores the differences between narrative and simulation. In learning the basics of game studies, we are better able to comprehend the simulations and worlds that Manovich mentions as he discusses the mystical world of Myst and the level-based world of Doom. All genres of games lend themselves to ludologists as a means to study the simulations in terms of the “rules” and ideologies, thereby acting as a rhetorical tool to understand the overall picture as well as the hidden beliefs of the simauthor/video game designer. These hidden beliefs often reflect on the designer’s personal morals or the general message they want to get across to players by offering them a variety of “choices” to make when playing the game. For instance, in the game BioShock, there are three separate endings based on how the player chose the game.
This aforementioned example goes along with the notion that video games are MEANT be replayed using different strategies and techniques. Players learn more about the game and virtual realm by experiencing numerous (often countless) sessions of playing, usually encountering different events, characters, and items each time the game is restarted. Unlike the binary structure of narratives with a fixed sequence of events, simulations and video games are not isolated experiences. That is the true beauty of videogames and probably the reason why ludology is such an interesting field; the sheer amount of options contained within a game add to the intriguing complexity in the medium. The mystical element of the interactivity in these video game plot-lines is best explained by Brenda Laurel as “a hypothetical beast in the mythology of computing, an elusive unicorn we can imagine but have yet to capture” – however, I will venture as far to say that each and everyday we are getting closer to capturing that unicorn.
Lastly, I want to bring up Roger Callois’ distinction between “play” and “game” by explaining the two terms, Paidia and Ludus. Paidia is the style of play that exists in early children in their open-ended games of make-believe and running around playing tag. It is crucial to understand the OPEN-ENDED aspect that exists in Paidia; the decisions are up to the player, offering up an environment for “games to grow.” On the other hand, Ludus represents the types of games that have social rules, incorporating specific delineations that define a WINNER. There are two possible endings in Ludus, winning and losing, thus implying limitations that are non-existent in Paidia. The simauthor effectively chooses whether to utilize Paidia or Ludus, hence delivering a separate agenda as per their eventual choice. For a game like Mario that is morally charged in the sense that Mario must save Princess Peach from Bowser in order to win, Ludus is in effect. However, Paidia rules in a game like The Sims where the player has total control of the design, building, behaviors, and life choices of the characters – there is no winning and losing, the game play is seemingly infinite.
Both Paidia and Ludus operate within these simulations through different ideological levels that aid in conveying the elements of the game itself. Through the most basic level of simulation and narrative, the changing of characters within the game does not change the rules but can change the ideology that is expressed based on certain moves the player decides to make. (Ex: building a Sim house using modified skins that place a variety of famous movie stars in the same family) The second level of manipulation rules is most common in Paidia where the player works within this level, doing whatever they are ABLE to do within the model in order to progress. The third level of goal rules basically doles out what the simauthor says is MANDATORY for the player to win! The final ideological level, meta rules, are those rules that state how the game rules can be changed. Video game designers choose to allow for these mods to be in the game, they do not “unintentionally” give the player more freedom, but it definitely gives an essence of personalization. The Sims is a perfect example of where meta-rules run rampant especially due to the plethora of objects, skins, houses, objects, and patches that exist on user-content-created sites on the Internet. Many games are fueled by this user-generated content, giving the player the ability to get creative act as a video game designer!
While it might be too late to pursue the career field of ludology, understanding the theories of simulation and the elements of game play truly helps to relate to the overarching picture of digital media and interactivity. The realm of gaming transcends unto various mediums- from the television screen to the computer screen to handheld devices even to music where the musical scores for games are becoming popular playlists on iPod’s everywhere. Understanding the popular games as well as having a knowledge of simulations (and the great potential they hold for the future!) allows for one to delve a bit deeper into the reasons for choices made in game design. Video games are well on their way to becoming a tool for educational purposes, in fact, The Sims is already being used by child psychologists to observe their choices made in family structure, house design, and overall playing of the game.