Digital Content - Game Interview

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GSI 2018-07-16 11:45

We had an interview with the senior in digital contensts in Dongseo University, Arturas Gumbaragis. A game programmer who's going to finish his bachelor degree in both DSU and MRU this September.
Here are his responses to the interview:
1. What is a game?

In ancient Zen Buddhism philosophy we find that questions cannot only be answered with “Yes” or “No”, but they can also be answered with the character “MU”, which means that the question is wrong. I believe we should answer the question “What is a game” with the character MU, because trying to define the word “game” is fundamentally wrong. By trying to define it, we are drawing invisible lines that separate “real games” from those which do not qualify as games. This separation limits game development to follow given guidelines. It slows down the natural development of games or even prevents the generation of new ideas simply because they could no longer be considered as games.


We create and play games every day without even realising it ourselves. Picking a stick in the woods, pretending it’s a sword; searching for an answer to the question of your teacher just to get an extra point in the exam; counting your steps to reach your daily goal; or even trying to get ready for work as fast as possible to break your own record. Even the grumpiest grandpa on planet earth who would never consider himself a gamer tries to place his slippers in the exact same position before going to bed. That is his own mini-game which brings him joy. Almost anything that enables interactive experience can be considered a game.


So can we equate a game with an experience? Ancient Zen addresses this directly: “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” If we define sound as molecules in motion, then the answer would be positive, but if we look at sound as an experience of hearing, then the answer would be negative. The same goes for the experiences that result from games: games enable those experiences, but they are not the experiences themselves.


In order to better understand the term “game”, it is important to mention that games involve some sort of interactive experience. The only criteria for an interactive experience is that an actor has to make a choice. Which door to open first? Or what is my strategy to defeat this boss? This is the main difference from other sources of entertainment such as movies or books, which are perceived passively.


To sum up, I believe we should not squeeze the term “game” into a narrow and strict definition, but rather consider it from a broad perspective. But if I was forced to declare what a game is in one sentence, it would be: “A game is a container of rules that enables interactive experience”.

2. Why do human beings play games?

If we ask students who start playing games during class, "why do you play games" they would probably say “Because the class is boring”, if we ask doctor, who just got back home after completing a hard surgery, he might say “To clear my mind and finally relax”. There was a study done in a medical field which identified, that after a tragic accident patients who played video games in a waiting room had suffered much lower long-term psychological damage than those who didn’t play games while waiting. So people tend to play games to get away from reality, cope with their stress. But it would be a mistake to assume that over 2 billion video gamers worldwide are playing only to escape their miserable reality.


In order to answer to this question we have to dive into human psychology. There are a number of studies done on this topic and it all comes down to the fundamental human needs. Every one of us has their own needs that can be categorized in Maslow's hierarchy and games target several of them perfectly. If we look at gamers psychology through the lens of self-determination theory we find, that games perfectly fit to the frames of innate psychological needs:


Competence - an ability to do something well is one of the most important factors contributing to psychological well-being. Controlling the situation, mastering your field enhances your self-esteem. Game designers always try to achieve game equilibrium, the perfect balance between skills of a player and difficulty of a game. Game must be not too hard to be unbeatable and yet, not boringly easy. Achieving this state, players feel that they are in control of the game. Beating 100th level in Candy-Crush Saga, finally killing that hard boss in Dark Souls or beating your friend in Mortal Kombat with that insane combo move that you have just learned. All of the given examples boost your self-confidence through the sense of mastery.


Relatedness - socializing, connecting, feeling that you matter to someone. These fundamental needs can be found in every multiplayer game such as Counter Strike or League of Legends, where a teamwork is necessary to win. Nowadays even small games exploit sense of connection by implement social features with ability to share achievements or communicate with others in-game.


Relatedness is present not only in communication with others, but also when emerging into game and connecting with a played character. “the World is going to an end and you are the one to save it!”, such scenario is common in offline games. Such design gives an impression to a player that one matters and he/she is the only one who is capable of saving it.


Autonomy - a natural need to be in control of our own actions. This is the very same reason, why kids instinctively say “No” to their parents and rebel. They simply desire to be more independent and decide their own actions. In video games such as Skyrim or Witcher a player is able to choose his own destiny, change the course of the game. In these games this innate need which was mentioned above is satisfied. Other games commonly use customization to make their game more appealing, a player can personalize the character in a way that is appealing and unique, such experience makes player feel autonomous.


Carefully designed games fulfill all three innate needs motivating player to play it. Such design keeps a player engaged for a longer period of time, satisfies a player and makes him happier after playing. And after all, happiness is what people are craving for, so better question would be: Why one wouldn’t play games?

3. What kind of games would I want to make?

To answer this question I asked myself a broader question: “What would I like to change in a modern world?” and I found myself wondering about educational system. Current educational system is suppressing children's creativity. There was an experiment done to determine how children's creativity is affected by schools. A test to determine child's creativity was given to 1st, 4th graders and high-school graduate students and results were 80%, 20% and 4% accordingly. the Results indicate a significant drop in pupils creative thinking as children grow up. This reminds me of one of the most influential 20th century painters Pablo Picasso and his saying “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”. As technology steadily replaces labour, people need to focus on a creative side of work, which technology can not replace. In a natural manner further question arises: “But how can we minimize this enormous decline in creative thinking?”. Since changing such a stagnated system from the ground is definitely not in my power I started searching for ways to enhance a current teaching. How could we increase lecture efficiency the efficiency of lectures and finally how to slow down the massive decline in students creativity. That’s when I remember Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan who said “Anyone who makes a distinction between games and learning doesn’t know the first thing about either”. Games without a doubt will be inseparable part of  the future educational system. I would like to develop games that could enhance current educational system.