donderdag 26 maart 2009

Meaningful User Generated Content


This was my favorite talk of GDC2009, and I don’t think anyone is going to beat it. But I’m chewing on it, so forgive me if it’s not totally clear yet.

The past year User Generated Content (UGC) has been carried around on a pedestal as if it were the holy grail for games. Yet nobody seemed to know what it was exactly or how it was supposed to be applied. Chris Hecker, designer on spore, tries to get a grip on this phenomenon.

To begin with: what is UGC?
How much must the user generate for it to be UGC, and as he generates too much: isn’t he then the gamedesigner instead of the user?
The cycle of editing, testing and then evaluating if the design is working is the same for both designer and (content generating) user only the designers loop is bigger. You could say that there is a hierarchy in generated content by looking at how it’s made. Generating content in Second Life is easy, generating content in a C&C level editor is doable, but harder, and the hardest tool for generating content is C++. But then you ‘re probably an indie gamedesigner…

Why do we need USC is his second question he proposes. Isn’t the game made by the authors usually better? Jonathan Blow argued last year that the traditional message model of meaning has broken down. The viewers don’t watch, reflect and then construct meaning. They do things while immersed and construct meaning from that experimental action.

[VOICEOVER: AND NOW IT’S TIME FOR YOUR RUSSIAN SPACE MINUTE]
Chris Hecker leaves the stage, Will Wright enters.
Wright talks for one minute about how and why the Russians reacted the way they did to the US Starwars program and the launch of the first space-shuttles.
And of course why and how their attempts failed after the falling of the Berlin wall.
[VOICEOVER: THIS WAS YOUR RUSSIAN SPACE MINUTE]
Wright leaves, Hecker enters stage and continues.

This is an immersive model of meaning. This leads to abdicating authorship. The designer should give some of his authorship to the player, not in the sense that the player can decide what to do first, and only has influence on the plot or order of things, but the designer should give the player the possibility to construct meaning.

And the last question of course: How do we do it?
Here I’m grasping on with my fingernails and I find out that reading parts of Kants work, only once (and the other parts not at all) is not sufficient. (Erik B. if you’re reading this, please help me out,
It has to do with making the different between Kants notions of the beautiful and the sublime. During the talk I understood on some level, but not enough so I can explain it now.
But we do have to leave gaps of meaning in games for the player to fill in. This of course should not be a puzzle (“mmm,…which meaning goes in which gap to get the optimum highscore?”). I’ll write on this further when I get an idea about Kants theories that does it justice.

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