Spectator Sport
Saturday, April 2, 2011 at 12:29PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in DigiDrive, Dynamics, Mario Kart, Mario Strikers Charged, Misc Design & Theory, Skill, Street Fighter, Super Smash Brothers

Let's talk about action, an aspect real-time gameplay. Before continuing make sure that you are familiar with real-time, the DKART skills that are largely dependant on real-time (reflex and timing), how the skill spectrum shifts according to game speed, and how gamers generally simplify real-time. All of these concepts complicate how we understand video game action. And though we may intuitively understand that action requires real-time, it's less obvious understanding how action is connected to the progression of game time. Even in games like Bangai-O Spirits and Bullet Time, the action seemingly stays constant when the game time drops dynamically.

Look at all these spectators at MLG!

Action is a quality of real-time games that doesn't require engagement or interactivity. It's essentially the story of interactive elements. Because each event in this story can be woven together into a timeline, "action-time" is a very flexible construct. TV shows and movies take full advantage of this flexible property. Using flashbacks, flash forwards, flash sideways, scene cuts, and slow/fast motion intricate stories can be presented that make up one coherent story.

Real-time gameplay in video games is typically limited to presenting the action in a single, forward moving direction with no breaks in the continuum. The game starts, players act, and the consequences play out rippling forward in time. This is the way it has been for many games especially multiplayer modes. There are several factors that can affect how well the player can weave the action together. If a game's speed is too high or if the action frequency is too great, the ability for a player to understand the events drops significantly. Playing video games is hard enough. They engage our minds and our bodies especially when they're challenging. But even the simplest games occupy some of our attention. So, with less brain power available to actively see and weave the story/action together and less flexibility in the presentation of events through time, real-time video games have a much harder time keeping the player in a state where he/she can perceive and participate in the action simultaneously.  

Fortunately, there are many design features that can be implemented into a game to give the player some mental breathing room. Lowering the game speed and action frequency is an obvious option. One can also implement pauses between moments of fast action to give the player a chance to reflect and catch up mentally. After dying, instead of jumping right back into the action with a quick respawn being forced to spend a little time to reflect on what went wrong goes a long way. Naturally, the cleaner the game the easier players can weave their stories. 

Likewise, moments when one to all players in a match are forced (or nearly so) to merely observe the results of an action event play out is a highly effective design feature. By contextually and momentarily taking away or greatly reducing the amount of control a player has in a match (mostly in terms of interplay), players don't have to worry about playing. These moments leave the player free to devote more brain power to observing. These spectator sport moments can help the player weave together the action. As the players suspend control and hold their breath, a unique kind of tension can be created and sustained that's not possible with non-stop action gameplay. 

The following are a list of spectator sport moments (whether hard coded into the mechanics or emergent occurrences) in games that are otherwise action packed. 


Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (http://critical-gaming.com/).
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