Title: The Philosophy of Game.Play.Critique
My name is Richard Terrell and I go by KirbyKid from my days of competitive Smash Brothers. I am one of 3 developers of BaraBariBall, a fighting-sport hybrid game part of the sportsfriends compilation coming soon to ps3, ps4, and PC.
I am the sole writer of a game design and language blog: critical-gaming.com. I’ve been writing for this blog for over 6 years. That’s well over 650 articles and 700,000 words.
A month ago I gave a talk at IndieCade East titled “How Kirby and Smash Bros Taught me to Design Better Games”. In it I detailed my journey from being a player, competitor blogger, game tester, game researcher, and finally game developer. I also explained how each step gave me a foundation and perspective to better understand games.
Two weeks ago my team launched a website that we consider to be the next-generation of games criticism starseedobservatory.com. As you might guess from the title, it’s a website completely dedicated to Starseed Pilgrim an indie game by Droqen that came out a few years ago. The site has many great features like a glossary of terms and useful hashtags, but this talk isn’t about the website. It’s about the philosophy that drove the project.
Game.Play.Critique. It sounds like a generic name for a games criticism group; “game critique.” But it subtly implies a focus on gameplay “gameplay critique.” Furthermore, the message is delivered in 3 parts ala “Eat. Pray. Love.” “Eat. Sleep. Play” and “Play. Create. Share.” Therefore the philosophy also reads like a set of instructions. First, the game itself. Step 1: pick a game and understand what it is. As you do so, step 2; play, the most enjoyable style of learning. Play to learn the game and learn about yourself in the process. Take play seriously and have fun with it. Then there’s step 3, critique, which essentially means have a good conversation about steps 1 and 2. The clearer your language, the more your audience can learn about the game and your play. The more we all learn, the better we understand the game which improves and diversifies how we play.
The philosophy was born out of reflecting on how I enjoyed games the most. I love to play games, and beat games, and meditate with games, and have them on in the background, and master games, and talk to my brother about games, and write about games. I also like to complain and repair games and think about all the “what ifs?” The more I engaged with any of these activities, the stronger it made the others. And the cycle repeats.
Game.Play.Critique is a philosophy that seeks to create a critical lens through the rules and systems of games, rather than using the themes of game worlds and narratives as jumping off points for other discussions. The philosophy treats games as complex works worthy of study; play as a wonderful and valuable tool of expression and learning; and critique as a necessary piece of communication/translation needed to convey ideas, relate to people, and share experiences.
There seems to be so many games, players, and aspiring developers out there in the games industry. Even among those who have no desire to make games , there’s a lot of game design oriented discussion. X game is unbalanced. Y option isn’t unique. Z design choice would be more interesting. I’ve found that like with my journey from player to developer, there are others who put a lot of energy into playing games and talking about their design. Games seem to train players to think like designers due to their rule based interactive challenges. So it only makes sense to harness and channel some of this designer like energy.
The goal of the game.play.critique critical style is to bridge players, critics, and developers together for each other’s benefit. The goal is to illuminate game design to help players play better; provide structure and language to help critics communicate; and to bring in developers into this space to understand how game design choices affect actual players.
If you have been leaning away from games, as in gameplay design, as in the design of interactive systems that convey experiences and ideas through challenges, I encourage you to check out what we’re doing at starseedobservatory.com . We’re trying to remove the stumbling blocks that prevent gamers from engaging games and community on a deeper more detailed level.