Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ian Bogost Calls for a Catchy Revolution

othello I go back and forth on Ian Bogost.  I’ve yet to become a huge fan of his political/activist/advertising games, but I’m willing to accept that this is due to lack of familiarity.

In fact, familiarity is one of the topics Bogost discussed in a recent Gamasutra article dealing primarily with the old aphorism: “Easy to learn, hard to master.”  And while I’m not fully-versed in his writings, I do find the occasional Bogost essay enlightening and applicable to modern gaming.

He points out that the use of “Easy to learn, hard to master” in video games stems from Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari.  His take on this design philosophy became “Bushnell’s Law”:

"All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master. They should reward the first quarter and the hundredth."

Bogost proceeds to bust open this maxim from the inside.  He asserts that the most popular games are not easy to learn because of their mechanics but their familiar aspects (Pong’s relationship to racquet sports and Tetris’ relationship to dominoes).  And he argues that “difficult to master” isn’t entirely useful.  The complexity of Go often turns off players rather than invites them.  Instead, what keeps players interested are reasons more intangible than simply becoming the best at them. 

He closes with a fitting “catchy music” analogy, and believes we should ditch the “addictive” moniker and adopt a doctrine of “catchiness.”  “Catchy” is, by far, a more positive way to describe the time I spend with all of these games.