Communicating Intent.

My previous post was vague and though some of that was intended to promote comment and discussion, I feel I may have been unintentionally cryptic in both the post itself and my comments. It was not my aim to imply any order of worth to each of the forms of media mentioned, and I also feel it was remiss of me to not mention some other forms.

Since I made my initial post Corvus Elrod has presented his own take on my position which is at once divergent from my own and highly interesting in its own right.

As for the comments , I thank you all for adding you voice to the discussion. A few people seemed to have seen the direction in which I was going, most specifically moromete, SR, and Roger Travis.

Dan Bruno and Chris brought up something I found quite amusing, they mentioned how sports games in particular are representations of the sports themselves. This is true, but the sports they represent are games, and the explorative nature is true of the game itself and therefore true of the virtual recreation of the game.

That covered, I now offer an elaboration and clarification of my original post.

The defining feature of any media, any art form, is the means by which it communicates meaning.

A work of literature can represent an idea or concept, it can even explore that idea from several different and conflicting perspectives. In addition we can explore the work by researching the life of the author and the cultural and historical context in which it was written. Literature has the capacity to present representations and allow exploration. These elements are its function, they are what it does. This is separate from its form, separate from its means of communicating meaning

All works of literature regardless of purpose or quality use written language to communicate their intent. The method by which they represent, or allow exploration, is by describing concepts and events through the medium of the written word. Their form is descriptive.

The function of music is often the same as that of literature, to communicate a particular concept or idea; even if that idea is as straightforward as evoking  joy. Through the selection of particular notes, and melodies, played with particular instruments music can express complex ideas and evoke powerful emotions through association and allusion. The form of music is expressive.

Much of what is true for literature and music is also true for other media, other art forms. Their function is to communicate meaning and this can be done through representation or exploration. External to the works themselves the manner in which we approach them can be an exploration. The differences between literature, music, film and games is the form they take. The means by which their function is realised.

Film uses a combination of many different elements to create a representation of an idea or event. Dialogue, action, set design, lighting, cinematography these are just a selection of  aspects of film. They combine to create a portrayal of an event that communicates meaning. However realistic or plausible the event is, and even if the footage is of an actual event, the choices made regarding editing and musical accompaniment transform it from an actual event to a subjective representation of an event. The form of film is representative.

Like film, games use a combination of different elements to create a representation of an idea or event. Unlike film they allow interaction with that event, they allow you to potentially change the outcome of that event, thereby altering the context and the meaning that might be communicated. They allow an exploration of possibilities within a bounded context. Games are systems of rules, when we play we are exploring the possibilities that exist within the logical and physical world defined by those rules. The form of games is explorative.

The central concept of both The Art of War and Rome: Total War is an examination the different levels of military strategy. The former is a work of literature, the means by which it communicates its intent is through description of certain tenants of warfare. The latter is a game, the means by which it communicates its intent is by providing you with agency within a simulated environment. You are given the means to explore the effects of your choices and to develop strategies and gain an understanding of the underlying tenants of successfully waging war.

A particular concept or theme is not exclusively tied to presentation in one form. Honor is not a concept that can only be portrayed by literature. Each medium uses a different form to present its central theme, its core idea.

That is a fundamental difference. The same concepts and themes can be examined by any and all media but the manner in which they are presented, the form they take, is inherently different. This difference in form leads to different aspects being highlighted or given prominence in different media. The rules and traditional that are applicable for one form of media do not always translate to another form.

3 thoughts on “Communicating Intent.

  1. I think the idea which you should concentrate is that of “agency”. No other form of entertainment (be it literature, movies, comics, television, engagin with other people in social interaction) gives the subject of the experience “agency” the ability to take part in the medium with a degree of power to influence the state of the medium.

  2. I did bring up the concept of agency in my comparison of The Art of War and Rome: Total War. I have chosen to avoid using it as the definitive term because I feel framing gameplay as an exploration of the possibility space provides for more meaningful comparisons. As I feel the comments to my next post prove.

    Additionally I would say that social interaction is a situation with a huge degree of inherent agency.

  3. Hi. Nice ideas. Some thoughts (and some summary too):

    I would recommend that writings as above be taken more as “a way of looking at the issue” and not “the way”. (Which of course isn’t problematic here).

    We should keep in mind that unless you’re brave enough to offer a definite definition of “meaning” we’re left with a rather broad meaning (I’d hazard as the “x which I get out of the art-work”).

    You say that literature is more “descriptive” and music more “expressive”. It’s probably simpler and less contentious to talk about the “meaning” of novels/songs as being emotive [a better term I think] and (at least for the former) descriptive.

    To make the next step clear it’s helpful to define “form” as ‘the way in which a meaning is communicated’. Thus, for example, film uses the form of “representation” to evoke (e.g.) an event.

    Presumably what you’re interested in next is not what forms games use, but rather what forms are unique or otherwise notable to games as compared to other media. Thus you might say “yes, the sound-track in game-G was emotive, but it’s value to the game qua game is in the way it complemented X.”

    X = that which is unique to games’ form.

    You suggest that this “X” is “exploration”. I.e. meaning in games may be conveyed by exploration of a space and logic.

    Less important than dimensional space is I would think, as you describe in the linked post (Exploring the Territory) is space as a “where” of mechanics.

    OK. So at the end: yes I agree broadly that “The same concepts and themes can be examined by any and all media but the manner in which they are presented, the form they take, is inherently different.”

    But: I don’t think you really demonstrated how “The Art of War” and “Rome:Total War” made use of their respective forms to convey their ideas on strategy. I reckon it’d be cool/interesting if you would take that as a challenge and elaborate. I.e. compare the way similar meanings are dealt in a particular novel/movie vs a particular game.

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