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Critical-Conversation, like smashBOARD, is a project that I've been working on for years. C-C is essentially a structured debate with a lot more flexibility. Ultimately, the purpose of these debates is for gamers to better understand and inform one another. To understand why this is so important and why it's taken me years to reach this point, you have you understand a few things that I have come know and believe. 

  • I know that video games are an art form worthy of deep and thoughtful conversation.
  • I know that video games are interactive learning systems that have a profound effect on how we think and learn not just in the realm of gaming but across all activities in life. 
  • I believe that though the avid gamer may be largely uneducated about game design, their general comments have a lot of valuable instincts and insight on gaming.
  • I know that when gamers try to express and articulate their ideas more often than not they fail to speak to the real issues at hand. I believe such communication issues stem from a lack of an exacting or critical-language. To remedy this problem, I've spent the last 2 1/2 years developing my Critical-Glossary in which each entry contains links to full explanations complete with plenty of supporting examples. 
  • I believe that our opinions are not arguments meant to be an answer or defense to a challenge. Instead, our opinions are launch pads for thoughtful conversations. Furthermore, I've found that most options when unchallenged are inaccurate to their owner. Being the culmination of perception (however limited), circumstances (in and outside the bounds of the game), and past experiences there's a lot of room for opinions to sway in every conceivable direction. In this way each person is a world unto themselves making communicating and debating opinions impossibly difficult. 
  • I know that we can better understand each other as people and gamers (opinions and all) if we ground our discussion in objective terms. 

I know you can't read what they're discussing, but just look at Mario's face. 

Now that you understand where I'm coming from, I'll discuss the frame work of the Critical-Conversations. The first thing to note about this system is the name. Though the conversations are in the spirit of a debate, I purposely selected the word "conversation." For more reasons beyond me being a sucker for alliteration, I think the word debate is associated with banter, heated/violent verbal arguments, over intellectualism (or the fear of intellectualism), and ultimately having a winner and a loser. I wanted to move away from these associations. Still, I see the value of appealing to the goal oriented, value scale evaluating, competitive side of gamers. So, I've designed C-C like a video game. 

Structuring Critical-Conversations like a video game will hopefully encourage participants to play with the system instead of inappropriately fighting against each other or giving up on themselves. Using everything that I've learned about game design including playstyles, balance, co-op, and co-unter-op design, and logistical elements, I'm building a system that gamers should find very familiar and accessible.

For the clarity of communication and to frame the entire conversation, goals will be formulated and stated upfront. One's goal can be as simple as wanting to participate in a respectful and civil debate from start to finish. Or a goal can be specific like wanting to understand and articulate exactly what makes Super Mario World different from Super Mario Brothers 3 in terms of the trends in the level design and the 5 facets of skill. 

Whether the goal is specific, general, or shared, the point is to set the stage of the conversation so that all actions are considered according to the same value scale. A simple positively awarded point system (ie. you can only gain points) will communicate to the participants which and what kinds of comments contribute most to achieving the goal(s).  And like many of our favorite video games, adding what would be the equivalent of achievements, collectibles, side quests, or Mario coins are ways to give the conversation flexibility and the participants some control over the flow of ides. 

The flow of the conversation should roughly go through the following phases...

  1. State goals.
  2. Present statement/argument concisely in about 1 sentence. 
  3. Explain the statement/argument further breaking down the issue into smaller parts.
  4. Submit supporting examples/arguments. [repeat2-4]
  5. Summarize conversation.
  6. Results. 
  7. Closing comments. 


Critical-Conversations can happen in person, over the phone, via email, etc. Personally, I prefer using a system like Google Wave for the following reasons.  

  • The text based communication is useful for quoting not to mention keeping a log of the conversation. It also takes the pressure off of sustaining an active spoken conversation. This format gives the whole debate asynchronous flexibility. 
  • With a subject as complex and layered as video games, a linear conversation simply won't do. Being able to add comments to previously made statements and being able to carry on multiple trains of thoughts simultaneously in an organized fashion is crucial.
  • Being able to post pictures, videos, and link to other websites allows participants to directly reference supporting material.


If you have anything you want to debate or discuss that's even remotely video game related, feel free to join me in a Critical-Conversation. I'd like to publish the conversation on this blog, but I understand if you would rather keep things between us. The conversations can be very short or very long.  And don't worry about all the rules or the little details. I'll take care of everything. 


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Reader Comments (2)

I would be interested in participating, particularly as I have a stack of DS games which I am soon to start playing that I know that you've personally covered quite extensively yourself. However, I am still not quite settled over in China yet, so once I get that covered, I'll hit you up on AIM.

May 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Primed

@ Daniel Primed

Sounds good. Take your time.

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