Oct 30

The Endless Forest: Play & Poesis in Games

by in Indie Games, Philosophy and Psychology

Rah-Bop’s deer art
Pictured above: Concept art drawn by Rah-Bop. Artwork found in The Endless Forest forums.

When I logged into The Endless Forest, the first thing I did was fiddle with the controls. I walked my fawn around in circles. I had it rub its side against a tree, and eat some purple flowers. I visited an ancient stone shrine that made my fawn’s head glow after kneeling before it for a minute, and visited the ruins of a cemetery. It was serene, but lonely.

Then I logged out, slightly frustrated. I was worried that I had missed something crucial… a cleverly hidden gameplay mechanic, a story-line or introduction that failed to get trigged… some kind of point to the game!


Then I read an interview with Michael and Auriea1, where they discussed some of their goals with Régine Debatty, and it all became clear:

They are brilliant.

If there is a single human element that unifies just what makes games ‘gameful’ – it is play. Despite its daily use, “Play” is not a well understood term in the gaming world. Play is often used as a part of other game-related words: gameplay, player, playable, playing, multiplayer, role-play, etc. But just what we mean when we use the word “play” is often ambiguous. What does it mean to play a game? Does it mean we are playing with a game, like the way a baby plays with a toy, or the way a dog plays fetch? Does it mean that we are playing with ourselves? Or is there something more enigmatic to human play, something beyond simple mechanical interactivity? Is it possible to perhaps play through a game as an extension of our bodies?

The Endless Forest, I think, demonstrates a theory of play at a fundamental human level and corrects what was a long history of games that were not very “playful” and were more like “toys”. Before I discuss the game any further however, we need some new language to talk about games with, because our language for talking about “play” is not very rich.

Forms of Play

Half-life 2 mod
Pictured above: This is what happens when players get bored with your game, and resort to monadic play. Courtesy of Garry’s Half-Life 2 mod.

When a child plays with a stuffed bear, she often imbues the bear with aspects of her own personality: the bear is grumpy or happy. She tells the bear secrets, and even scolds it when she thinks it has told on her. This model of play relies on the child’s imagination to set the rules for play; the bear cannot talk-back or disagree outside of the child’s mind. This form of play I will call monadic play. An example of a game that has some monadic play to it would be Will Wright’s Sim City. In this game the player is free to explore the world and build in it, destroy their creations with earthquakes and tornados, or make smiley-faces on the map using the in-game tiles 2 – hence the term “sandbox” game.

A second kind of play is found in children (and adults!) who play games with each other, such as hide-and-go-seek, cops and robbers, and tag. These games often feature rule systems that are decided by the players as the game is played – children always find ways to “cheat” in these games and convince their friends that the “rules” don’t really matter and they make up new ones on the spot (think to yourself – is there any definitive rule in a game of ‘tag’ or ‘hide-and-go-seek’ that cannot be broken?). This form of play is set apart from monadic play in that the rules of the game are now formulated, argued, and enacted by more than one person – thus I will call it dyadic play. It is a dyad (two) because two is the minimum number of human participants necessary to engage in this form of play. Dyadic play can occur in multiplayer video games that have some amount of gameplay freedom – for instance we can make our own game of ‘tag’ or ‘hide-and-go-seek’ in World of Warcraft if we want to. However, most multiplayer video games distract players from engaging in dyadic play by forcing external rules upon the player. For instance, in World of Warcraft I cannot ‘play’ in most areas of the game as a low-level character because I will simply be killed by randomly spawning enemies. In that way, opportunities for play are greatly reduced because the designer has some ideal method of play in mind for the player (Second Life is a much better example of dyadic play, but I haven’t played with it enough to use it as an example). This is certainly different from pencil’n'paper roleplaying games that offer the richest forms of dyadic play in that the settings, social contexts and battle rules are almost completely decided by the players as they make up the story (often using rulebooks such as Dungeons and Dragons as the norms for gameplay).

Epic Mount
Pictured above: This is what happens when players mix monadic play with dyadic simulation – the kind of gameplay that World of Warcraft often falls into. Um, wow.

