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Critical Path Is a Positive Step Forward for the Gaming Industry

6th August 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

Respecting the fact that there's a fair share of it taking place already, advocacy is something the gaming industry could sure use more of. When such efforts are directed with an educative purpose in mind, the end result is often one that reflects goals of establishment, clarification, exposure, and/or equalization. Sometimes all four. But that's still just one side of it. With respect to the vast knowledge base seen on an internal level, we who are active observers are very privileged to be living during a time where not everything relating to the game development process is kept under lock and key. And how wonderful it is when those deeply-rooted in the field display a spirit of generosity and hospitality in this regard.

The sharing of insights and hard lessons for the benefit of those younger in years or those on the outskirts is an endeavour I greatly respect and appreciate. But I hate that I often find myself at a crossroad whenever my own personal desire to learn more about the gaming industry kicks in, as it so often does. My personal eagerness to dig deeper and educate myself on the ways of game design, industry leadings, and other related topics has been stifled at times for a variety of reasons. And much to my great upset and honest admission, the thought of going down a path with combative forces both external and internal to extract a few gems of knowledge -- worthwhile as they are -- is one that my brain tends to resist. Notwithstanding these points, when I look at how negativity has plagued gaming culturally and how this has been furthered by the onset of variables too far-reaching to even begin naming off, it's enough to get a guy down. But over the years, well-needed sources of hope have entered into the picture to paint a much more promising horizon; one where learning is not only encouraged, but is treated as a pillar upon which to thrive and create a center of togetherness and inclusion. Critical Path looks to be one of those sources.

Anyone who has had feelings similar to my own can take heart in examining Critical Path, a web series that documents with such fervor the kinds of decisions that go into the making of games and the socially-connected meanings behind such decisions. Supplementing this is an upcoming documentary that is bound to generate even more positive discussion among a wider audience. But that's further down the line. For now, though, we have access to a variety of short minute- and second-long talks on a variety of different subjects that discuss what it is that shapes the industry and the games in it -- a presentation of small- and big-picture ideas. I've spent much time soaking in a bunch of different material, and even that hasn't been enough for me to get to all of them. But it's a process for sure, and in reflecting on what I've already considered, it is with great excitement that I look forward to seeing how Critical Path develops as a project. Here are just a few of the take-away points I've personally benefited from.

Gamification - Tim Schafer
Tim Schafer touches on the need for a compulsion drive and how this can serve to invigorate the entire landscape of a virtual environment, even one that's seemingly mindless or otherwise bereft of meaning. And then, as has been studied and explored in the last few years, the consideration of how adapting a reward-focused system can be applied in real-world terms to gyms and fitness clubs, as he mentions, but also workplaces and schools.

Choice and Consequence - Warren Spector
Speaking from his own design perspective, Warren encourages fellow designers to be keen to harness the decision-making process in such a way that the player will feel more empowered by the choices they make on the world around them. He admits, however, that egos can get in the way.

Emergent Gameplay - Jason Rohrer
As Jason Rohrer points out, what a game designer may outline in their creation of a path for the player to follow does not always mesh with the directions players actually move in. This makes videogames as a medium far less predictable compared to, say, movies or books, because not everyone interacts with an interface in exactly the same way. And it is by understanding those uncertain guidelines for manipulation that we appreciate that games have the ability to move past places where other mediums stop.

Challenge of Storytelling - Rhianna Pratchett
Having a story unfold over the course of a 500-page novel is hard as it is, but as Rhianna Pratchett relates, it becomes that much more difficult to tell an interesting story when you're working with games as a medium; the key reason being that there are multiple elements vying for attention. It thus becomes a rather risky situation where fundamentals on a gameplay level can push aside the importance of having a grounded storyline with which to lead players along.

Millions of Protagonists - Susan Wu
Susan Wu points to the challenges faced by MMO's in having multiple entities representative of the normally singular hero archetype. She also makes an especially interesting point about how the removing of oneself from the real world into shared, virtual environments can outline commonalities in interactions and behaviours across both spaces.

Game Breaking - Sid Meier
Sid Meier sees the desire of players to cheat or exploit systems as being an intrinsic lesson on a game's design. When concerted efforts are made to get around set structures and paths, it can be seen as a reflection of an unstated dissatisfaction on the part of the player with how the game normally operates.

Mechanics of Pac-Man - Toru Iwatani
I wasn't aware of this, but Pac-Man's original design was actually created with an artistic vision in mind. As Toru Iwatani explains, it was the bringing together of character personalities and an underlying theme of jesting that gave the central mechanic a license, if you will.

The Controller - Nolan Bushnell
Nolan Bushnell drives home the point about seamlessness within the context of gaming experiences and how the associated interactivity, simplicity, and accessibility can pave the way for what he describes as a "direct link" between the player's brain and the entity being controlled (in this case, the paddle). Having personally experienced this myself, I had an immediate understanding of the point being illustrated.

Leave It to the Imagination - Will Wright
Will Wright makes a great point about abstraction as explored in the past with the limitations of technology and how the creating of well-placed blanks for players' minds to jump in can do much in the way of immersion and interactivity.

Fewer Rules = Deeper Game - Yoshinori Ono
Complex experiences have their place, but Yoshinori Ono argues that the addition of more rules is not what should define depth. Rather, player decisions and the allowance of freedom for those decisions to be made through purposeful restriction can serve to widen the degree to which players feel welcomed and inspired. Sounds contradictory at first, but there is definitely sense to it. 

There is plenty to absorb here, and what I've chosen to highlight only begins to scratch the surface. A number of reactions occurred as I considered this material. I smiled. I laughed. But most importantly, I nodded. I did so because as I listened to the points being presented, I could relate to what was being said and was thus put in a better position to project their points of application to future, hypothetical experiences. Further realizing how these can and should affect developers and companies alike in aligning their focuses with the broader spectrum, the generous teases that have already been shared are nothing short of inspiring. And it's only going to grow. I can only imagine how the documentary will further prove to be eye-opening in that respect.

Offering more than just first-hand insights into the minds of game designers, writers, and others involved in the development process, such talks are sure to foster within interested persons a desire to learn more about the industry. I'm confident that will be true whether they have aspirations to be more involved in it in the future, are fascinated with its scope, diversity, and growth, or are just now starting to warm up to the inclusiveness of the medium as it is presented in this very project. It's been quite some time since I've felt so encouraged to learn about games on a deeper level, but feeling that spark return is a great feeling, I've got to say. This much is true: Critical Path and all those involved in the project are taking a clear stand to be part of the solution, and it truly is refreshing to witness.

Feature by KnucklesSonic8