Players as Authors: Conjecturing Online Game Creation Modalities and Infrastructure

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This paper will outline a movement beyond the apparent creative stagnation in the videogames industry through a possible transformation that proposes to mobilize the players to the creative process, by enabling them to assume creative roles in online games, thus becoming authors. This paper will analyze the meaning of a "player as author" metaphor with a discussion of what is the potential and challenges in mobilizing players as authors and how to stimulate this transition of roles. But is this a real transition? Isn't the act of playing already a creative one? We will attempt to shed some light into this and identify new professional roles that may emerge from this mindset. We will also analyze the requirements needed to develop an infrastructure to support these new player/creator roles. By using a MMORPG as the ideal game genre to prototype such an infrastructure, a virtual world is idealized in which the players socialize and experience the needs of such a worldview, and attempt creative acts to satisfy those needs. In such an environment we expect to foster the emergence of collaborative playwork as the world will become populated with player's designs. The basis for developing content will be new game arenas where, with the right tools avaliable, new game concepts will possibly emerge. A scripting language is outlined to enable players to create new programmable content, allowing players to define objects, structurally and behaviorally, and combine them to synthesize new game experiences. The effects of enabling online or play-time edition on game scenarios, objects and characters must still be studied for a better comprehension of the socio-technical tradeoffs as the technologies required for such collaborative setups are complex and may become computationally expensive, and as such will limit scalability for a minimum quality of experience. To enable such a setup, characterizing the scope and range of actions for the definition of games is a most important aspect. If we want new interactive experiences to go beyond character or object personalization, for new game concepts to emerge the player-author needs to be given control over the rules and parameters that functionally define a game. Aesthetically, being able to influence the presentation layer of the game design is also a requisite for creative work. Two illustrative examples are discussed: rules definition and camera control. The rules can be defined in two ways: through the definition of object behaviors and through the definition of general game rules. A defining part of the experience of games and their design is how to promote goal setting. A goal can be preset by the game author when she's creating the game setting; or it can be negotiated by the players through socializing within the game (e.g., a wealthy character may want some valuable information from another player which would refuse to trade it and, to get it, hires another player in the role of a "spy", a group of players forge an alliance within a game to achieve an agreed set of goals); Goals can also be influenced dynamically through the affordances and constraints provided by the possible interactions with and between the objects that appear in the game, or by the players that participate in the experience. A design decision that could be passed to the player-author is camera control over specific events of intervals. By controlling the camera, the author will become a kind of director and the resulting experience may be considered a movie, at least in the machinima category. A number of decisions should be made about how and when the player controls a camera. But the control of the camera shouldn't be made saying "The camera should be in a position (x,y) and pointing in a θ angle", instead, a more sociable way of doing this would be "The camera is in a determined object and when the player passes by the object the camera does a close-up on it". Further research will be needed to study what options could be made and in what way, and their technical, aesthetic and social implications. The definition of a flexible supporting data model is of crucial importance because of it influences the range of new content that can be created. If the data model is too concrete it may artificially bound the creative space to specific genre or interpretation. On the other hand, an abstract data model can be hard to understand. All editing can be made available through a scripting language, which allows experts to create virtually everything they wish. But novice users should also be empowered to create. Possible ways to ease the creation process and the use of metaphors in the design of the interaction will be discussed in this paper. For such possibilities to be effectively mobilized by players, first they must be experienced and learned. A progressive route from novice to expert usage should be provided not to loose author candidates, which brings us to one more fundamental requirement in the design of the infrastructure: its usability and evaluation. These possibilities and their influence on interface design will be discussed.
Contact: José Tavares, CISUC, University of Coimbra,
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