A third form of play is typically only found in video games, and sits somewhere in between between monadic and dyadic play. In most single-player games, the author decides what the rules of the game are, and what tools the player can use to play within those rules. This form of play is often the most restrictive, and does not give the player much opportunity to engage in their own personal goals. In that way, we are playing with the computer as an opponent or assistant, acting as a stand-in for what would normally be another human being. This form of play I will call monadic play with dyadic simulation. Most video games fit this bill to varying degrees, because they presume that the player must learn and discover the rules set by the designer and play according to them. That’s the theory; in practice things are much stickier. At one extreme, we have games that are only playable if the player follows the rules set by the designer (ie. Tetris) and purely make use of dyadic simulation, but at the other extreme (ie. RPGs such as Fallout 2, or Neverwinter Nights) we have many more opportunities for monadic or even dyadic play. Each game obviously makes use of many different forms of play, but Fallout 2 and NWN seem to offer the richest opportunities for other forms of play because they allow the player to role-play. For instance, in Fallout 2 there is no rule that forces my character to fit a certain personality type; I can be a psychopath, a murderer, a savior, or simply a wanderer; as such I can engage in kinds of play that are purely imaginal – the character only exists insomuch as I impart some meaning on them. I can role-play a psychopath that only wishes to maximize his personal benefit and takes advantage of others at every turn, because my imagination imparts a meaning to the act of killing an NPC on the screen after taking his money; this is obviously a monadic form of play.
Alternately, in Neverwinter Nights forms of play are granted even more flexibility through user-created scripts and multiplayer capabilities – possibly allowing for dyadic play. However, it must be understood that even in games that offer players great flexibility with forms of play, players often resist engaging in monadic and dyadic play and prefer to engage with the computer as a dyadic simulator. Often, we see this in MMORPGs: players who spend hundreds of hours in what I call a “math fight” – a brute-force attempt to subjugate the character level/experience math curve that the designers have imposed upon the game (other people just call this “grinding”).

Poesis: Creating Play

Now that we have a bit more language to ‘play with’ (*groan*, I couldn’t resist that one), why do I think that the developers of The Endless Forest are brilliant artists? What tipped me off was their response to Régine’s question regarding future updates to the game:

All of these [additions] will be more poetic than game-like. Our priority [is] definitely with poetry. To some extent we only use game-type interactions to stimulate people to hang out in the world a bit longer. Ideally, however, we want to design interactions that are poetic in and of themselves.

At first glance, that response seems a bit odd. What do they mean when they say they desire “interactions that are poetic in and of themselves”? This is where the language of ‘play’ might come in handy. Poetry, if you don’t mind a rough definition, involves play-using-words (Robert Frost has even said that poetry is “serious play“). And “poetry” comes from the Greek word “poesis” – literally, to “make” or “create”. What matters here is that poems somehow bring together words and play to create something new.

Screenshot from The Endless Forest
Pictured above: Communication and play in The Endless Forest. Is the fawn saying, “hello”, or “mount me”?

Turning back to Michael and Auriea’s comment, we now can understand that part of their goal is to create opportunities for play using the in-game symbolic system. Literally, they want people to play with each other in the most basic form of human engagement: dyadic play. And what makes The Endless Forest different from other MMO’s is that it discourages people from resorting to other forms of interaction that decrease the chances for dyadic play. Concretely, there is no in-game chat system, nor any other way of talking to other players than by using symbolic acts such as shaking your the antlers, rearing up on your back feet, or erupting a loud squeal. None of these acts ‘mean’ much of anything alone, and require other human players to react (ie, if I rear up on my hind legs, you cower in deference) and give the symbols a meaning. The game is literally creating a language for play from the ground-up by allowing players to decide what everything means. That is why the developers did not build any quests or external goals: all of the goals are determined by the players themselves. In that way, players have to ‘decide on’ what games they are going to play with each other from the very beginning: first they need to play together in order to determine what the symbols/icons mean to each other, then they can use these symbols to make up “2nd order games” with each other.

