The Art & Folly of Categorisation
Inherent in any act of categorisation is a fallacy. A fallacy best articulated by Karl Popper as follows (Popper, 2002):
‘If we wish to study a thing, we are bound to select certain aspects of it. It is not possible for us to observe or to describe a whole piece of the world, or a whole piece of nature; in fact, not even the smallest whole piece may be so described, since all description is necessarily selective.’
Heinrich Gomperz exemplifies for us Poppers argument (Popper, 2002):
‘…point out that a piece of the world, such as a sparrow nervously fluttering about, may be described by the following widely different propositions, each corresponding to a different aspect of it: ‘This bird is flying!’ – ‘There goes a sparrow!’ – ‘Look, here is an animal!’ – ‘Something is moving here.’ – ‘Energy is being transformed here!’ – ‘This is no case of perpetual motion.’ – ‘The poor thing is frightened!’ It is clear that it can never be the task of science to attempt the compilation of such a list, which is necessarily infinite.’
Video games do not exist in isolation from the rest of the natural world. This fact can be illustrated by describing the attributes of a video game: The game is broadly classified as an action game. It does however contain elements of adventure and fantasy in equal parts. Furthermore it is historically accurate and as such educational. As you proceed through the game strong elements of strategy and simulation are introduced. Users are also given the option to play in first or third person views. There are strong stylistic influences from other forms of media. Not only that, but the user may choose to interact with the game in a massively multiplayer online environment or on their own and offline. What we have illustrated here, is the beginning of one of Gomperz’s infinite lists.
Now if we are asked to place a game into an appropriate genre, we are faced with making what is evidently an arbitrary decision. The number of attributes we can choose is finite and yet the available attributes from which we might choose is infinite.
As we have shown that the definition of any genera can never be entirely logically consistent, we are faced with an interesting question: Why, if games cannot be categorised, do they all seem to fit so nicely into traditional categories?
The slightly glib answer to that question is that, video games are designed to fit into the categories and not the other way around. Traditional categories were largely inherited from the publishing industry and designed by marketing teams to help target consumers and differentiate products to increase consumption. Those same marketing teams now work within game companies, where they help target consumers and differentiate products to increase consumption.
Traditional genres along with other forms of classification are useful for video games as an industry. But for those who are concerned with video games as a medium, they are meaningless.
In my view, the arbitrary categorisation of any part of nature is an attempted vivisection of a changing state. The sentiment of this outlook having been expressed viscerally by Jean Baudrillard as he paraphrases James Elkins (Baudrillard, 2009):
‘The symbol of a living dispersion, the ideal spider, which spins its web and is simultaneously spun by its web. Or better still, I am not the spider who weaves the web. I am the web itself, streaming off in all directions with no centre and no self that I can call my own.’
The goal of my ideal system is to reconcile this holistic sentiment with a salient fact: The fact that, for most people, the experience of playing a video game is so subjective that no two people can share the same experience in detail.
As such, playing a video game can be likened to a child building a sandcastle. They fill their little red bucket up with sand, pack it down with a spade, then turn it over and plant it into the ground. Tap once, tap twice and one last time while whispering the secret word. Off comes the little red bucket and there stands a sandcastle.
A construct destined to degrade into a pile of sand through the incomprehensible mix and rush of nature. Perhaps one day, given an infinite period of time, those grains of sand will be collected again and placed into a little red bucket by another child, who might tap three times, say the same secret word and imagine that they too have built a castle in the sand.
But a system of that type would need to encompass the whole of existence. As such, if I was to show it to you here, neither you nor I would be able to distinguish a single attribute of it. The system I wanted to build for you is by virtue of its being truly comprehensive, completely insoluble.
So instead I have decided to design a system for categorising video games based on a quote by one of the forefathers of Holism, Arthur Koestler. As he references McLean on the Triune Brain Model (TBM) of evolutionary development (Koestler, 1978):
‘Man finds himself in the predicament that Nature has endowed him essentially with three brains which, despite great differences in structure, must function together and communicate with one another. The oldest of these brains is basically reptilian. The second has been inherited from lower mammals, and the third is a late mammalian development, which … has made man peculiarly man. Speaking allegorically of these three brains within a brain, we might imagine that when the psychiatrist bids the patient to lie on the couch, he is asking him to stretch out alongside a horse and a crocodile.’
Perhaps it seems like a slightly strange premise for a system of video game classification, truth be told it probably is. But all things considered, my system can be no stranger than any other system ever conceived or likely to be conceived, given the flux of nature and everything that we cannot know.
