A glitch is a type of noise, both in the positive and negative sense. In terms of the negative, a glitch is something powerful and alarming. (Menkman 340) However, these negative qualities also can have positive consequences. It redefines the meaning of normal and what is thought of as good. (ibid) This is seen in a number of video game glitches. Such glitches are almost always unintentional and are frequently immersion breaking. While not all glitches are welcome (especially the game breaking kind), it is not uncommon for gamers to react to them in a positive way.
An example of one such positively received glitch was found in the initial release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. While Skyrim has a number of noteworthy glitches, the one referred to by the community as the Skyrim Space Program is particularly noteworthy. When players were fighting one of the game’s giants, a certain attack from the giant would send them flying into the air. At first glance this would seem like an immersion breaking bug that needed to be fixed. Bethesda did not design Skyrim to appeal to the same audience as Goat Simulator. Recognizing it as a disruption to the type of gameplay Skyrim players expected, Bethesda put out a patch removing this glitch. However, community backlash at the removal of the feature led Bethesda to add it back in a following patch. Despite disrupting the typical, more realistic gameplay that makes up most of Skyrim, the Skyrim Space Program glitch is a feature many players enjoy for a number of reasons. Some feel it adds to the game’s immersion by showing how strong the giants are, while others enjoy the humorous visual of their character rag dolling hundreds of miles into the air. There are also those that utilize it as part of gameplay, luring enemies to giants who send them flying far away from the player. While it is undoubtedly an alarming visual, the positive consequences of this glitch have surprised the negative in such a way that it has been embraced by the game’s community and developers as a feature.
The modding of the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim offers a unique opportunity to observe all three types of modding as described by Anne-Marie Schleiner. As described by Schleiner in “Game Modding: Cross-Over Mutation and Unwelcome Gifts”, modders have a parasitic relationship with game designers which comes in three forms. The first one, “noise in the system”, exists purely to disrupt the intended experience of a game. (36) We see this in Skyrim mods that radically change the tone of the game from serious to comical, like the much beloved dragon to Thomas the Tank engine conversion mod. While this is perhaps the most famous example, other mods take it even further, such as one that overhauls the game’s graphics to give it the feel of a Pixar movie. There are also plenty of examples of the second parasite type of “biological infiltration”, meaning a change of the core gameplay. (ibid) Over the years a plethora of mechanic mods of been created, ranging from role playing additions like more complex religions to converting combat to resemble that of Dark Souls. The third type of parasite is one which Schleiner describes as one which takes advantage of and feeds off the wealth of the game creators. In the case of Skyrim, however, there’s a twist.
In the years following its release, the relationship between Skyrim’s modders and creators fit Schleiner’s description to a T. Bethesda generously gifted modders the wealth of resources that is the Creation Kit. It was a typical example of “a symbiosis of reciprocal, circular, cultural gift-giving.” (37) With the resources shared by Bethesda, modders fixed un-addressed bugs, created new lands, and updated graphics, just to name a few. This lush modding community also lured in new players for years after the game’s initial release, extending its lifespan and popularity more than many other games. I myself first played and fell in love with Skyrim in 2018, 7 years after it’s original release. Modders found that they had turned the tables on their so-called parasitic relationship with the game’s creators. In 2017 Bethesda released the Creation Club, a collection of paid mods for Skyrim and Fallout 4. This marked a turning point. Now it is the creator who is obtaining wealth from the modders in the form of both inspiration and producers (several pieces of Creation Club content were made by well-known Skyrim modders). While this new development in the modder-creator relationship has come with some controversy, it’s was not totally unexpected. Mods have kept older games relevant and interesting to new and old audiences for decades. It was only a matter of time before creators attempted to reap the wealth they sowed by gifting modders the power to alter digital creations.
I would like to talk about a controversial subject: the “bad things” that can be done in video games. I’m talking about drugs, excessive drinking, thievery, intimidation, violence, and other taboo activities that can be done in real life, but that bring with them negative consequences that are often unescapable. For decades critics have bemoaned the presence of such activities in video games. They decree that being able to do these things in games encourages players to do such activities in real life, and therefore their presence in video games is abhorrent. No good can come of this, and so these activities should be removed from video games. With that said, allow me to play devil’s advocate.
A few years ago I was going through a difficult time in my life. After a particularly trying day at the office I wanted nothing more than to go out and drink a lot. The toxic environment of my workplace, low self-esteem, strained relationships, anxiety; I wanted to forget it all. But it was a Wednesday, and I knew that if I indulged in these urges I would not be able to perform my best at work the next day. So I did the next best thing: I made a new character in Skyrim, an Orc named Virag Gra-Doner. Virag was the virtual embodiment of the cocktail of turmoil I was feeling, and via her I did the things that would have gotten me into trouble in real life. Virag drank to excess, did all the drugs, served fresh sass to her employer, and did pretty much anything else that would fall under the category of “questionable life choices.” The experience of role-playing as Virag was so relieving that I continued playing as her for several more weeks. During this time something interesting happened: Virag began to get her life together. I would start playing with the intention of getting drunk and into trouble, but would be drawn to bask in the beauty of the game world over escaping from a dreary prison cell. Instead of insulting an NPC yet again, I was curious what their reaction would be if I was nice. Virag had evolved from her original purpose as a vessel for my angst; she had become a way for me to see how choices influence our experience of the world.
I do not speak for all gamers nor do I claim that my experiences are representative of everyone who has ever done questionable activities in video games. That said, I do not believe that I am alone in utilizing video games in the manner described above. Games can allow us to do things that are not possible in real life. Sometimes these things take the form of defeating great evils, forming formidable civilizations, or amassing vast fortunes. While these are pleasant opportunities, sometimes it is more cathartic and insightful to vent then to run through a field of daises.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bethesda, MD: Bethesda Game Studios, 2011. Video Game.
