Even though I spent a lot of my youth playing both computer and console games, reading, and playing outside, one of my favorite activities was to take one of my puzzles (another hobby of young Denis) and assign each piece a set of statistics I kept in a notebook by my side. What would then occur depended on my mood that day. Some days large scale battles would take place, with turned over puzzle pieces indicating a unit that had been slain. Other days I would just use them as props to tell a story of exploration and adventure without any need for combat.
My younger brother, Dane, recently picked up World of Warcraft again. He and his family moved to a small village outside my hometown of Fulda. Therefore he has plenty of free time on his hand not socializing with said village-folk. He’s living the life many of my college friends desired–stay at home dad who gets to play video games all day while taking care of his son. Beyond his pleas to have me play again (I refuse), he has been regaling me with his efforts to gain his second level 70 character, earn his epic flying mount, and all manner of stories.
This past Friday he was being his usual self and antagonizing the GM’s. He was playing his level 70 gnome mage and because he was on a roleplaying server, he was requesting that he be allowed to switch his Alliance-loyal gnome to the side of the Horde. This was how he wished to roleplay his character, he would tell them. He knew going in that he would not be granted his request.
The GM’s actually surprised me by telling him they would forward his complaint of not being able to enact this change to the design team, to be dicussed for a future expansion and/or patch. Whether or not they actually follow through on this, I cannot say.
While he was waiting on that response, my brother and I engaged in one of our usual pasttimes: debate. As soon as he pointed out that he was on a roleplaying server, I pointed out to him that when he was playing Final Fantasy, Diablo, or any of a number of games, he was being told he was playing a roleplaying game. This did not automatically grant the title the benefit of roleplaying, though.
In fact, he argued that he just wanted to play how he wanted to play.
It’s something gamers are increasingly promised. You can do whatever you want.
Ending my debate with my brother, I pointed out that if he wanted a game without restriction, he might as well just use his imagination. Growing up in the same household as myself and knowing about my games with puzzle pieces, he let the matter drop with a winking face on our AIM clients and that was that.
Imagine a game without rules, however. Would it be fun? Would there be any point in playing it? The fact that there are rules seems to beg that we further examine the games and wonder why these rules were implemented. Someone made a choice to not allow my two male Sims in Sims 2 to marry but enter a civil partnership. Considering the fact that Everquest 2 allows crossing of factions, the various teams at Blizzard made a choice on whether or not to allow the crossing of Alliance and Horde allegiances.
Once designers and programmers make these decisions, it appears inevitable that one may question or try to break the rules. This in itself becomes a game. Just like a director (in film, stage, television, or whatever have you) dictates where your eye is focused, or what you can see if you decide to break that focus, games focus our attentions to certain criteria. Sure, you may not wish to progress the main plot, but in games without a modding tool, you are given limited options of where you can focus your energies. Then, of course, you can completely ignore it all together.
Truly being able to do everything you want in a videogame is a promise that will be made oft in the coming years, but I cannot help but feel we are far away from that point, if we will reach it at all. Honestly, I’d rather there be rules, as it allows me to think within the frame of the game and try to interpret the point of it all. If you believe the premise that a videogame can be art, this is just another tool in which to interpret and understand said piece of art. Of course, it’s also perfectly fine to look past that or not to aspire to make such a game.
After all, who’s to say that a puzzle has to be put together to make a picture?