In a recent paper for the Digital Games Research Association, Dr Chris Bateman proposes that ‘no-one plays alone’ when playing games. What Bateman is implying here, is that play (with a particular emphasis on videogame play) is always conditioned by previous experiences of play. Gamers don’t often turn on a Call of Duty game for example, with no prior history of what an FPS fundamentally is.
In this sense, what Bateman is saying, is that videogame players all have an innate understanding of videogame mechanics. We’re aware of what our character may be able to do with this gun for example, or that red barrels mean boom. These mechanics, as it were, have been taught over time; our literal gaming experience.
Bateman then goes one step further, and claims that videogames have evolved as a product of these mechanics. As players become used to responding to similar mechanics, in similar games, a certain set of ‘player practices’ are formed. Practices that become consistently repeated and mastered. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve jumped on an enemies head to eliminate them, but it’s a lot.
The practices that were initially successful, such as the First Person perspective for example, or pressing a button to jump, has had an undeniable effect on the development of contemporary videogame mechanics. As such, by analysing these ‘player practices’ one might be better suited to analysing a the historical evolution of players, player communities, as well as how games have responded to these.
It’s a fascinating essay that foregrounds Foucault’s archaeological method of analysing knowledge in order to provide a response to critical discussion of games that previously focussed on phenomenological interpretations of play. Bateman hopes, that through this model, we might be better suited at analysing and identifying the underlying philosophy of how we play videogames.
The initial premise has stuck with me. Recently I’ve been considering my own videogame experience, or XP I suppose. What mechanics, or player practices, have become inherent within my videogame play? How has my experience with two analogue sticks, or my understanding of linear level design been manufactured by my gaming history? Or how has my experience with games, outside of videogame play, affected how I play digitally?
Has my hide and seek experience really helped me with those tense PUBG rounds? Or does my experience acting on stage mean I can have more fun roleplaying in Divinity: Original Sin 2?
What do you think? Are you aware of any ‘player practices’ that you’ve developed since playing videogames? Or perhaps you’re still new to playing certain games, and there are some practices that feel alien to you? Let’s chat in the comments, I’d love to hear TAY’s thoughts on this.
Repeat and master another player practice by following Cleon on Twitter.