Why bother with Emergence? – Exploring player motivation in emergent games

Introduction

Traditionally, games were progressive. You, the player, would start at the beginning of a scripted story, and move through environments designed to only revolve around you. When you interacted with the system, something else happened. If you didn’t act, the world would never move or change. Like the protagonist in a play, the antagonists and props are pointless without the hero.
But in recent years of game development, a new trend of emergence has surfaced.
This essay looks at the the characteristics of emergent, complex systems, and the role of the player within them.
The game Don’t Starve, by Klei Entertainment will be used as an example of a complex system, in which the world is designed in a way that nearly ignore the player’s existence entirely.
The essay then goes on to explore, what might attract players to engage with a game world such as this one.
If the game you play pays no mind to you, and if the game gives you nothing for free – if there is no reward system and goal structure – what is fun about playing it?

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Games as a tribute to culture

If all media is autobiographical in some sense, then all games are a product of the culture the designer lives and breathes. However, certain games goes beyond their own present time, and instead looks to cultures past.
When a designer strives to pay tribute to a specific author or time-period, do they stay unbiased? Or will the present environment around the designer always sneak it’s way in?

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Are Loot Boxes just glorified Skinner Boxes?

Recently, there has been a popular trend in AAA games, of adding what the industry now calls loot boxes.
This introduces a system, where the player will pay real money, in exchange for the game to drop random in-game items and features.
The phenomenon has been so widespread, that Jim Sterling – a youtube content creator and journalist – even declared 2017 to be the year of the loot box. (Sterling, 2017)

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The Inadequacy of the “Gamer” Phrase

Not too long ago, people identified themselves as gamers, fully knowing exactly what the word meant.
The stereotypical gamer was a person who would spend hours on end playing games, and enjoying particularly difficult, brain-shattering challenges. (Juul, 2010) But more importantly: The gamer identity came – just like any other label – with a community, and a sense of social security.
In recent years, however, with the rise of app stores, smartphones, and the possibility to download and distribute games in a matter of minutes, everyone is a gamer. From commuters to kids. So is the “gamer” stereotype still relevant?

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