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Koster’s Keynote

March 8th, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · No Comments · Uncategorized

I couldn’t be at the Game Developers’ Conference this year, but apparently I missed a helluva keynote speech by Raph Koster, one of the giants of online game design. His address (transcribed here) was largely derived from his recent book Theory of Fun and Game Design.

You can read the transcription for yourself, but I’ll say that I think it’s pretty good. Though I disagree with his assessment of Bookworm, he’s right on the nose that the trick of game design is to present a pattern that players can recognize but not defeat too quickly. Total randomness means that it’s not a game at all; total repetition is a bore.

His discussion of the place of art in gaming is also on the nose. From the transcription:

Art and entertainment are terms of intensity, not terms of type. The difference between Cheers, Friends, and a medieval morality play are NOT THAT BIG. They are predictable. They are for reassurance, they are building cognitive schemata through repetition – seven seasons worth – and then sometimes you get Lolita. That makes us nervous. It’s challenging. Breaks the routine. As long as we as designers and developers come into the process knowing everything our games say, games will be doomed as mere entertainment. We have to make something like Lolita. Schindlers list. Catcher in the Rye. That’s the sign of a mature medium, a game that makes you think ‘I don’t quite know what this might mean..’.

Finally, someone who gets the distinction between art and form. There are always those people that will say that anything people create is art. Koster gets that art requires a little more. (I’d intended to keep this blog “games as art” free, but I guess there’s no escape.)

Some of my favorite sentences:

Every game is destined to be boring so we can routinise it.”
“The dressing however is incredibly important. Remember that the rest of the world sees the dressing.”
“Games are the cartoon version of real world sophisticated problems.”
“The console manufacturers are currently recommending 8 hours of gameplay rather than 40. ”
“Players try to make gameplay as predictable as possible. Which means it becomes boring. Exciting can get you killed.”

If you were there, let me know what you thought of the speech. I’m still digesting it, but, like much that Koster has to say, there is a lot here to mine.


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