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The game industry has lots of problems with vocabulary – not just with the term gameplay (that one’s more useful when describe different sets of mechanics within a game – open world gameplay, for example. And against his point, you do actually say a book is a good read). 

But there are oh so many more…

Next gen, for starters – now according to every publisher, and pretty much everyone else, the next generation of consoles has started. Can we just stop using this as a freaking meaningless marketing term? “This is game is next gen” is completely devoid of any actual meaning at this point, if you look at the spectrum of games that have called themselves that. If any game has to proclaim that about itself, it’s quite apparently not. It’s like when a person actually calls themselves a “straight shooter”. They’re not. The fact that they have to sell this idea to anyone is the strongest case against it. By it’s very nature, it’s supposed to be obvious. As an industry we’re always trying to push boundaries and innovate in various ways (maybe not always good ones), but to slap such a overused term, laden with preconceptions, on that process does nothing to help it along.

“Casual” vs. “hardcore” – By now the notion that the term “casual” gamers actually applies to any specific type of demographic should be pretty ridiculous. We attempt to distinguish games with these terms by labeling by their supposed market, which is has got to strike someone else as being silly. We really want to label them by form. Every medium has short and long form works, and there’s typically different terms for them (so people aren’t so stupid, as the game industry is, to compare them). The short story, novella, novel. A short and a feature. You get the idea.

This one came up at work as a pet peeve yesterday – fun factor. That should be self explanatory.

But most important is the lack of any proper verb. Ok, a game designer designs, but what kind of watered down verb is that? A writer writes, a director shows, meanwhile you use the same term to describe picking the color to paint your living room wall, changing the font size on this web page, or making a game. Everybody’s a designer these days. Plus there’s less conveyance in that term of the notion of making a work for someone else. You write, someone reads. You show something to someone, naturally. You design something… for someone? Meh.

8 Responses to Vocabulary

  • borut says:

    Yeah, you’re right – I was sort of confusing my point. Besides “designing” being weak compared to writing, directing, there’s also no equivalent to “tell” – ie a writer and director tell a story, but what does a designer do that presents a game to a player? The closest term is really only applicable to D&D, to dungeon-master (and even then, you’ve got to force a noun into a verb). :)

  • elias says:

    I would say that a writer tells a story, a director interprets a story. Obviously it is a bit difficult to come up with something equivalent to describe what a designer does, because there is more to it than just presenting a story when interactivity and “gameplay” (heheh–by that I mean non-story-related parts of the game, if they exist) are involved. It may be hard to nail down because it is actually more than one thing.
    A game designer is sometimes a writer and sometimes a director, but other times could be likened more to a movie set designer, or a theme park ride engineer.
    I do understand your point about “designer” not being very descriptive of what the role actually means (especially since it’s been much more difficult to find the words for the stuff in this comment than I thought it would be when I started typing), but in my opinion the problem is in attempting to correlate these roles in the sense of what they do to or for the consumer. I think the more accurate way to compare them would be to note that they each involve an act of creation.
    A writer creates writings… and maybe someone will read.
    A movie director creates movies… and maybe someone will watch.
    A game designer creates interactive experiences… and maybe someone will play.

  • borut says:

    Yeah, I get your point about describing the act of creation, it’s just that I’d also, separately, like to describe the act of communication via a game. Any game designer worth his salt (or gameplay programmer or world builder, etc.) spends a good part of his day thinking about what his work is communicating to the player – what each mechanic is informing the player about how to play the game, what the layout of space is telling the player about where to go, etc. It would be nice to have a verb for that communication process via a game, the same way there are terms for that communication process via a book or movie. To me, that’s very tied into why a lot of game designers don’t often don’t realize that they are actively communicating to players via the choices they (the designers) make in game mechanics and other aspects of a game’s design.

  • Sean Barrett says:

    “the same way there are terms for that communication process via a book or movie”

    There are?

    A writer writers a story; a writer “tells” a story to an audience. A director makes a movie, films a film, creates a film, directs a film production, and “tells” a story to an audience (but I think almost nobody would say that).

    As elias says, it seems to me that all the verbs normally used for non-games are about the act of creation, with no attention called to the audience. Just from long familiarity, we are used to the fact that those things are directly perceived by the readers, and that the choices made there have this impact. But this is true of _almost everything_; architects and industrial designers are all about making choices that directly impact people and are directly perceived by people. I imagine they understand this and the word “design” is infused with this meaning for them.

    Also, “know your audience” is something would-be-writers are taught–which means I don’t think to the average _non-writer_ the word “writing” implies all this stuff about thinking about the audience and making conscious choices regarding them and etc.

    So I don’t really buy that there’s this thing going on in language that you think there is. Creators need to learn to think about things from the perspective of the reader/viewer/player/consumer, but that’s true in all mediums.

    Also, blaming lack of comprehension of this on the word for the activity misses out on the way language is fairly transparent anyway (in the sense that we often use a word in some way for a long time before we notice how an obviously-related word implies all sorts of interesting things about the first word; if some new word for “design” was somehow more “player-centric”, people would quickly _forget_ that if that word still came to be used to refer to the activity of building levels and making game design choices, because it would come to mean “design”.)

  • borut says:

    “A director makes a movie, films a film, creates a film, directs a film production, and “tells” a story to an audience (but I think almost nobody would say that)”

    Nobody? What about directors? A director can start a sentence with “The story I’m trying to tell here is… And everyone in the world will understand him. (That speaks that language, anyway).

    “The game I’m trying to make” is the closest equivalent example we have, and to me is very obviously *not* centered on the act of communicating. It’s a subtle difference perhaps, at first glance, but it’s one that can underly the entire discussion (ie the Sapir Whorf hypothesis).

    Why would a director want to talk like that? To describe his goals to the people he’s working with, mainly. It’s not just about the skill a writer, director, or game designer uses to make sure they’re thinking about their audience – it’s describing what you’re doing to a colleague (handy given the level of collaboration usually required for a game).

    In practice, thinking about it more, I find what actually gets used a lot is a combination of “show, “say”, “tell”, “do”, and/or “make”. As in, “What I’m doing here is trying to show the player they need to . All I want to do is not spend the majority of the sentence describing the simple process of saying “here’s what I want to communicate to the player” to a coworker, and instead use just one word to do so.