To put this more concretely, imagine that you and I do not speak the same language and meet each other on the street. I move my hands around, and you move your hands around, vainly attempting to communicate using gestural language. Eventually, we might come to an understanding that if I point with my finger in a certain direction and wave my arm towards it, I want you to follow me. After a while, you decide that you’re tired of following me, and wave to the north – and I follow you. The second that our actions become mutually responsive to each other, we are playing a game together – we are playing the following game! And in that way, my fawn avatar in The Endless Forest is literally an extension of my body – just as my hands and arms are when I’m trying to communicate with the stranger on the street.

This kind of play is what the game lends itself to producing opportunities for: games of ‘tag’, ‘Marco Polo’, and ‘hide-and-go-seek’. And even better, it forces us to make up the rules on-the-spot for the symbolic language that we’re going to play the game in. Play is poetic – it requires us not only to negotiate with other human beings on the rules of a game using words or symbolic acts (and in the game’s case, deer-like actions), but come to new formulations of those rules when someone breaks them. In that way, The Endless Forest is the ultimate user-created fantasy world where our spoken languages no longer matter and we can, as human beings, come to define languages and games within the world together. The “game” is not really a game as we currently understand them (as abstract rules-systems that designers allow us to play) – the game is really a world, a forest (!), or a city park that gives people new opportunities to play with each other freely with as few external rules as possible. That is what sets the game apart from other MMORPGs that rely upon external rules to give players a sense of purpose of duty – in this game the goals are left unspecified and totally to the player’s imagination and social context. That is what makes the game truly artful – it destroys our pre-conceptions of ‘play’ in video games.

That is why players who think that ‘the game has no point’ are utterly confused, or personally resistant to monadic or dyadic play. The world can have a point – but it’s up to the players themselves to decide what the point is by playing/interacting with other players.

And that brings us to what is missing in the game to make this budding masterpiece work: it needs more people playing it! In order to engage in dyadic play, you need at least one other person – and if you want to create a language using the symbols they have in the game, you need a critical mass of people that regularly log-in and stand in front of each other making funny gestures until they cohere into a recognizable set of social meanings.

With any abstract language, tag and hide-and-go-seek are the most simplified forms of play – but imagine the possibilities in this kind of world! With enough work and creative ingenuity I guarantee that a group of players will eventually figure out how to tell the story of King Lear, or a deer drama troupe will learn how to act out an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation using the deer iconography. The possibilities for play in The Endless Forest are truly endless.

If I’ve persuaded you at all to give The Endless Forest a shot, there is no better time than this week! On Thursday November 1st, starting at 4pm 10pm GMT, the world will celebrate its next “Abiogenesis” – a get-together where Michael and Auriea login to the world as gods (or simply as ‘nature’), and create real-time changes in the world (ie. playing music, or creating objects) as people play. This will be the first Abiogenesis I’ve attended, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they have planned for All Hallow’s. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be logged in with my girlfriend. We’ll be the two deer walking around with the same pictograph above our heads. Feel free to signal a ‘hello’ – we’ll figure it out what it means eventually. ;)

What Forms of Play might mean for game developers

I realized that I neglected to add some comments directed towards game developers. Basically, forms of play (monadic, dyadic, simulated play, etc) are simple descriptors used to allow us to think conceptually about game play. The concepts are important because they give us the ability to identify just how particular forms of play make more or less use of the imagination, are more or less social, or are based on interaction with a computer. So, for instance, if you’ve decided to make an MMO game that’s based on a high degree of player interaction – you might rethink the whole idea of making generic quest generation algorithms that make Player X deliver a Y to NPC Z and receive Q coins in return. In fact, you might allow players to create quests of their own – ie, “challenges” that are funded by a guild like killing a dragon – dyadic play at its best. You might develop a built-in escrow system that only hands over the prize after the enemy has been smoten. Monadic and dyadic play also demonstrate why “griefing” is always going to happen in MMOs, when players literally become bored with static gameplay mechanics that the designers have imposed on the world. Griefing, many kinds of bug exploitation, and general out-of-character behavior are all the acts of a creative mind searching for something more interesting in the confines of a rather bland game.

Alternately, if you’re making a single-player RPG you might provide the player with enough flexibility to allow them to explore the world freeform using completely non-linear adventuring and storytelling (ie. Ultima VII) – and not force them along a very narrow linear story (ie. The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion). Freeform exploration and non-linear storytelling are much closer to a kind of monadic play using dyadic simulation but much richer than the usual cRPG. It is richer, because it depends upon the player’s imagination and personal choices to decide where the story is going – and the computer only exists insomuch as to facilitate their choices.

