Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Retreat? We're Advancing in Another Direction

Offense wins games; defense wins championships.
Conventional Wisdom
The objective of any game is simple: to win. This is made more interesting by the fact that there are other entities that are also trying to win. However, in adversarial game play, the parties involved can also spend their energy in attempting to not allow the others to win-- a concept known as defense.

Defense is often touted as an unsung hero of strategy because while most people are trying so hard to win, defense is about trying not to lose. But this argument is flawed-- the only way to ensure avoiding a loss is by winning.

Imagine a scenario of a contest between two opponents that focused solely on defense. It would be a complete stalemate, as neither would make an aggressive attempt to score. Neither would win-- neither would accomplish the objective of the game.

Now consider the opposite: what if both contestants were focused solely on offense? With no attention paid to defense, both players will score constantly. Who would win this match? The party with the better offense would score more often. With both parties focused on offense, someone is guaranteed to win (assuming the contestants are competent).

In the first example, the entirety of the defensive efforts of both parties are nullified because they are not fighting off an offense. Defensive effort is useful only up to and including the amount of the opposing force's offensive effort-- after that, it is wasted. However, in the second scenario, every ounce of offensive effort is useful toward attaining the ultimate goal.
I conclude, therefore, with regard to being feared and loved, that men love at their own free will, but fear at the will of the prince, and that a wise prince must rely on what is in his power and not on what is in the power of others, and he must only contrive to avoid incurring hatred, as has been explained.
Niccolo Machiavelli (The Prince)
At the end of the day, those who are fantastic at not losing are not guaranteed to win, while those who are great at winning will avoid losing by default.

Note: team sports players, where the number of offensive and defensive players (who are all playing to the extent of their ability) is set by the rules, have no reason to think about this. This is more focused on a one on one situation where each player would be forced to divide his attention.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Hey, look! I'm painting in Photoshop!


Hey, look! I'm modeling in Maya!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Thinking About Art is Boring

Art is the culmination of the technical skill and creative vision of some artist with the purpose of creating emotion.

I can throw a bucket of paint onto a canvas, but that would not be art. Yet painting is considered an art form. Citing one example of a medium that does not qualify as art does not discount the entire medium.

If one example of a given medium is considered art, the entire medium must be considered art. Otherwise, who is to say where the line is drawn? Saying some movies are art begs the question of how you draw the line, and also who are you that you are qualified to do so? Citing a single example that does qualify as art validates the entire art form.

So then, the question is not "Are games art?" but rather, "Are games capable of being art?" How hard can this be, right? A single example can prove the entire medium!

Gamers will have all sorts of answers. "Look at the cutscenes of this Final Fantasy!" "Check out the graphics on Gears of War!" "You can't deny the storytelling of Metal Gear Solid!" "The music of Soul Calibur 2 is unmatched!"

This is the gist of most of the games-as-art argument, but it really just goes to show the infancy of the medium. Every new, young art form finds itself constrained to previous mediums. For example, early films were done with a single wide camera angle-- the same way people were accustomed to watching plays on stage. As stories became more complex, they began to use title cards with text on them, relying on the written word to move their stories along.

So when games rely on cutscenes (short films) or their visuals (done by painters and sculptors) or their sound to convey the emotion the artist is trying to invoke, the game is using other art forms as a crutch. Analyzing a game with incredible cutscenes does not prove games are art-- it just reiterates the fact that film and animation is art.

This also informs the stigma that games are perverse, violent, and evil. The two most recent big-name art forms, film and photography, both started as pornographic in nature. It's simply the easiest way to gain attention. Even subsets of old art forms carry that burden: consider that a century ago, ragtime music was the music of the devil. Just the same way MMOs, the newest genre of games, are demonized by gamers and non-gamers alike.

At the end of the day, I know games are a new art form. Plain and simple: the emotions I feel while playing games have never been triggered by watching a film, listening to music, looking at paintings or drawings, or any other art form. There's no need to consider the arts and sciences behind their creation, their content, their audience, or their role in society. I mean, they're just games.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Just be yourself.
Conventional Wisdom
Everyone who says this says it like it's the easiest thing in the world, but everyone that gets this advice knows it's the hardest. Why? Because no one really knows who they are-- just like no one can understand the smell of his own skin.

When little Timmy's dad tells him to "just be himself" on his first date, he's telling Timmy how to act. Is a person defined, then, by his actions? If Timmy decided to act like his older brother Tommy, changing from nerdy and awkward to cool and confident, does his new persona make him a new person? Could he willingly transform into someone new?

Well, it worked for me. But my easier smile and my better posture only changed how other people saw me. External actions only change the view from the outside in-- what's really important to someone is the internal decisions that makes those actions.
What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets!
So then a person is the culmination of the decisions he has made until that point. People decide who they are. And since life isn't easy, they will need to make more decisions every day, modifying who they are in the process. They are not a product of their environment, but of their own design. Some will use this to their advantage to be proud of who they become.
To exist is to change; to change is to mature; to mature is to create oneself endlessly.
Henri Bergson
What makes a good person or a bad person? The same things that make good decisions and bad decisions: education and motivation. Smart people try to make informed decisions, and well-meaning people try to do the right thing. Sure, they sometimes fail-- but again, people are defined by their decisions, not their actions.

Lots of people don't like themselves. Their friends always try to get them to like themselves the way they are-- but that's treating the symptom, not the disease. People need to love themselves before being able to effectively love others, and before they can love themselves, they need to become someone worth loving.