I have always thought of myself as a gamer with a diverse taste. So when I came across an exercise in Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games that challenged readers to define the types of games they like by objective, it seemed like a chance to test this perception of myself. Before I made a list of the games I like and their objectives, I speculated that there would be some similarities, but the biggest thing that would stand out would the differences between games. The following table shows 10 games I enjoy, a description of their main objectives, and the categories those objectives fall into.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Finish quests, clear dungeons, and explore the open world
Build using resources gathered from exploring the world
Cards Against Humanity
Collect the most black cards by coming up with the funniest card combination
The Sims 4
Simulate life and create buildings
Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures
Complete levels by defeating enemies and solving puzzles
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
Become the most powerful civilization via culture, religion, science, or military
Clear the board by matching tiles
Assassin’s Creed II
Complete levels and missions using stealth and combat
When the ball is hit to you, hit it back at your opponent
Work with a team to correctly answer questions about pop culture
One of the things that struck me when compiling this list was the difficulty in narrowing down objective type. Many of the games have minor objectives or gameplay elements that could be classified as a sperate objective type. For example, in Minecraft there are monsters players can combat (i.e. capture objective), and in Assassin’s Creed II there are side missions involving chasing targets (i.e. chase objective). I also found it difficult for some of the games to pinpoint what objective category they fall into. With tennis I originally thought it fell into the capture objective, but after reviewing Fullerton’s descriptions of objective types I decided it was more in line with forbidden act. This is because the rules of tennis impose physical limitations that players must follow (e.g. don’t go into the opponents area or go over foul lines, hit the ball towards you opponent, etc.), which I felt made it more akin to the examples Fullerton gives for forbidden act objectives (e.g. Twister, Don’t Break the Ice) and her description of them as “involving stamina or flexibility, and sometimes just plain chance.” (Fullerton 71)
Based on the results of this exercise I feel that although the games I choose are diverse in their objectives, as was expected. However, upon reflecting as to why I gravitate towards these games, I found that it was not because of my desire to play a diverse range of games. Instead, I’m drawn to each of these games because of my desire to be creative, explore, and use my intelligence to solve problems. Even when I play a physical activity based game like tennis, my strategy to beat my opponent is to study their body language and moves to find a weak spot I can exploit. I take a similar approach when playing games that are primarily capture based, like Assassin’s Creed II and Skyrim. Another similarity I noticed was that most of the games have more than one type of main objective, as well as minor objectives of various types. My preference for games that are not unanimous in their objective I think reflects a larger trend in gaming, by both players and game designers, towards more dynamic and diverse gameplay by way of multiple different objectives.
This post is based on Exercise 3.4: Objectives (“List ten of your favorite games and name the objective for each. Do you see any similarities in these games? Try to define the type or types of games that appeal to you.”) from Chapter 3 of Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games by Tracy Fullerton (quote taken from pg. 73).
Assassin’s Creed II. Montreal: Ubisoft, 2009. Video Game.
Dillon, Josh et al. Cards Against Humanity. Chicago, IL: Cards Against Humanity LLC, 2011. Card Game.
Fullerton, Tracy. “Chapter 3: Working with Formal Game Elements” Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. 4th ed., Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2019. PDF.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bethesda, MD: Bethesda Game Studios, 2011. Video Game.
Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures. San Francisco, CA: LucasArts, 2008. Video Game.
Mahjong Master. GB Games, 2013. Android App.
Minecraft. Stockholm: Mojang Studios, 2011. Video Game.
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI. New York, NY: 2K Games, 2016. Video Game.
The Sims 4. Redwood City, CA: Electronic Arts, 2014. Video Game.
While reading Chapter 3 of Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, I found the section that explores game objectives to be particularly eye-opening. I was surprised by how many games have multiple objectives, and especially how often these objectives are very different from one another. For example, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has relaxing exploration, logic-based solution (e.g. solving puzzles to advance through dungeons), and combat required capture (e.g. clearing out enemy encampments) objectives. While at first this seems contradictory, it makes sense for a game to have diverse objectives. If a game had one just objective or all its objectives were achieved by similar means, then it would be boring.
I feel multiple objectives are especially important to consider when designing video games. This is because many video games are intended to be played for multiple years, possibly indefinitely. The more objectives there are, the more things there are to engage players and keep them entertained. In addition to expanding its playable lifespan, diversity in objectives can also help a game appeal to a wider market. For example, compare Stardew Valley with Animal Crossing: Wild World. What makes the objectives in Stardew Valley more effective than those in Animal Crossing are their diversity. Stardew Valley’s objectives include managing a farm (a construction objective), developing relationships with NPCs (a narrative based objective), and advancing through dungeons (a capture objective). Objectives in Animal Crossing, on the other hand, are mostly limited to collection, hence limiting gameplay options. In contrast to this, a player in Stardew Valley could choose to ignore the NPCs, or spend their time fighting in a dungeon instead of farming.
That said, it is important that objectives make sense within the context of a game. Just like Fullerton’s example of having sushi being an object in Diablo III, certain objectives do not make sense (or would be hard to pull off) in certain games. Consider, for example, an FPS that also had a social farming element (a la asking friends for help in FarmVille), or a team competition style game that had individual players renovating their own house. Granted such features could improve immersion or allow players to feel they are influencing the narrative (e.g. a war shooter where you have the option to repair a village you’ve captured), but it is important not to lose sight of or stray too far from the main gameplay experience players are there for.
This post is based on Chapter 3 of Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games by Tracy Fullerton.