According to Koestler and McLean, if we are to understand anything of a person’s subjective experience, we must first acknowledge that humans have evolved progressively from irrational animals to semi-rational ones. This progression is symbolised within McLean’s evolutionary model by the Reptilian, Paleomammalian and Neomammalian brains.
So let us begin by categorizing attributes belonging to the three sub-wholes that make up a human brain, as they will form our three TBM game genres:
Now if we look at a video game such Titanfall (Titanfall, 2014), we can attempt to ascertain, to what extent each of the three brains will be stimulated by the play experience. For the sake of an example, we will make a rough assessment of the TBM ratios associate with this game:
The game is violent, promotes aggression and territoriality. Dominance is the primary objective in Titanfalls’ multiplayer arenas. Though to achieve that dominance, players must utilise planning and abstraction in small parts and have highly developed ‘twitch’ reflexes. Hence, a rough TBM rating for Titanfall may be: 90% Reptile (R), 0% Paleomammalian (P) and 10% Neomammalian (N).
These results indicate that this game can be broadly categorised under the genre ‘Reptilian’. Should I play it, I would expect my experience to be one involving aggression, dominance and a reliance on rapid instinctual reactions to stimulus.
For the measurement of these ratios to be consistent and accurate, a standardised test has been developed, known as the TBM Rating Questionnaire (See Appendix A). This questionnaire must be completed by people who have experienced the game and the results should be an accurate reflection of the play experience.
One thing you may note regarding our initial results is that they give no indication as to how enjoyable the play experience was for any given person. So the TBM Rating Questionnaire contains a single question designed to measure this binary metric:
This question is an unqualified final verdict on the play experience. It does not leave room for equivocation or excuses. It does not take into account the graphics, sound or lasting appeal. A game can be a text adventure or a fully realised 3D virtual reality simulation. But when it comes down to it, you either enjoyed the game, didn’t enjoy it, or you have never played it.
Why Use the TBM System
The TBM system of game classification has a number of characteristic that set it apart from other systems. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this would be to compare it directly to a system such a Jérôme Cukier’s (Cukier, 2006) adversarial approach.
Cukier proposes five distinct criterions for categorising video games into genres, all of which are false dichotomies. We are asked to decide if a game is synchronous or not, single player or not, session based or not, realistic or not and repetitive or not. Cukier’s system does not take into account that a game may be at once composed of equal parts of every single one of his criterion. Once such a game is produced, his system will collapse.
In contrast the TBM system is a holistic one, designed specifically to address the blurred and arbitrary lines of any genre. A game may be in equal part any one of the three TBM genres and the system will remain logically consistent.
Cukier also fails to provide an accurate method of measuring the applicability of any video game to any one of his categories. He provides a very general description of the characteristics of that genre, but categorisation is a system of measurement. If you make no effort at all to refine your measurement then you have failed to acknowledge the subjectivity of human experience.
The TBM system, through use of the TBM Rating Questionnaire, has made an effort to provide a formal measurement tool. This tool endeavours to provide some structure and consistency in the approach to measuring user’s subject game experience.
One common aspect of the two systems is that neither are commercial systems. A commercial system is designed to be broad enough to differentiate the majority of games, without any true reference to the game’s play experience; The reason for this obfuscation being, that a commercial system wants you to buy the game first, then find out about what kind of game it is later.
Another common aspect of the two systems is that they are both designed to give the user a real conception of what the play experience will be. Cukier has not relied on traditional genres. Instead, he has attempted to forge his categories out of a selection of game mechanics. Unfortunately, Cukier’s criterion proves to be too specific.
Should we analyse a game using Cukier’s system, one that his system classifies as ‘asynchronous’, there is no indication as to what extent the play experience will be asynchronous. There is no explanation as to how a game that is asynchronous, abstract and repetitive should be differentiated from one that is only abstract. In this respect, Cukier’s categories are atomic, in that they exist as irreducible units. Irreducible units which, when brought into apposition, destroy one another and show Cukier’s system to be one reaching out beyond the bounds of logical consistency.
In contrast to Cukier’s system, TBM does not focus on game mechanics. Instead it is focused on the mind of the player, the stage on which the video game experience will play out. As such, TBM is future proof, whereas Cukier’s system will be outmoded by new game mechanics and technological innovation. The TBM system will be relevant for as long as humans remain human.
