XPG – games in-between
Since times immemorial (a few decades ago), the vast majority of games evolved into video games and the dream of living into one blossomed. Quests for complex rules and winning strategies twisted and shifting into quests for immersion which also evolved into maximum entertainment with friends. Or competitive gameplay and tournaments and esports, with fixed rules.
We are at a strange time in history. We are oversaturated by games. Games on the street, games at home, games on the computer, games on consoles, games on phones, games at work, games on weekends. And yet we always keep in mind that clear line that separates us from the game world. We sometimes step inside it but we always come back and the only thing we remember from those games are fragmented memories of silliness or winning strategies.
We keep games away from our internal life in such a way that this separation produces a mechanical response in us. What we care about when we play games is finding the optimal strategy to get the most out of it. When we play we tend to be efficient. When we live, not so much. Because life is more than winning. Yet we have all these self-development books that are based on a culture of video games that try to teach us how to optimize our lives to the fullest. How to make friends step by step, how to find a soulmate step by step, how to discover your life calling step by step, how to be productive and not waste an hour of your day, step by step. Everything became a systemic problem solving, almost the same as the videogame life.
There is this concept of role-play that gained more and more popularity in multiplayer online video games. It refers to acting in character, blurring the lines between player and avatar. And yet, even in roleplay, you need to be efficient. Even if you roleplay an inefficient character, there is a minimum viable behavior. Because a game has strict rules and winning conditions, even when the game consists of simply pretending to lead a second life.
The technology permits this. The technology we employ allows us to simulate a world with discrete rules. To simulate a world where the consequences are grounded in indeterminism is a little bit complicated. But we’re getting there. First, we need to recognize that that is also a possibility. Not every game should have strict rules, and not every game should be immersive.
Chess popularity is growing despite technological advances. Humans need games in all their forms.
But what if we can use games as a perfect learning medium? As experience machines? We will not be able to upload the knowledge in our brain like in the movie Matrix but we could simulate the perfect environment that will allow us to learn and experience a certain outcome of our action, with almost 100% correspondence in real life.
Enter games as experience. Or XPG.
They are based on an indeterminate world, which means the effect of players’ actions cannot simply be predicted with a 1 to 1 correspondence, even if we assign them probabilities. Many games use probabilities in their system. This only ensures they become more gamble-like, and not educational tools.
The games as experience will allow one to learn because they will engage all senses. Learning is not simply absorption of information, but absorption of information in context, it’s something that involves the whole body. That’s why simply sitting in a classroom and doing textbook exercises will only prepare you for… doing textbook exercises. To do something more you need to practice. Augmented reality is one way that this can happen in real-world scenarios, without any risk.
Another way is playing games as experience, which at their core are still games, thus provide internal rewards by simply playing the game. Both methods will have to stand together. A game as experience is a completely immersive experience, that can and should be created at the intersection of technology and design. It’s impossible to develop a real XPG (experience game) with the current technology, but we can try to pretend what one would be.
For that, I opened XPG Explorer which focuses on exploring video games worlds. The experience in the XPG stands in this specific case to experience traveling to a new place. Some of them can translate to real-world locations and in this case, the XPG is closer to the actual concept. Virtual tourism may help you when you get lost in the real place, and some landmarks are coming back to you even if you’ve never visited the location in the first place. Other games are not so much related to the concept, traveling to a non-existent world doesn’t have much educational impact but instead will act as an imagination-building activity and pure escapism.
Let’s see if we can shift perspective and try to play old games in new ways.