Week 4: Emergent Videogame Experiences

Tuesday 31st January

6:00 – 8:00pm

Arts 103

This week will continue the themes of experience in videogames that we’ve already been discussing in our seminars. However, we will be somewhat stepping outside of the discussions of traditional narratives as intended by the developer and instead considering the existence (and potential importance) of “emergence” in videogames, through narrative and/or gameplay.

Simply put (but when is anything like this truly simple?), emergent experiences in games are those that are not hard-coded into the game itself and therefore have a sense of unpredictability: they can be drawn out of a player’s personal, unique interaction with a game and its components; experienced when the game “goes wrong” through glitches; or myriad other instances. Emergent narratives and/or gameplay can occur within emergent game systems, whose features are summed up by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman:

“Systems that are emergent systems generate unpredictable patterns of complexity from a limited set of rules. In an emergent system, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. For example, the limited set of the rules of grammar cannot account for all of the possible statements that might be made in language.


“Emergence in games results from the formal system of the game put to use by players. Bluffing in Poker, for example, is not explicitly stated in the rules of the game, but it is a pattern of player behaviour that emerges from the game.”


“If a game is emergent, it has a space of possibility large enough to reward players for exploring all of the possible ways to play the game. For example, in games with different kinds of units or objects, players can create engines by using units in unexpected combinations. Designing a game that can support these kinds of engines generates rich emergence and increases the game’s space of possibility.” (170-1)

Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals (London: The MIT Press, 2004)

As well as the above quotation from Salen and Zimmerman, please read the following articles in preparation for this week’s seminar that cover ideas of both emergent gameplay and emergent narrative and even go so far as to ascertain the value of these experiences:

This reading will be supplementary to our games this week: Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us and Steel Crate Games’ Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

“Emergence” in gaming carries different meanings for different people, so the reading is intentionally chosen to offer different ideas and concepts that may agree or contradict with each other so that we can begin to unpick, disagree or align with them – for one thing, can you have emergent narrative and emergent gameplay simultaneously? Please come with as many questions, confusions, and criticisms as you can: we’re excited to try to unravel the concept with you!

Hope to see you there!

Becky, Vicki, and Richard


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