Well, That’s Like, Just Your Opinion, Man

13 Feb


PAX, 2008.  Me and three friends are sitting in booth seating at a slightly upscale restaurant across from the convention center, eating breakfast.  I can’t recall whether it was actually morning, but we were eating pancakes and waffles nonetheless.

Amid eating buttermilk pancakes roughly the size of my skull, the conversation turned to Need For Speed.  One of the gentlemen at the table would later go on to work at Black Box.  The discussion revolved around the evolution/de-evolution/evolution of the franchise — with police chases being taken out of the equation then added back in.  Then, as we discussed just how differently you could design a racing game to be, the Burnout series came up.  This is where the discussion ended, and the red-faced arguing began.

This is essentially how it went down.

Me: I loved Burnout Paradise, I like how open it is, and how well it flows.

Friend: Burnout Paradise was the worst Burnout.  It has horrible flow because there is no clear way to go.  I have played more Burnout than you; shut your mouth.

What we found out later when we had cooled down, is that we were both right.  

What’s comforting here is that this isn’t a gaming phenomenon that we have to explain for ourselves; it’s a human quirk that we can appeal to science to explain.  In Farhad Manjoo’s book True Enough he outlines a scenario in which Princeton beat Dartmouth 13-0 in an Ivy League football game.  Dartmouth managed to knock out Princeton’s star quarterback and a Dartmouth player suffered a broken leg.  Princeton also claimed one of their players was kicked in the ribs.

The results of a test conducted by faculty from both schools is astounding.  They showed footage of the game to students at both schools, and it seems they were watching a different game — or rather they were watching the same game differently.  Sort of.

Dartmouth students saw both teams as playing dirty, counting about four errors per side.  But they noted that Princeton seemed to be making more “flagrant” errors, while their own team’s were minor infractions.

Princeton students “watched the movie in wild-eyed anger”, counting ten flagrant errors on Dartmouth’s side and seeing only half of the “minor” errors committed by Princeton.

The researchers concluded that the students were not being influenced by an active bias — they weren’t choosing not to see things — they were seeing the same events but processing the information differently.  Each side picked out different events to focus on.  Princeton fans were focusing on what happened to Princeton players, and vice versa.  

They didn’t have different opinions about the same game, they were literally comprehending the events that took place differently.  Princeton fans saw Dartmouth playing dirty and roughing up their star team; Dartmouth players saw their team giving their all against the all-star team.

Back to the Burnout debate, I saw the game as having flow because my definition of good flow is ‘moving forward without obstruction’, and I thought of the map as a race track with interweaved paths — plenty of places to go — unobstructive and free.

My friend, on the other hand, holds the word flow to mean something along the lines of ‘guiding and easy to follow’.  He was never sure where to go, and saw a mish mash of city streets where a winding track with optional shortcuts would have been better.

It’s important, as it was in the Princeton v Dartmouth study, to remember that perception is reality.  We may have been playing the same game, but we had different experiences which were determined by the way we both think.  There is no objective play experience to be had because there is no clear correct gameplay path or sequence to follow.

This means that when Tom Chick claims he was staring at soldier nipples all day in Killzone 2, he was right.  If nobody else noticed the player height was rather low, it’s because they weren’t paying attention to it — not crouching, at full height, the player view is always below shoulder height.

It’s all eerily comparable to quantum states.  If you’re not looking for something, then it didn’t exist for your playthrough.  

I played through the Mirror’s Edge demo and thought I was having a great time, until a friend told me there was no way to kill some enemies and I was being funneled through the level.  I played it again and almost threw a tantrum.  I was having real fun before I noticed the artificial pacing mechanisms in place, but once I saw the puppet master I was infuriated.

Absolutely nothing in the game changed, only my perception did, leading to a different game experience or state.  Ayn Rand can kiss my ass.


2 Responses to “Well, That’s Like, Just Your Opinion, Man”

  1. Tips February 16, 2009 at 6:19 am #

    You had fun playing Mirror’s Edge?

  2. Villalba August 20, 2010 at 11:45 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this. I would like to tell you,
    This is extremely wonderful and I really liked it.

    I always like to read on these topics and one of the best thing is that,
    I am looking for this from a long time. Thank you for this again.

    Blogging Tips

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