This questionnaire is designed to give any video game a rating using the Triune Brain Model video game categorization methodology.
- Please note that this questionnaire should only be completed by people who have played the game for at least 5 hours.
- Please answer true or false to each of the following questions:
|1||Do you feel territorial when playing the game?|
|2||Do you repeat actions or strategies when playing the game?|
|3||Do you have rituals within the game?|
|4||Do you rely mainly on your instincts within the game?|
|5||Do weapons feature highly in this game?|
|6||Are ‘twitch’ reflexes essential to game play?|
|7||Are you aggressive within the game?|
|8||Is fighting and armed conflict a feature of the game?|
|9||Are you obliged to kill or harm other entities in the game?|
|10||Are you expected to protect or invade territory with force?|
|11||Is the game competitive?|
|12||Do you feel the game appeals to your base instincts?|
|13||Is the game addictive?|
|14||Is the game repetitive?|
|15||Would you describe the play experience as ‘mindless’?|
|16||Does the game get your adrenaline pumping?|
|17||Does the game try and invoke a sense of fear?|
|18||Does the game involve personalization?|
|19||Are you encouraged to create your own homes or spaces?|
|20||Are you expected to feed or care for other game entities?|
|21||Does the game appeal to your emotions?|
|22||Do you have children, friends or pets within the game?|
|23||Are you required to gather resources within the game?|
|24||Do you design structures or fortifications within the game?|
|25||Does the game involve managing other game entities?|
|26||Do you have to manage resources within the game?|
|27||Is pattern recognition required within the game?|
|28||Does the game involve complex social interaction?|
|29||Does the game contain a ‘deep’ story or atmosphere?|
|30||Are you obliged to think before you act in the game?|
|31||Does the game require verbal or text input or interaction between entities within the game?|
|32||Are you required to use your own imagination within the game?|
|33||Is the game thought provoking?|
|34||Does the game require you to place yourself in the perspective of other game entities?|
|35||Does the game encourage you to exploit others weaknesses?|
|36||Are you required to formulate strategies to kill or harm other game entities?|
|37||Does the story involve children or family members?|
|38||Is there a high level of skill required to play the game?|
|39||Are you required to formulate strategies within this game?|
|40||Are you required to solve complex puzzles within the game?|
|41||Are you required to perceive subtle social interactions and subtext?|
|42||Do you get satisfaction from dominating others in this game?|
|43||Did you enjoy playing the game?|
Please collate your results into the table below using the following instructions:
- Questions 1-4: For any question where your answer was true, place a 1 in the ‘R’ column. Any question where your answer was false, please place a 1 in the ‘N’ column.
- Questions 5-12: For any question where your answer was true, place a 1 in the ‘R’ column.
- Questions 13-17: For any question where your answer was true, place a 1 in the ‘R’ and ‘P’ columns.
- Questions 18-23: For any question where your answer was true, place a 1 in the ‘P’ column.
- Questions 24-29: For any question where your answer was true, place a 1 in the ‘P’ and ‘N’ columns.
- Questions 30-34: For any question where your answer was true, place a 1 in the ‘N’ column.
- Questions 35-36: For any question where your answer was true, place a 1 in the ‘R’ and ‘N’ columns.
- Question 37: If you answered true, place a 1 in the ‘P’ column.
- Question 38: If you answered false, place a 1 in the ‘P’ column.
- Questions 39-41: For any question where your answer was true, place a 1 in the ‘N’ column.
- Question 42: If your answer to this question was true, place a 1 in the ‘R’. Any question where your answer was false, please place a 1 in the ‘P’ column.
- Question 43: If you answered true to this question, place true in the ‘Enjoyable’ column of the results table.
- Finally: Please place the sum of each of the columns ‘R’, ‘P’ and ‘N’. Calculate the ratio of each column given maximum score of 20 for each. Place these ratios into the correlating columns of the results table.
I have selected a variety of games from the early 1950s to the present day. I have then answered a TBM Rating Questionnaire for each of them (excluding question 43). The results of which can be seen below:
A.S.Douglas, 1980. OXO Emulation [Art] (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/59/OXO_emulated_screenshot.png)
Activision, 1999. Pitfall! Game Play [Art] (http://www.elizabethlos.com/wp-content/uploads/pitfall.jpg)
Activision, 2007. Guitar Hero 3 Wallpaper [Art] (http://www.picksnlicks.com/Guitar%20Heroes/Images/Guitar-Hero-3-Legend-Rock-1593.jpg)
Activision, 2012. Rapala Pro Bass Fishing Game Cover [Art] (http://www.fishingfury.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Rapala-Pro-Bass-360.jpg)
Arthur Koestler, 1978. Janus: A summing up. 1st American ed Edition. Random House.
