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“Gameplay”

Someone today asked if I had a transcript of my Opinion Jam talk at Develop ’09. I didn’t think I did. And I basically don’t, in that this was probably completely changed and made up on the spot the second I spotted Mark Rein sitting in the front row, and went to pieces.

But I did find this sitting on my laptop. It’s what I was supposed to say, in the two minute slot I had. So here it is. Don’t laugh. I actually think I have a point.

‘So. My name’s Lewis Denby, and I’m basically happy for you to all know that, since only about three of you will know who I am.

I write about games. But increasingly, one word we games journalists are using on a regular basis is really irritating me. And here’s why.

This talk might seem like it’s mainly for people writing about games, rather than making games, but I think it’s still relevant. And the crux of the matter is that, over the course of this week, I’ve been genuinely disappointed by the amount of people using the word “gameplay”, since it’s a term that’s counterproductive in all sorts of ways.

Firstly, no one in the world knows what it means. I have never met a single person who could fully explain what “gameplay” is. People go for “the experience of playing the game”, which is about as vague as it gets. Others talk about controls, balance, difficulty, whatever… but are they not entirely separate elements? Why do we insist on grouping them all together as one?

Denis Dyack spoke earlier about gameplay not being the way forward for artistic games. He spoke about games that have less gameplay than others. But what does that mean? How can something have less gameplay? Surely, if we’re going to assume gameplay exists at all, it’s present in equal amounts in any game? Y’know, because you’re playing a game. Something like Fahrenheit might be minimalist in how the player controls the action, but that IS the gameplay. That minimalism IS what it is.

But the various ways in which the term gameplay is used means it’s pretty much impossible to talk about it in any meaningful way, as we don’t have a full understanding of what it means. It’s too vague, and it’s not useful for anyone involved in the games industry.

So instead, why don’t we start being specific? Why don’t we talk about the ways in which pressing W on that keyboard helps you interact with the narrative on display? Why don’t we talk about the specific functions that element of a puzzle serves? We need to talk about the specifics, otherwise the stuff you’re doing – the stuff you guys are doing – gets lost, and you’re working your arses off to create something that only ever gets analysed and appreciated through a horrible buzz-word that holds no worth, and no actual meaning.

I’ll finish with a quote from a friend of mine. He once said to me: “Imagine you’ve just been to see a film. It was amazing. Transcendent. You turn to your friend as you leave the cinema. What do you say?

Because I can bet you won’t turn and ask him, “So, what did you think of the filmwatch?”‘

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2 responses »

  1. Instead of eliminating the word gameplay, I think we should just adopt the word ‘filmwatch’ 😛

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Anti Games « Electron Dance

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