One of our first readings this semester was Alexander Galloway’s “Gamic Action, Four Moments,” which offers a framework for categorizing videogame actions by their source – “machine” (the game itself) or “operator (the player him/herself) – and their scope – “diegetic” (within the game’s world) or “non-diegetic” (beyond the game’s world). For this synthesis of the class’ game logs, I tried to tweak Galloway’s categories to accommodate the topics in gaming that my peers addressed. I then went on a scavenger hunt for posts that fit into each of the four categories, plus a wildcard post that didn’t quite fit into any quadrant:
Diegetic machine topicMachine-to-machine communication. A post primarily about the processes and mechanics within a game (e.g. narrative, algorithms, controls, gameplay).
In his post on mobile city-sim game Citalis, Chris makes a great argument for why we should bother dissecting videogame algorithms. Videogames are unique among other kinds of software in that they have to expose at least part of their algorithm to an observing player. This means that game algorithms have to oversimplify (you can’t tell a player to keep track of 10,000 variables like you could a machine), and the resulting assumptions mark points where we can step in and, as Chris writes, “render [them] false and ineffective.”
Non-diegetic machine topicMachine-to-player communication. A post about a game’s effect on its players or the “message” a game touts.
In one of his entries on the team-based shooter title Overwatch, Patrick writes about developer Blizzard’s choice to abstain from tackling hot-button issues in their game. He admits that he’s pleased with and disappointed by Blizzard not making full use of their podium. Personally, I find Overwatch’s diverse cast to be an overdue but nonetheless significant feat for a mainstream videogame – but I absolutely agree that we should hold the companies with the loudest megaphones to the highest standards when it comes to generating discussion and tackling tough topics.
Diegetic operator topicPlayer-to-machine communication. A post about the way players talk to and affect games, or the assumptions that we “bring to the table” when playing or making games.
Why is it so hard to make a decent movie based on a videogame? Ryan tackles this very question in his post on the upcoming Assassin’s Creed movie (“based on the game based on history”). I especially enjoyed his suggestion that there is an intrinsic incompatibility at play: “videogame narratives depend on player interaction [while] movies depend on spectator compliance.” It seems like until Hollywood producers accept this fact, they’ll keep shoving a twelve-hour shaped peg into a two-hour shaped hole, and we’ll keep getting god-awful game movies.
Non-diegetic operator actPlayer-to-player communication. A post primarily about the cultural environment that surrounds and influences videogames (e.g. game development, the gamer identity, #gamergate).
In his post about community toxicity in League of Legends and Overwatch, Matt extends Huizinga’s “magic circle” to envelop online teams of players. Matt’s post encouraged me to consider how games with live voice chat complicate drawing the magic circle and its permeability. Does losing a match actually disintegrate the magic circle, or is the resulting trash talk so embedded in the game’s culture that it remains within the circle’s boundary? It’s a tough question to answer, and one that I think points to the age of Huizinga’s metaphor, and moreover to a need for a new vocabulary for talking about online games.
I was hoping to find a post that stumped easy qualification into any of the above categories, and Samantha’s entry on where gameplay begins and ends in Britney Spears American Dream did just that. Like Matt, Samantha questions the integrity of the magic circle in her observation that American Dream muddles the line between fact and fiction, between the game world and the real world such that players “participate in both at the same time.”
Putting these posts into different corners of Galloway’s chart was fun, but it’s a messy classification. The fact that my selections bump into and bridge across each other’s borders highlights the complex networks of communication that videogames trace and construct. In other words, using magic circles and four-square tables to talk about play and gamic actions start to feel a bit restrictive when the games we play are rarely so well-defined.
Galloway, Alexander. “Gamic Action, Four Moments.” Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 2006.