The Expansion of Computer Games Beyond Ludology

As my first act as a blogger, I will upload my Master Thesis. It's a game-theoretical discussion about a new trend within computer games. Get the english version below. Click the download button for the pdf-file.
The Expansion of Computer Games Beyond Ludology

And the danish version published by Digital Aesthetics Research Center is here.

Here's the abstract:

In this paper, I argue that computer games have expanded beyond the theoretical framework of ludology. According to this framework, computer games must be understood as games, first and foremost. Their essential qualities mimic those of traditional non-digital games. Therefore, classic game theories such as those proposed by Huizinga and Caillois are often used by ludologists to describe what a computer game is. According to these classic theories, games are systems of play, in which people engage voluntarily because of their enjoyable nature. The play activity is fundamentally unproductive - nothing of value is generated, and no contributions to society are present. Furthermore, the activity is viewed as separate from real-life. As players, we enter into an alternate universe, a magic circle, in which we accept and adopt the special rules governing the game. Playing implies a focus on these rules at the expense of the rules of the real world, which tend to fade away. Games have this immersive quality, which we find inherently enjoyable. It allows our imaginations to flourish and affords experimental actions to be carried out in a safe environment.

Most computer games fit these characteristics very well. They are games like every other - they just use the computer as the medium with which people play. The computer gives special affordances to games such as simulation mechanics and the presentation of elaborate virtual worlds, but the underlying characteristics of games remain. Ludologists have therefore understandably been particularly focused on this relation between computer games and games.

However, in recent years, a new trend has emerged. Companies are releasing an increasing num- ber of computer games that challenge this ludological framework. They force us to reconsider our understanding of computer games by seeking out and crossing the boundaries set forth by ludology.

These computer games are more than just games. They have expanded to become much more integrated into our everyday lives. They are platforms for social interaction and trade, venues for creative endeavors, and tools for content production. They force their players to continuously shift their focus between game rules and real world rules, as well as allow them to alter the game rules to drastically personalize and customize the play experience. Players are invited to go beneath the surface of these games and tinker with their basic mechanics. Thus, these games blur the boundaries between play vs. work, consumer vs. producer, player vs. developer, and game vs. reality.

The study of computer games needs to reflect this new development. We can no longer view computer games as inherently separate, unproductive, and safe. They are not always closed systems of play, whose rules are set in stone. Computer games have expanded beyond these ludological ideas - they have leapt into a new generation.

I wish to draw attention to this new generation of computer games and point out the inadequacies of the ludological framework. While ludology remains a useful theoretical and analytical tool for most computer games, it doesn't cover their full range of expression. There is a hole in computer game studies that needs to be filled, and this paper aims to contribute to this ongoing process.

The paper is structured as follows: After a theoretical account of ludology, in which I propose a computer game definition from a ludological perspective, I analyze the computer game Little Big Planet. Here my goal is to investigate specifically how and to what extent the game breaks and modifies the conventions of traditional games as specified by ludology. Then I draw my attention to other modern computer games that embody similar nonconformist properties. This leads to a discussion as to how we should integrate these games into computer game studies. What should the theoretical implications of the emergence of these modern computer games be? How can we understand them, and where does ludology fit into the broader picture of computer game theory? Here, I argue that these games can be viewed as a second generation of computer games and then go on to discuss the central principles governing this new generation as well as their relationship to traditional games.