On Self-Effacing Games and Unachievements

What is unfair if unfair is totally OK?

Right before GDC, some of my theoretical research on B.U.T.T.O.N. got published in a special issue of Game Studies (an online journal for computer games research). The name of the article is “Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally OK Now: On Self-Effacing Games and Unachievements.”

You can read it here.

Here’s an excerpt:

It can be deeply empowering, and even uproariously fun, to improvise and bicker over rules. By taking a more skeptical, confrontational stance towards the technologies with which we design, we might open up a fertile ground of underexplored design possibilities – hybrid forms where digital games are not so readily distinguishable from their non-digital predecessors. Drawing from the wisdom of folk games and children’s play, games like B.U.T.T.O.N. remind us that modifying and making rules is sometimes the most enjoyable game of them all – especially when done together.

The article is very “academic,” but if you enjoy in-depth game analyses, give it a try. I tried to articulate what we were trying to accomplish in designing B.U.T.T.O.N. I grounded our aspirations against and within existing conversations in several disciplines such as game studies, design research, ubiquitous computing, and more. Even if you think my paper itself is bollocks, I lay out some nice references on the study of play and games. In particular, I highly recommend the papers/books by Bart Simon, Henning Eichberg, Bernie DeKoven, and Linda Hughes.

Now, if you’ll allow me to toot my own horn for a moment: through the magic of Twitter (boy, I never thought I’d write that…), DeKoven got wind of the paper and wrote these very nice things about it and about the game. As you can imagine, I feel very honored. DeKoven is one of my gaming heroes, so praise from him is, from my perspective, the highest compliment I could get!

There’s a lot ways in which I’d like to expand upon this work. In particular, I’d like to examine some of the other “broken” I’ve worked on, including some of the less successful experiments. On a more theoretical point, I think that “broken” games like B.U.T.T.O.N. offer a refreshing counterpoint to the kind of systems-centric thinking that’s frequently echoed in game studies and in the indie games community. Finally, I’m eager to situate my notion of “broken” games within precedents from other media forms – especially electronic music.

Boy, still lot’s to write!

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