Through unintentional irony, L.B Jeffries has helped me prove my assertion that: “Abstract concept can be powerful but are difficult to appreciate without specific examples.” I’d like to claim that I had intended for my previous post to be overly abstract so as to prove a point, but unfortunately it was merely the result of poor editing. Therefore I’m going to continue with some specific examples of embedded and emergent boundaries and their effects on the experience of play.
The overarching context of Far Cry 2 is that of being a mercenary in a war torn African nation. The embedded boundaries of the game present this fictional setting, imposing limits on both logical and physical exploration; where the player is free to go and the actions they are free to take. A part of these embedded boundaries are the mechanics handling the implementation of the buddy system. This includes not only the logical rules explaining buddy behaviour and interaction but also the textures, models, animations and audio lines related to each buddy. All of these are elements embedded in the game, crafted by the designers and artists; immutable. Though different players can meet and interact with different buddy characters the rules governing those interactions and the assets used to present them are selected from a predefined range of possibilities.
When I play Far Cry 2 I am bringing, often unintentionally, a set of subjective emergent boundaries with me. My interactions with the character of Nasreen Davar might have relied on the predefined rules and assets that are embedded elements of the game, however my reaction to her was influenced heavily by my own perceptions and beliefs. My personal play experience was still within the confines of that defined by the embedded boundaries (as is the experience of everybody who plays the game), but the specifics of that experience were further shaped by the emergent boundaries I had erected. The motivations I assigned to Nasreen and other characters was not something hardwired into the mechanics of the game, it was an emergent conceit born of my interpretation of the provided fictional context.
Nowhere in the game rules is there anything that explicitly defines a scene of implied rape, however during my time that particular portion of the game it was something I was very conscious of. Nasreen had been contextualised as a female mercenary and through interactions with me had been deemed by the game, and myself, to be my buddy. When she was taken away the embedded boundaries restricted the actions that were available to rescuing her or escaping on my own, but my own emergent boundaries restricted those two options even further to the singular activity of ensuring she was safe.
The emergent boundaries served to reinforce the embedded boundaries.
A further example of this form of reinforcement can be seen in the way that Far Cry 2 handled physical movement. Though a lot of the country is reachable by road there are various checkpoints on these roads that when approached will cause you to get be fired upon by the mercenaries guarding them. In the abstract: “certain locations on the map have clusters of respawning objects based around them.” As with my previous examples this abstract concept could apply to many situations, however in this case the locations are contextualised as checkpoints and the respawning objects as hostile mercenaries.
Far Cry 2‘s world is one at war, knowing this I came to the game with certain assumptions, certain emergent boundaries. One of which was that as the primary means of travel roads would be guarded and therefore dangerous. Entering the world I naturally tested this assumption, and finding it to be accurate I made it a point to avoid roads as much as possible. Doing so I found I was not attacked as frequently and I would often find diamonds, tapes, and alternate routes to important locations that I would have missed had I not gone off the beaten track.
The context of the game caused me to make certain assumptions, which were reinforced by the mechanics of the game, leading to a change in my play experience.
Emergent behaviours are ones influenced more by players own emergent boundaries than the embedded boundaries provided by the game.
This process of reinforcement is not always the case however, consider Grand Theft Auto IV. The context of the game is that of a Serbian immigrant, Niko Bellic, arriving in America ostensibly to meet his successful cousin Roman. It’s clear from the moment you meet him that Roman is not exactly living the “American Dream” and money is a problem. Throughout the game the need for money is brought up as a motivation on numerous occasions often being the driving reason for Niko’s willing participation in criminal activities. For each of these activities Niko is rewarded with a resource which is contextualised as money, specifically American dollars. These are all embedded elements of the game.
Understanding the concept of money, and having a fair idea of how much a dollar is worth on average I was willing to accept being paid certain amounts for certain tasks. However within what felt like an unnaturally short period of time I had earned enough to buy a much better apartment than my current safe house, and live a significantly more affluent lifestyle. Despite this the game still made a point of encouraging me to take on missions to earn money. The embedded boundaries of the game were in conflict with the emergent boundaries formed from my understanding of the concept of money and the relative worth of the dollar.
My emergent boundaries were undermining the embedded boundaries, there was a conflict, a dissonance between what the game was explicitly telling me was important and what it was implying was important.
I stopped caring about money as a motivation, and subsequently stopped caring about Niko Bellic as a character because his stated motivations were transparent falsehoods, he clearly didn’t need the money.