In the end, Forms of Play demonstrate that our jobs as developers involve providing players with opportunities for play using the player’s imagination, their friends, often with the computer acting as a facilitator for those play experiences. Who really wants a math fight with a computer anyway? That gets boring, quick. Might as well go play the slots in Vegas.


1 I found it interesting that the name Auriea has its roots in the word “aura” – denoting a magical essence surrounding a living thing. It’s not just a beautiful name, but an indicator of the kinds of people behind the project, and give us a clue at the kinds of goals they might have as artists… a living, breathing, magical world.
2 Of course, keep in mind that Sim City also has many elements to it that fit the profile of monadic play with dyadic simulation – ie. you are expected to keep your citizens happy by adjusting taxes, building roads, etc.

22 Responses to “The Endless Forest: Play & Poesis in Games”

  1. From edenb:

    Of course, you probably shouldn’t think in genres anyway. So you wouldn’t think “I’m going to make an RPG”, because that’s half the reason the “problems” that some RPGs or MMO’s or whatever have. Some people think: “this is the way” you make RPGs and that’s how the genre gets stale. Same for any art form really.

    I’d like to be able to play in more games. Putting the “play” back into gameplay.

    Game’s a bastard word anyway, nobody really knows what it means. What a game is in the contex of videogames. And…we probably will never know and that’s wonderful because it shows the diversity and ever changing nature of games.

    Posted on November 1, 2007 at 1:45 am #
  2. From Michael Samyn:

    Thank you for the lovely article. Your making us blush!

    One correction: Abiogenesis starts at 11 pm in Belgium, tonight (10 pm GMT, I believe).

    Posted on November 1, 2007 at 3:18 am #
  3. From chris:

    Edenb – you’re right here, of course. The most interesting games are the ones that defy any kind of genrefication – although this is extremely rare. I’ll think about this… and explore possible ways to step around genres when I’m writing my next article. What genres *do* give art forms however is a certain normative style that can be violated very easily when an artist plays with the genres to create something new. I personally find that kind of artwork boring (ie, art that intentionally disrupts genres), but it is artful nonetheless.

    Michael – ah, thank you! The article was long overdue – I’m looking forward to Abiogenesis. Thanks for the correction .. I confused GMT with MST :)

    Posted on November 1, 2007 at 9:31 am #
  4. From edenb:

    You know, I think that to “step around” genres you just need to be aware of more than what’s currently in that genre. And be able to use your imagination :)

    Posted on November 1, 2007 at 11:21 pm #
  5. From Steve:

    If you haven’t read Rules of Play by Salen & Zimmermann, it seems like you might find it useful; they cover a wide and well-informed base of thinking on the different kinds of “play,” including a great deal of structured research and thought on the phenomena you’ve made up terms for. There is a wealth of philosophical and academic publication on this topic.

    I’m afraid that I don’t particularly buy the idea of The Endless Forest being an outstanding endeavor with limitless possibility. If anything, it’s simply an interesting experiment: what if we took the typing out of a graphical chatroom, and abstracted the avatars from humans to animals? The limiter to further possibilities here is the lack of meaningful player actions and interactions. The players can do little in the world beside move their avatar about, create a uniform vocalization, and perform a few emotes. While, as you mention, this is a perfectly fertile ground for an impromptu game of follow-the-leader, or simply to jump about with other deer in a moment of completely undirected play, I wager that anything more complex, such as say, acting out King Lear, is beyond the scope of the game.

    Which isn’t to say it’s not unique, or nice. And I understand that the creators are adding new content over time. But an emote-based graphical meeting place given an arty veneer is a bit of a silly thing to pile with grandiose assertions of being “the ultimate user-created fantasy world.” It’s simply not user-created, nor does it offer rich interactions between players. While it is a peaceful place to pretend to be a deer on the internet, I posit that it amounts to little more than that.

    Posted on November 3, 2007 at 7:36 am #
  6. From chris:

    I have to admit Steve, that while I certainly appreciate the time you’ve taken to write, I find the comment itself unconstructive.

