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They Are All Just Microcosms

This bizarro weekend, I have surprised myself by reinventing Digitally Staving Off Boredom.  

I started by experimenting with some lovely free blogger templates. Having gone that far, I realized this necessitated changing the tagging structure for all the posts I have here, spanning almost ten years of text walls.  In removing those tags, much meta data was pointlessly annihilated, but this is because I realized some some fairly important things:

1. What I discuss here are all examples of microcosms.

The definition of a microcosm (according to is, "A little world; a world in miniature (opposed to macrocosm)."  Basically, the idea here is you create a smaller version of the world by translating it into an abstract form, such as words or a picture.  A lot of games I am excited about these days put a lot more detail into that, utilizing computers to simulate microcosms at a much greater detail.
2500 years ago, Plato was talking about this stuff too.

I decided that I do not need tags to describe individual games: games come and go, if you really want to know what I wrote about a particular game, you can always use the search dialogue.  For that matter, genre does not matter that much, either: the difference between a role playing game and a real time strategy game is about as relevant as its setting, your preferences will dictate what you will play regardless.

What really matters is the scale of the microcosm, and this is the basis of my new tagging system:
  1. Non-Interactive - Books, television, and film are primarily non-interactive.  Though the viewers' imagination will have the leeway of interpretation, these ultimately play out the same from start to finish because their medium is typically unable to take any input from the viewer as to what happens. 

    Of course, there are the rare exceptions, such as Choose Your Own Adventure books or a movie where the director gives you multiple resolution options.  However, in general, the medium of books or film is very low in overall interactive capabilities, so I would probably classify limited interaction as non-interactive as well just because the viewer does not get enough meaningful agency.

    Do not think I am talking down to them.  Regardless of the limitations they put on interaction, non-interactive microcosms can be highly entertaining.  I have a few entries on books, anime, and movies here; they belong, but they get tagged as non-interactive.
  2. Limited - This is where most computer games can be found.  Yes, the player is invited to play a role within the microcosm, and given some ability to enact change upon it but, aside from that, everything is pretty static.

    The primary distinguishing feature of the game is that there is a definite end.  It does not matter if there is a "New Game+" mode or some other mechanic to introduce replayability, if the game is designed to be played from beginning to end before starting over, then it is usually of limited scope, because this demonstrates its content and gameplay are mostly static.

    However, simply forgetting to tack on an end would not qualify as an unlimited-scope game, either.  To make the transition to unlimited, there needs to be a features that introduce some aspect of self-renewing gameplay.  For example, large scale procedural generation, strong emergent gameplay, or even regular patches that introduce additional content.
    Just as non-interactive microcosms can be entertaining, do not let the term "limited" make you think they are bad games.  They can actually be quite effectively entertaining due to narrowing their scope of content to something much easier for the developer to work with.
  3. Unlimited - This is where MMORPGs, roguelikes, and games like Minecraft are generally found. 

    The primary distinguishing feature of an unlimited scope microcosm is that they are designed to be played forever.  Subscription-based MMORPGs are typical examples: it is in the developers' best interests to keep the players playing as long as possible.

    Of course, just because the developer wants the player to play forever does not mean that players will not get sick of the game anyway.  To these ends, you will typically see a number of features in the game design to try to keep things fresh.  Regardless of whether or not a game possesses those kinds of features, if the designers' intent is for the players to only play through a few times and quit, then that would be a limited scope game. 

    It is no coincidence that unlimited-scope microcosms are the closest we get in gaming to a virtual representation of the macrocosm of life.  I imagine if you are mostly interested in MMORPGs, Minecraft, Roguelikes, and so on, then "Unlimited" scope microcosms are what you really want to read about.
Is there room for ambiguity between these three categories?  Sure, but it is less than you think.  In most microcosms, it is pretty clear if they are non-interactive, intended to be played through from beginning to end, or of unlimited scope.  The ones that sit on the fence between categories are atypical hybrids and I will have to make a judgement call as to which side of the fence they fall on before applying a scope tag.

If I write something related to none of those three tags (like ranting about something that goes on in real life), then it gets the Off-Topic tag applied to it.  This blog is about microcosms, not the macrocosm of life itself, please pardon my venting.

The other tag to notice here is Development, because I am dabbling with doing my own game development (among other kinds), so blog entries in which I discuss that will get that tag.

2. Platform is almost irrelevant.

While I was changing my tags over, at first I thought perhaps to recategorize by platform - most gaming sites do, after all.   Thus, I initially came up with three tags:
  1. Mobile Gaming - This is for games that are played on handheld devices, whether they are cell phones, tablets, or Gameboy derivatives.  This deserves its own category because these devices are often limited in computational firepower (due to their size) and the interaction is limited to whatever is built into the device.
  2. PC Gaming - This is for games that are played on workstations that have a mouse and keyboard.  Note that, even if it is a PC exclusive game, if it is not played using a mouse or keyboard, it is not a PC game.  This might seem like a bit of a strange condition to you, but the primary differentiation between a console and a PC comes down to the fact that the PC is built to do more than just play games.
  3. Console Gaming - This is for platforms which are strictly entertainment, too large and cumbersome to be a mobile device, and not possessing the non-gaming-related interaction capabilities of PC games.  Of course, you might be quick to point out that even the Super Nintendo had an optional keyboard and mouse, but that's really pretty irrelevant considering what that console was generally used for, isn't it?
I was not even all the way through revising the letter "B" in alphabetical order of my existing tags before I realized I had a serious problem.  Many games these days (especially the AAA) are ported across all those platforms.   Frankly, thanks to the advances in technology, mobile versus PC versus console is becoming less distinguishable every day. 
In 20 years, the Google Glass may seem bulky.
Still, for those traditionalists out there, I kept a platform tag in tact just so you know which platform I played it on.  These three tags might be relevant to you if you do not happen to have the right platform (e.g. I mention a PC game and you only own an Apple computer).  However, I think that desire to play certain types of microcosms will well transcend your limitation of platform.  So, in the end, the platform is almost irrelevant.

A New Era Of Textwalls

I guess that is pretty much the while mission statement right there; this is how this blog will be laid out from now on into the foreseeable future, I hope everybody gets some use out of it.

One more big change that will occur is that I will try to limit future entries to one game/book/movie/whatever at a time.  Though I have a habit of spamming out big text walls of everything that I have been up to lately, it somewhat defeats my new tag system to do that.  I want people to be able to filter the blog content based off of what they are interested in, so if there is more than two tags (one for microcosm scope, one for platform) then I probably messed up.

At this time of this writing, this entry has received one read in the past 2 hours, so either this new blog entry broke the hit tracker for individual post entries or I am starting pretty close to rock bottom viewership anyway.


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