Black Isle Studio, 1998. Fallout 2 CGI Cutscene [Art] (http://pictures.4ever.eu/tag/29807/fallout-2)
Blizzard, 1995. Warcaft 2 Manual Metzen [Art] (http://smg.photobucket.com/user/evilknick/media/WarCraft_Metzen026b_zps9aa4da08.jpg.html)
Blizzard, 2001. Diablo 2 Cover [Art] (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/d5/Diablo_II_Coverart.png)
Cukier, J. 2006. Gamethink. [Online] Available at: http://web.archive.org/web/20080622160356/http://gamethink.net/For-a-new-classification-of-game.html [Accessed 30 March 2014]
Electronic Arts, 2009. Sims 3 Cover [Art] (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/6f/Sims3cover.jpg)
Electronic Arts, 2012. SimCity 4 Screen [Art] (http://media.edge-online.com/wp-content/uploads/edgeonline/2012/10/SimCity-4-top.jpg)
Electronic Arts, 2014. Overwatch [Art] (http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/gamelife/2014/03/TF-Panoramic-Overwatch.jpg)
Infocom, 1986. Leather Goddesses of Phobos [Art] (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/f0/Leather_Goddesses_of_Phobos_boxart.jpg)
Jean Baudrillard, 2009. Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? (SB-The French List). Edition. Seagull Books.
Jim Storer, 1970. Lunar Lander Light Pen [Art] (http://www.brouhaha.com/~eric/retrocomputing/dec/gt40/photos/photo1.50.jpg)
Karl Sir Popper, 2002. The Poverty of Historicism (Routledge Classics). Edition. Routledge.
King, 2012. Candy Crush Saga Icon [Art] (http://a1.mzstatic.com/us/r30/Purple/v4/e6/58/d9/e658d99b-b70f-4932-4b14-bc3840388c6f/mzl.ktexdwrg.png)
London Studio, 2004. Singstar Title [Art] (http://au.playstation.com/media/100672/SSSP_spotlight_2.jpg)
LucasArts, 1991. Monkey’s Island 2 Cover [Art] (http://realityglitch.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/mi2.jpg)
Midway, 1994. NBA Jam Game Cover [Art] (http://www.joystickdivision.com/nbajamSNES.jpg)
MTV Games, 2010. Dance Central Screen 2010 [Art] (http://media1.gameinformer.com/imagefeed/screenshots/DanceCentral/DanceCentralMedia/03.jpg)
Namco Bandai Games, 2011. Darksouls Cover [Art] (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/8d/Dark_Souls_Cover_Art.jpg)
Nintendo, 1984. Duck Hunt Cover[Art] (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/14/DuckHuntBox.jpg)
Pipeworks Software, 2013. Full House Poker Cover [Art] (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/57/WSOPFHP.png)
Rockstart Games, 2011. LA Niore Blond [Art] (http://www.t3.com.au/files/2011/02/lanoire_blond_2560x1600.jpg)
Sega, 1988. Altered Beast Cover [Art] (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/05/Altered_Beast_cover.jpg)
Sega, 2011. Shogun 2 Wallpaper [Art] (http://gamingbolt.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/SHOGUN-2-TOTAL-WAR-WALLPAPER-HD-1080P-XBOX-360.jpg)
Sintex, 1996. Master of Orion 2 Cover [Art] (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/bd/Master_of_Orion_II_Boxart.png)
Sony Computer Entertainment, 2010. Grand Turismo 5 Wallpaper [Art] (http://wallsizes.com/gran-turismo-5-ps3-game.html)
Steam, 2009. Sniper [Art] (http://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/kotaku/2009/04/sniper_update.jpg)
Subset Games, 2014. FLT Title [Art] (http://img3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120618050911/ftl/images/3/33/FTL_Title.png)
Supercell, 2013. Logo & Banner Art. [Art] (www.supercell.net)
Titanfall, 2014. [Video Game] Calafornia, USA: Electronic Arts.
Ubisoft, 2012. Assassins Creed 3 Trailer Screen [Art] (http://static9.cdn.ubi.com/en-GB/images/Game%20page%20launch%20trailertcm2169740.png)