Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Randomness

Stemming from some indirect reading this weekend (I was actually looking at some writeups on the nature of flow), I came across a topic that left me rather nonplussed as far as videogame relations goes.

This would be the concept of chaos...

In essence, videogames touch upon this without ever tackling it at all. Yet at the same time, it also avoids the concept on a nigh offensive scale (which is strangely reminiscent of my time musings last year).

Chaos is constantly alluded to in nerd-culture, but never expounded upon to any meaningful extent. Its relationship with the aforementioned time post is both obvious and inevitable as the arenas of quantum mechanics, relativity are general branches of science/math/philosophy the pathetic human collective has yet to completely wrap its mind around.

To begin with, I should assume that you've at least had enough sense to pick up a dictionary or at least Wikipedia to find out what the hell I'm talking about. IN CASE I'M WRONG though, here's the first paragraph from a Microsoft Encarta article:

"Chaos Theory, theory describing the complex and unpredictable motion or dynamics of systems that are sensitive to their initial conditions. Chaotic systems are mathematically deterministic—that is, they follow precise laws, but their irregular behavior can appear to be random to the casual observer. Chaotic behavior is common in systems as varied as electric circuits, measles outbreaks, lasers, clashing gears, heart rhythms, electrical brain activity, circadian rhythms, fluids, animal populations, and chemical reactions. It is suspected that even economic systems, such as the stock exchange, may be chaotic. The field of chaos is evolving rapidly from a theoretical to an applied science."

What I genuinely find fascinating about chaos (which in itself is rare considering my loathesome stance on mathematics as a whole) is how much of a proxy it plays towards videogames. This in turn leads me to realize a great (albeit obvious) fact about most videogames as they exist now:

They just aren't dynamic enough to begin with.

What would it even mean for a videogame to be chaotic? Is it even possible? My understanding of the concept is amateur for the time being, but from what I've gleaned in just the past few days, I'd say that there's a technical impossibility videogames won't be able to trump for a very long time. In other words, I’m willing to admit (for once) that developers just simply don’t have it easy enough in terms of creating a potential ‘chaos simulator’. The toolsets and technical machinations only allow a noticeably limited range of information for them to create with/for/ and against. For the player to grasp such a notion, they would also have to be moved into a ‘microposition’ as opposed to constant ‘macrostance’ they hold now.

Microposition - When the player’s perspective has shrunk in relation to the game’s own systems (nurturing dynamism). There’s a certain degree of function that must be applied to games for this to have any beneficial effect. At most, games have only pawed at placing the player in a microposition (mainly through aesthetics), which just isn’t enough.

Macrostance - When the player’s perspective is magnified in relation to the game’s own systems (limiting/stifling dynamism). This is an insular placement of the player’s grasp of the game’s logic. This is what gamers currently hold, as they’re always tethered to the rules which the games lay out for them. The status-quo for game design would of course have to be questioned here as very sound pillars for design rest upon the macrostance.

Now, games shouldn’t just aim to strictly emulate the formulas of mathematics for this so-called ‘chaos design’ (that would just be a nightmare for everyone evolved), but rather an dedicated analogue that alludes to it. As an example, I can only think of minimalist styled games (e.g. Pong, Geometry Wars, Shatter), rather than my usual penchant for naming narrative-based abstractions. This is because the narrative itself would have to be incorporated into such a system; this would simply create a topological mess that I don’t trust most designers to even play with right now. In essence, some of the aforementioned games are already pseudo-chaotic, as the range of possible action will consistently lie outside the player’s range of vision (obscuring the their perspective just beyond their range of sight from the macrostance).

However, using Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved as an example, such things would have to change for the game to be ‘chaotically designed/engaging’:

The distortion of the Retro Evolved's background that currently changes in tandem with the player’s movement would need a far more utilitarian role during play.
Every individual avatar on screen would require an even denser ‘programming’. All the purple cubes couldn’t just be generally allowed to act on the same spectrum of behavior (as they do now). They’d also have to encompass a more volatile effect upon one another (as opposed to simply acknowledging the player).

The way the player garners points would have to be operated on an entirely new system not emphasizing the archaic high-score mentality.

The effects of both bombs and the consistency/rate/spray of shots would need more variation.
The arena layout would have to be immense in comparison to what it is now.

Those are just the ones I could rattle off the top of my head, but they all add in creating the illusion of the often-cited ‘butterfly effect’. Even the rate at which the player would commit to sessions could change (e.g. systems running even when the player is away from the game). Now certainly there are aspects of the game industry itself that are chaotic, but a game itself? Not right now. I haven’t seen one purposefully crafted experience that would elicit the response:

“This is chaos.”

Building such working systems could also hypothetically play a hand in furthering actual scientific research (reasonably speaking) and understanding of such concepts (for designers, engineers, and players alike). I stated this with the time post as well. Right now, there’s a line where education and games are divided and it’s rather large; something such as this concept would thin out such a line significantly. It also stretches the spectrum of what a game could do yet again, as SOME people are still dead-set questioning their versatility.

Would this compromise the ‘enjoyability’ of the game? No doubt. Ask yourself this though. Do our definitions of grasping enjoyment from videogames need to change? Furthermore, is there not enough room to accommodate such a concept to begin with?

….Those --- weren’t really questions by the way. They may have been ten years ago, but not now.

What's really horrible is that this has absolutely nothing at all to do with the fact that I recently started a replaying of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory