Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Games by Ryan Kirk

Reposted from Ryan Kirk's Blog, Nayr Krik.

Great blog! Ryan has some very interesting muses and points. A multifaceted musician and writer, Kirk creates music centered around mythology and is an avid drone-practitioner. Kirk can play many instruments including french horn, trumpet, guitar, and piano. He is a very interesting, thoughtful, and thorough writer of both prose and music. Please enjoy this wonderful essay he posted! Thanks for sharing Ryan!


"A game is an activity among two or more independent decision-makers seeking to achieve their objectives in some limiting context." (Clark C. Abt)

I have always been fascinated by games. Whether board, video, role-playing, abstract, or sport, games have always managed to suck me in and in many cases to distract me from other more pressing matters. I’ve been thinking about them quite a bit lately and so I’ve decided to share some of my experiences, observations, and ideas relating to games.

Games can be based around three different methods; skill, strategy, and chance. Although in practice most games somehow blend two or more of the above. Even a game as simple as dice, though it may appear to be all chance involves some kind of strategizing and decision-making. And games that appear on the surface level to be all about skill, like hockey or football actually involve a fair amount of strategy and large scale planning.

My own history interacting with games, and most likely yours, goes back to the earliest days of my childhood. Beginning with simple games like catch, musical chairs, and tag, children learn to interact with one another in specific social contexts. In a way games become social rituals for children that determine appropriate behaviours and modes of interaction and establish hierarchies and pecking orders. They also often encourage conditioning and development of the body and motor skills as well as encouraging a healthy psychological state by facilitating play and learning.

As well as those simple children’s games, I was also exposed to traditional boardgames in my home. We always played the staples, snakes and ladders, parchisi, checkers, and then when I was a bit older some of the more complicated ones like chess, Scrabble, and Risk. Risk was always my favourite. I was a typical kid and loved playing with army men and G.I. Joes and watching old war movies that would play on television during the day. So I guess the idea of controlling whole armies over continents and ultimately the world really appealed to me. I played all kinds of boardgames and cardgames throughout my childhood and they have a special place in my memories. But then videogames came onto the scene.

I got my first Gameboy for Christmas when I was six or seven. It came with Kirby and I was hooked from the start. From there I got a few other classics like Mario and Zelda and then a year or two later my brother and I got a Super Nintendo and a little colour TV to play it on for Christmas. Super Mario World consumed my childhood. I played it incessantly and even today I will once and awhile hook up the old Nintendo and it instantly takes me back to the countless hours I spent as a kid trying to reach %100.

From that point on videogames mostly dominated my gaming experiences. I tried my hand a few sports, but never really took to any of them, and unfortunately my obsession with videogames stopped my board gaming short. Which brings me to the downside of some forms of gaming, specifically videogaming. At certain points in my preteens and early teen years I became so obsessed with games that I would relegate school work, physical activity, and socializing just to get further ahead in the games. It wasn’t all bad, and some of my friends played videogames, so there were social times of playing together. Overall though I would say there were far more hours spent playing them alone in my room. There was also the frustration they posed. There would be points where instead of having fun I would get so angry I would throw the controller at the floor. Fortunately I grew out of that pretty fast. By the time I finished high school I was only playing videogames sporadically. I had found other activities that interested me more and used my time in more productive ways. I still don’t feel that videogames are bad, but they can become addictive in ways that I never experienced with social games or boardgames.

These days I’m pretty busy and don’t have much time for games. But when I do I tend to prefer boardgames and cardgames. I find that videogames are too time consuming. A boardgame can start and end in an hours time and it allows you to game in a social way. Whereas my experience with videogames tends to be that an hour just wets your appetite and that generally it’s more difficult to videogame socially. My favourite games these days are mostly strategy and abstract. Games like chess, checkers, backgammon, Risk, and Diplomacy. Diplomacy takes the interactive element of gaming to the extreme, I’ve only played it once but would love to try it again. I also enjoy a few cardgames; poker, cribbage, and crazy eights.

These days I also see elements of gaming and play in other activities I enjoy. One that rings especially true to me is music making. Although in many cases music exists as more than just a pastime or fun activity, it still involves elements that are shared by games. There are often multiple independent agents involved, and there is usually a common goal of some kind as well as a limiting context and the same elements of chance, strategy, and skill figure in. Take for example a symphony orchestra; the members are all working towards the goal of realizing the piece being performed, the conductor and performers use strategies to ensure a successful performance, the players need skill to actually perform the parts when they come up, and as far as chance, well things can always go wrong. It’s even plainer to see in improvisation.

Artists like John Zorn even explicitly compose game pieces. Where players can compete and there is a conductor who establishes rules and divides players into sub-ensembles or teams. In some cases there are even point systems. Free improvisation also incorporates a large component of game and play. Within the performances there can be room for competition and subversion. Music like John Cage’s Book of Changes draws explicitly on chance through the use of dice, a tool common to many games.

I find games interesting because they seem like such a natural human activity. Boardgames date from the earliest known civilizations in Mesopotamia, and in many cases are not that far off from contemporary games like chess. They’re a productive pastime that encourage socializing and stimulate your mind. Games can offer you an escape from the everyday world, yet in familiar and comfortable ways, either through simulating a situation or encouraging roleplaying. After all, who doesn’t want to conquer the world, especially when the leaders you’re competing with are all your best friends?

-Ryan Kirk

No comments: