Challenge Balance and Diversity: Playing TheSims and TheSims2

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Date created
2005-06-01
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Abstract
What is the attraction of games? This is a question that both game researchers and the industry would like to shed light on, (albeit for different reasons). There are no simple answers to this question, but I believe that one of the answers is "challenge". All games, except those of pure chance, present the player with limits (rules) and goals that must be met within those limits. In other words, games present players with challenge. Thus, gaining an insight into the use and function of challenges in games is likely to lead to a deeper understanding of not just the game as concept, but the actual games that players spend so much time engaging with. For this reason, I am currently developing a framework and analytical method based on the notion of challenge. In the proposed paper, I will analyse The Sims 2(TS2)(1), using the concepts and understanding provided with the challenge perspective. The aim is twofold. I both want to produce an exemplary analysis and, in the process of doing this, to evaluate the approach as it appears so far. Due to the limited amount of pages, the various concepts will only be introduced briefly while more thorough discussions may be found elsewhere.(2) Firstly, "challenge" will be briefly defined and the questions informing the analysis will be raised. Then follows an integrated analysis and concept presentation, where the proposed tools will be introduced at the relevant points during the analysis. The paper will conclude with a summary of the findings as wells as with an evaluation of the analytical concepts proposed as part of the challenge perspective. Enter challenge Briefly defined, a challenge is a situation of resistance that calls for transformative action on the part of the challenged and whose outcome is not certain from the beginning. Taking a game-related example, the player encounters a challenge when a horde of bloodthirsty monsters suddenly rush towards the PC in a dark dungeon. The situation not only calls for transformative action (fight or flee), it is even required in this case. If the player does nothing, the game will soon be over. It is not self-evident that the player will be successful in overcoming the beasts, which makes it an uncertain situation. Challenges are the translation of a game’s rules and objectives into situations that can be experienced by the player. The challenge perspective on games seeks to address several problems. The one mainly relevant in this case is the provision of means for analysing challenges’ use and function in games. I believe an analysis of these aspects should focus on: 1)The types of challenges present in the game. These may either be producer intended (embedded by the producer), emergent (products of the systems properties that were not anticipated by its designers), or player-initiated (the player poses her own challenges within the context of the game system). 2)The relations between the challenges, that is, their ordering and pace. 3)The appearance of these challenges, that is, both the way they are made (or not made) apparent in the game and the way they may be (directly or indirectly) explained to the player. Based on empirical studies, analytical tools have been created in order to assist the answering of the above questions. Thus, a sample of six games from different genres have been analysed with regards to the types of challenges employed, and a typology of challenges has been created based on the findings.(3) The same is true of the other analytical concepts that are being developed. What is it good for? Apart from contributing to a deeper understanding of the game as a concept, I believe an analysis of the challenges in games has several uses. Thus, it will help to break down games into comparable components that are not based on genre, style, or story but on the core content of games. As this is done with games of different genres, the findings may be used for assessing and comparing those games. The knowledge gained from the analyses may even be helpful in game design, and the challenge categories may provide a useful and precise vocabulary for academics and designers alike. References (1) Maxis, (2004): The Sims 2, Electronic Arts. (2) My initial work on the challenge perspective is presented in my MA thesis Struggling towards a Goal: Challenges & the Computer Game (2003, Iversen, available for download at http://www.itu.dk/people/mosberg/texts/SMI_thesis.pdf). (3) See chapter three and seven op. cit. for a description of the games and the analysis of their challenges.
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Contact: Sara Mosberg Iversen, Department of Digital Aesthetics and Communication, mosberg@itu.dk
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Copyright is held by the author(s).
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