    What I was trying to achieve in this article was a particular conception of ‘play’ that doesn’t begin with “a computer”. I attempted to show that play is something natural to human action (as you correctly note that “The Rules of Play” attempts to describe in theoretical terms) – and that designers typically do violence to the idea of “play” by limiting games through computer-based rulesystems that do not allow the player to express themselves. I also attempted to make the argument that The Endless Forest was an example of a game that has the possibility for more natural childlike ‘play’ than we normally see in games. I suggested that other MMORPGs limit the chances for dyadic and monadic play because they flood the player with rules-systems that often constrain player creativity.

    I also made the argument – and apparently I was not clear enough here as your comment seems to demonstrate – that constrained symbolic systems do in fact allow for complex play. Would anyone claim that the roman alphabet, due to its limitations of 26 letters, does not allow for anything as complex as King Lear? I’m making a sociogenetic argument here: that people can come to define what the world ‘means’ in terms of the language they use to interact in it – and that language is currently up for grabs in the game. I’m making an argument using an idealized theory – and no real game would ever satisfy it, but I thought The Endless Forest was a beautiful example of something off the beaten path. I’m making the argument that it is not simply an “arty veneer” – that in fact there is some artistic depth in the game that goes far beyond real purty pictures and deer.

    And now to say that “it’s simply not user-created, nor does it offer rich interactions between players” does not argue anything. It’s an assertion without an argument. If you’ve got an alternative way of thinking about the game, I’d love to hear it. An opinion alone won’t get us very far in understanding each other. I’m fully willing to accept the possibility that my way of framing gameplay misreads this particular game, but I need something more to work with.

    And to make my reply a little more constructive: did you play the game? What did not resonate with you regarding symbolic play? Is the game in fact constrained by other things that I didn’t take into account? What game(s) would comparably show more opportunities for monadic and dyadic play?

    I apologize for my rather incisive reply, but constructive criticism is the only form of discussion that I find insightful.

    Regards,
    - Chris

    Posted on November 3, 2007 at 10:23 am #
  7. From Bryson:

    The Endless Forest: Play & Language in Games

    October 30, 2007 in Artful Games, Philosophy by chris(revised by Bryson)

    I started playing the game but got bored.

    I read an article, and got an idea from this article which I will try to describe.

    Forms of Play
    ————————————————————————————-
    Firstly, my understanding of the term “play” is somewhat ambiguous.

    Bryson: My own definition of play is that it is the process of learning and exploration, where a person learns the relationships between themselves, others, objects, and their environments. It is a neurological process.
    Dr. Stuart Brown at the National Institute for Play describes play as “a long evolved behavior important for the well being and survival of animals.”

    “Research on the brain demonstrates that play is a scaffold for development, a vehicle for increasing neural structures, and a means by which all children practice skills they will need in later life.” (Childhood Education, Fall 2002 by Isenberg, Joan Packer, Quisenberry, Nancy)

    I will define two types of play, “playing by oneself” and “playing with others.”

    I will then place these two types of play on opposite ends of a spectrum.

    I am not impressed by computer simulations, and they do not count as “playing with others”

    Language : Creating Play
    —————————————————————————————–
    Bryson: The title is confusing. Perhaps a better title would be “Play and Learning using Limited Language”. That would sum up the general idea in this section.

    I think that the creators of The Endless Forest are creative.

    I believe that the creators of this game want us to “play with others” using a simplistic form of communication.

    It follows that those engaged in the game will explore how to operate with each other using this simplistic communication. This involves the act of “play”.

    I am trying to communicate when I “play” with this game. I find it fun to guess what other people are trying to communicate. This game allows me to exercise creative thinking.

    I don’t know of any limits to this limited communication, so I will posit that any content can be communicated through it.

    What Forms of Play might mean for game developers
    ——————————————————————————————-
    The spectrum of “play” as defined above can be used to measure whether we are “playing by ourselves” or “playing with others”. And they should involve creative thinking.

