video games

Please not noun

[One of the reasons I listen to other gaming podcasts, despite co-hosting my own, is that I get insights and opinions that I would not have access to otherwise. This posts talks about an idea that was casually tossed out that I have picked up, dusted off and would like to consider in a longer form.]

In the latest episode of the The Brainy Gamer Podcast, there is talk of L.A. Noire. I haven’t played it. But I listened anyway. And I’m glad that I did because they — Tom Bissell, Brian Taylor and Michael Abbott at about 1:05:05 through 1:05:40 — compared L.A. Noire with adventure games with one of them remarking that the difference between the Adventure genre and others, like Action, is in how you handle verbs.

Having written about how players interact with the virtual environments — through a progressive verb-set: “I fire the gun”, “I destroy the building” — in the recent past, I was still thinking about a way of trying to isolate how players interact, in developing a language of the language of gaming. In those examples, I was thinking about the first-person perspective and how everything that player can do is transitive in nature expressing the frame of “[player] [verb] [object]” with the player entirely expressing him or herself through the lens of “I”. Then I heard the throwaway line about how Adventure games work and it suddenly clicked with me on why I rarely like them.

Gerunds

Adventure games, of the point-and-click variant, often require that you collect object and then use said objects in some way to solve puzzles. And that’s fine. The reasons why I never caught on to them is that you must master and understand both the objects you collect and what they can do. You must be able to transform them in gerunds. You must be able to change the meaning of the objects by applying them to each other through both known and guessed relationships.

Instead of the form of “[player] [verb] [object]” where [object] is a noun, you must understand or be able to create the form of “[player] [verb-ified object] [another object]” For example, in the first-person perspective I would fire a gun — “I shoot people” — but in an Adventure game it might be “honey-ing the cat hair”. [Obviously, the verb “honey-ing” doesn’t exist, but that is the mental concept at work.] The combination of objects and the set of all possible combinations of object relationships can be vast, so the developers must make it a small, actionable set. This is what never worked for me.

Games of the Adventure genre then develop a form of a language where context is the key. That is the nut I could never crack. I could never understand the context of the situations. My own combinations, often imagined ones, were never what the situation required. The developer had established a fixed, often very small subset of options I was to use to  solve a puzzle that often required me to brute force — try every possible solution — to a problem. That took a large amount of time. And I grew bored. I was never able to crack the language construction rules, the verb-ing the nouns rules each game expected you to understand.