    Games should be tailored based on this measurement, and also include creative thinking.
    ______________________________________________________

    1 I think the developers name gives an indication of their personality and goals in life

    Bryson: The original description of this game, by Chris, is like walking through an Endless Forest. (Ad-Hominim I know, :-P)

    Posted on November 12, 2007 at 10:35 pm #
  8. From chris:

    That’s a good, if not glib, interpretation of the article, yep ;)

    The article was an attempt at articulating something about The Endless Forest that was beyond “I got bored” or “I hated it” or “I thought it was pretty!”. I tried not to drop into too much scientific or psychological language to do that, and in that respect the article may have failed – perhaps I should have referred to more scholarly sources for a ‘theory’ of play as you did. Either way, I was just glad to draw attention to the game as an interesting example of ‘free’ social play.

    Anyhoo – thanks for writing.

    Posted on November 12, 2007 at 11:26 pm #
  9. From Carlo:

    hi,

    thanks for the article,
    since you mentioned Second Life you might be interest to read an article we made for an online/paper book. It is called “The laws of digital world autonomy” and, like the entire book, it’s about autonomy and freedom in Second Life (and, for extension, in any other non-goal-oriented game or software application). You can find it here:

    http://www.flackattack.org/Prod/pdf/Flack_Attack_Autonomy.pdf

    Carlo Giordano

    Posted on February 12, 2008 at 12:23 pm #
  10. From chris:

    I’m looking forward to reading it. Thanks for the link Carlo!

    ps, flackattack is great so far – I’m enjoying reading the articles.

    Posted on February 16, 2008 at 11:47 am #
  11. From mummynat:

    As someone who has played the endless forest, i think your post says it perfectly..

    And at the time of this reply, the forest is getting alot less lonely too..

    Posted on March 26, 2008 at 10:24 am #
  12. From Jeremiah Johnson:

    I completely understand what you mean, but i feel that going up to someone and trying to talk to them without saying a word sounds frustrating, monotonous, and quite frankly the opposite of fun. Yes I tried the game and no it wasn’t entertaining. In the end I feel an experience such as this should be entertaining or else it is just wasting time. Again your statement makes sense that games should transcend its genres, but at the same time I feel as though they need to be fun and Endless forest does not pull that off.

    Posted on April 5, 2008 at 5:50 pm #
  13. From chris:

    Point well taken Jeremiah – I think the line between entertainment and insight is a difficult one to walk. However, when I play Tale of Tales games I get the feeling that their works achieve what they do precisely in not trying to satisfy traditional entertainment requirements.

    Thanks for the comment!

    Posted on April 12, 2008 at 9:56 am #
  14. From Mark A:

    Every since I was a small child, I have sort dyadic styles of gameplay. I was quick to establish the rules of “1-2-3 home”, “hide and seek” and invented a number of other games for my brothers and friends to play. Always they had a rule system.

    Modern video games have evolved using a dyadic style of gameplay because it has been successful. History has shown the more monadic the game, the less popular it has been (generalization. Black and White was fairly popular, and had reasonable monadistic elements.) Dyadic gameplay is what *most* people yearn for.

    That is fairly obvious, if you simply look at the current market. But an interesting debate could be had as to the reasons “why?” I think the answer lies in basic human psychology.

    The more monadistic an activity, the more appealing it becomes to a young child, and the less appealing to an adult. Your bear example, for instance. As a human brain develops, it seems to need this monadic form of play, and it becomes less important to it’s development. It appears that monadic play is a required structure for brain development, but once its usefulness wanes, so does the desire to partake in it.

    To take another approach at this interesting topic, consider a monadic style of game that comes out with newer versions as technology improves. The goal is to give the players more and more tools so that they might “play” in any way they wish. In a monadic fashion. As technology improves, so does their options, and the realism of the world, until eventually the game world is indistinguishable to the real world. So for this game, you are placed in a room with a table, a ball, and a door. And there are no rules, you may do *anything* you wish. Do you know what I would do? I would leave via the door, and find something interesting to do. Something *dyadic*.

    I believe the “appeal” of games often depends on their blend of dyadic and monadic aspects. For example the Sims appealed to a wide audience – many of which traditionally didn’t “go” for video games – because it contained dyadic components, and much more monadic components than traditionally.

    Spore, also by Will Wright, is an upcoming game with many of both elements, and is eagerly anticipated by a large audience.

    If you are too extreme at either, however, you will completely lose one audience, and the dyadic one is *probably* bigger.

    Posted on April 16, 2008 at 7:56 pm #
  15. From chris:

    Hi Mark. Thanks for the very indepth response. I agree that many, if not most, people yearn for some kind of dyadic play – you’re right, this leads us to some basic (but extremely complex!) human psychology.

    I’m not sure if I’m altogether clear on your view of that psychology however, because I believe that there is a much deeper, rich, sense of meaningfulness that comes from dyadic and monadic play than just saying ‘the brain causes it’. The teddy bear, and these are not my words but belong to other psychoanalytic traditions, acts as a ‘stand-in’ for people that exist in the child’s life. What makes this form of play meaningful is that the child imparts his/her imaginative meanings upon the bear and gives it a character or role to play. Yes, children do eventually become bored of the bear – you’re definitely spot-on there – but not before developing a deep attachment.

    In that sense, I have to recant a bit of my original claim, because I truly believe that there is *very little difference* between monadic and dyadic play: both involve imaginative acts. However, only one of them involves another fleshly human being – which seems to matter.

    I’m looking forward to playing Spore myself! I certainly hope that his insistence on catering to both forms of play don’t “water down” the gameplay.

    Thanks again for the extensive comment.

    Posted on April 18, 2008 at 9:06 am #
  16. From namekuseijin:

    First of all: anyone seen Princess Mononoke, the great Miyazaki animé movie? No? Too bad, the deer with the flat human face idea and the idyllic setting come straight out of it.

    I didn’t happen to actually “play” this “game” as it “Requires Windows and a fast 3D videocard!” and I have neither. However, I’ve taken the care to read the FAQ, general instructions and comments here about all the fuss.

    So, you’re a deer and should act like such and enjoying this experience should possibly make a big emotional impact in you life. Meet you deer friends, eat some grass, scratch your virtual back in a tree trunk. Watch the world come alive and the sun rise and give way to clouds.

    I have to say I feel like I’d have a better time feeding my fish and watching them swimm in the aquarium. Or reading Parnassian poetry.

    Telling me I am a character and should act accordingly only works as far as there are objectives and a clearly defined player character persona — with their own traits and personal agenda — which is not really the same as mine. Solid Snake, Niko Bellic and Link being three great examples. Well, perhaps not so much Link as he follows those old traditions of putting a mute avatar to represent the player, but in recent incarnations has been decidedly more active.

    What puts them all apart for this deer though are their objectives and motives in the game. This deer has none of those except enjoying hanging around. I call this kind of pointless, plotless, “sandbox” games “aquarium games”: you have fun watching things happening around in this contained space and how they react to you feeding some little pointless input. It is almost as passive an entertainment form as watching TV, except you can’t argue with some stupit commentary the anchor throw in your face. Which is to say: you exercise your brain even less.

    It’s the same as The Sims by the way. Pointless, boring, but a massive success with casual gamers who enjoy feeding fish and watch them swimm. Better than TV, I guess, but far from the joy of exchanging exciting ideas in a blog. ;)

    In other words: I don’t buy it. Let alone the brilliancy of the creators. This sounds like some online sociological idiocy: “a get-together where Michael and Auriea login to the world as gods (or simply as ‘nature’), and create real-time changes in the world (ie. playing music, or creating objects) as people play”.

    People are not playing: they are watching things happening under their virtual noses. They enjoy it because they know there are other people the other side acting like a deer as well. The dyadic play is indeed about as exciting as hide-and-seek and developing an understandable language out of such limited actions is more infuriating than coding in brainfuck.

    BTW, a game that worked much better and had his very own “language” as well was Abe’s Oddysee and it’s sequel, Exoddus. Objectives, language, motive and well-developed player character, that’s what good games should have.

    I sadly believe dyadic play only truly shine in videogames in the FPS arena. It’s hard to get a sense of commitment and truly enjoy a virtual world all by itself when you’re contrained to controlling an avatar from a distant 3rd person viewpoint. Suspension of disbelief would work if there was any sense of urgency from some quest your avatar was involved…

    Sorry for the long rant. Nice blog. Shame I came late to this one…

    Posted on June 18, 2008 at 8:58 pm #
  17. From namekuseijin:

    “As technology improves, so does their options, and the realism of the world, until eventually the game world is indistinguishable to the real world. So for this game, you are placed in a room with a table, a ball, and a door. And there are no rules, you may do *anything* you wish. Do you know what I would do? I would leave via the door, and find something interesting to do. Something *dyadic*.”

    Bingo! Much better than my long rant. Very well put… :)

    Indeed, coming up with ideas by yourself ain’t easy. This is like putting a camera pointed to you and expecting you to come up with some well-thought out lines as Seinfeld or good acting like Jack Nicholson.

    We’re not poets, nor game designers: let creative people do what they do best and let’s eagerly anticipate it… OTOH, perhaps if Kojima or Wright were playing the deers something truly astounding could come up out of the aquarium. :)

    Posted on June 18, 2008 at 9:11 pm #
  18. From chris:

    namekuseijin,

    While you are welcome to an opinion (on something you have not played, as you’ve indicated), please remember that people who enjoy these games, as well as their artists/designers, are just as committed to their particular genres as you are to yours. This is not a public place for venting your personal frustrations – it is a place for understanding just what video games are, and not a place for criticizing them for what they aren’t.

    As for your particular claim, I agree that there is something peculiar to the idea that a 3rd person avatar is somehow less committable than a 1st person avatar. This is perhaps one of the firmer standards in artistic expression – that player perspective does matter. I suspect that this is why (as you’ve indicated) so many FPS games rely upon a 1st person view.

    Posted on June 23, 2008 at 10:28 am #
  19. From auroraboredofallthis:

    strange how someone who played it and by their own admission, didn’t get it should complain that someone else who hasn’t played it couldn’t possibly understand it.

    maybe the content is less important than the bullshit surrounding it. :)

    Posted on November 6, 2008 at 6:02 am #
  20. From TEF Player:

    I’ve played it. I find it so-so and glitchy most days. It’s nice however as a screensaver or when I just want to make-believe I’m a human deer for an hour and hop on rocks.

    In case you’re not aware, many of the players in the game aren’t just sniffing around and scratching trees. They’re creating lengthy blogs, intricate storylines, illustrations, talking in AIM, Ventrilo and other chat programs together. They’ve made detailed family trees, dramas, ghost characters, and vampires in The Endless Forest out of game and then they role-play it in-game. Hmm, deer-vampires.

    This out of game and out of character interaction is encouraged by the creators as human interaction is really difficult to stop otherwise.
    http://endlessforest.org/community/blogusers

    The only ones who are actually enjoying the game ‘for what it should be’ are a few hardcores and the really new guys who haven’t yet noticed the forest repeats on itself, have yet to get locked up in multiple bugs, and have no clue many of the veteran players are talking/rping behind their backs!

    Maybe one could say these cliche groups are exploiting the system or playing as unintended but I’d sum it up to creative human minds looking for more fulfilling interaction within a game setting along with other human beings.

    Imo, The Endless Forest is nice eye candy but it really does not give us a feeling of fulfillment at an emotional/social level like real Hide and Seek could do for us, at any age.

    As I said before, I keep the game for the screensaver and poking around on rainy days but I’m certainly not finding it easy to roleplay a simple deer-person when I know on some level the herd which just walked by is not only talking with eachother out of game and in real time, but are roleplaying a herd of vampire deer all following under one ‘amazingly beautiful and awe-inspiring princess of darkness and butterflies.’

    How do you roleplay when you’re automatically shunned for not being a slave in their storyline?

    Posted on January 6, 2009 at 8:13 am #

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. MMODump.com » The Endless Play Of The Endless Forest - November 6, 2007

    [...] Play Of The Endless Forest The Endless Play Of The Endless Forest: The Artful Gamer has posted a readable, if complex analysis of The Endless Forest, the art-game project produced by the good folks at Tale Of Tales, and it raises some interesting [...]

  2. MARC-ANTOINE BAZINET | critiquedesmediasinteractifs - January 15, 2013

    [...] The Endless Forest: Play &Poesis in Games, The Artful Gamer, [En ligne],(consulté le 9 janvier [...]

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