Communication Channels

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Specific design support for players to send messages to other players through the game.

Games often make players want to communicate with each other. While players can in theory use any part of a game which they can affect and other players can perceived as a way to communicate, Communication Channels signify parts of a game design that is dedicated to communication. In many cases these Communication Channels are technical systems but they do not necessarily need to be this.

Examples

Massively Multiplayer Online Games such as BatMUD, Eve Online, Kingdoms, and World of Warcraft usually provide many different kinds of Communication Channels for the players, from chat channels to predefined gestures for the players' avatars.

Both the Battlefield series and the Left 4 Dead series allow players pie menus to quick communicate about specific gameplay issues in addition to providing chat channels.

Anti-Examples

In Pictionary, teams score points when members of the team guess correctly the words that one of the members tries to draw within a time limit. The player drawing is not allowed to speak so all communication needs to be through the drawing (and some gestures). While this means the game has a very specific communication channel, being able to communicate through that channel is a central part of the game's gameplay.

The gameplay of ESP Game relies on players not being able to communicate with each other. For this reason, the game does not only avoid providing any Communication Channels but also hides players' identities from each other so they cannot establish other Communication Channels outside the game.

Using the pattern

Per its definition, Communication Channels only makes sense as a way to modify Multiplayer Games (they are more of less ubiquitous in Massively Multiplayer Online Games) and is typically used for games with Mediated Gameplay. There are several reasons why designers of a game might want to have Communication Channels in a game. The first is that it is typically required for players to be able to have Coordination with each other, and more specifically support Timing issues in Real-Time Games. Another is that the existence and use of Communication Channels is a prerequisite for any game with Mediated Gameplay if it is to have Social Interaction on any higher level. The pattern is equally useful in Asynchronous as Synchronous Gameplay. A third reason is that they may be the only medium through which players can do Enactment, and even if this can be done through other means as well it can be used to augmented players' possibility to engage in Roleplaying. While they can be used for games in general, specific Communication Channels can also be provided to players based on Game Lobbies or Guilds, or specific ones may be provided to Spectators. Friend Lists can be used to filter or create specific Communication Channels so players need only speak to their friends if they so wish.

Chat Channels, voice channels, and Dialogues are three basic forms of Communication Channels that can be used in games, but Dedicated Game Facilitators (such as Game Masters for example) can be Communication Channels in themselves. Meta-Techniques are Communication Channels used primarily to modify Unmediated Social Interaction in games. By giving players a Game-Defined Vocabulary or Asymmetric Abilities regarding how they can communicate, designers can create more specific types of Communication Channels. A design choice when constructing Communication Channels is if players should be able to transmit Direct or Indirect Information about the game state to each other. The latter is typically enforced by Limited Communication Abilities but some form of Communication Channels are required for an intermediate media to exist.

Communication Channels can ensure that messages from the game system is Public Information. Likewise, it can allow players to provide information to all other players so that it becomes Public Information. Uncertainty of Information can be introduce through Communication Channels by game systems intercepting messages and modifying them before sending them to their original receiver, or simply by creating false ones. A weak examples of this can be found in how World of Warcraft manipulates the messages of drunk Characters by changing most "s" to "sh" and intermittently adding "... hic!" to the end of sentences.

While Communication Channels may seem unnecessary for game with Unmediated Social Interaction, it can be used to provide Secret Communication in these.

Diegetic Aspects

Communication Channels open up the possibility for Diegetic Communication between players and thereby Diegetic Consistency. However, players may also use these channels to break the Diegetic Consistency by initiating Non-Diegetic Communication so this design solution puts the players in power and responsibility of determined if this should be maintained. When there are several types of Communication Channels, or when Communication Channels complement Unmediated Social Interaction, this provides ways to modulate Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Communication so that different channels can be used for different types of communication.

Interface Aspects

Since Communication Channels focuses on communication between players rather than gameplay action, it is a Interface Pattern. It is however still a gameplay pattern since Communication Channels can support actual gameplay actions in addition to the communication.

Consequences

Communication Channels allow players to interact with each other, and through this can heavily influence how Social Organizations and Social Roles emerge or are maintained in games. By doing this it can provide Community Functionality. The Social Interaction that Communication Channels support can give rise to many more specific types of interaction, e.g. Bragging and Negotiation, and significantly change how Helplessness functions in Multiplayer Games by giving rise to Guilting and addition types of Negotiation. Games where Social Dilemmas can be debated over Communication Channels is even more likely to have Negotiation and Social Interaction. All these aspects help make Communication Channels give players of a game a feeling of Togetherness (and can thereby work against Ragequitting, in games where this can occur[1]). Regardless of quality, Communication Channels does not provide Unmediated Social Interaction.

Many other types of actions may be possible without Communication Channels but become easier, more interesting, or more well-grounded when they are discussed through the Communication Channels. Examples include Asynchronous Collaborative Actions, Cooperation, Player Kicking, Social Dilemmas, Team Combos, Trading, and Voting. The experience of playing together may also be strengthen by being able to talk about the activity will it happens, so Communication Channels can strength Mutual FUBAR Enjoyment. Further, Communication Channels can easily be used for discussions about other subjects than the specific ongoing gameplay. This is a form of Extra-Game Action but may still be relevant to the game, e.g. exchanging Trans-Game Information such as gameplay strategies.

Communication Channels provide a basic requirement for players to have a Possibility of Anonymity, but since players may be reveal things about themselves to other players, Enforced Player Anonymity may be impossible and the pattern may work against Actor Detachment. As mentioned above, they may also choose to break the Diegetic Consistency.

Enforced Player Anonymity is related to Communication Channels in another way, namely that unless a game has Enforced Player Anonymity players can create their own Communication Channels by using Skype, mobile phone, instant messaging, etc. which are not part of the game system itself. Thus, in many games players can establish communication with each other and game designer can relate to this either by supporting Communication Channels, or less common, making it difficult for players to create their own Communication Channels.

Relations

Can Instantiate

Bragging, Community Functionality, Coordination, Diegetic Communication, Diegetic Consistency, Direct Information, Enactment, Extra-Game Actions, Indirect Information, Non-Diegetic Communication, Negotiation, Possibility of Anonymity, Social Roles, Togetherness, Trans-Game Information, Uncertainty of Information

with Helplessness

Guilting, Negotiation

with Mediated Gameplay

Social Interaction

with Social Dilemmas

Negotiation, Social Interaction

with Unmediated Social Interaction

Secret Communication

Can Modulate

Asynchronous Collaborative Actions, Asynchronous Gameplay, Cooperation, Diegetic Communication, Game Lobbies, Guilds, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Mediated Gameplay, Multiplayer Games, Mutual FUBAR Enjoyment, Non-Diegetic Communication, Player Kicking, Public Information, Real-Time Games, Roleplaying, Social Dilemmas, Social Organizations, Spectators, Synchronous Gameplay, Team Combos, Timing, Trading, Voting

Helplessness in Multiplayer Games

Can Be Instantiated By

Chat Channels, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Dialogues, Meta-Techniques

Can Be Modulated By

Asymmetric Abilities, Friend Lists, Game-Defined Vocabulary, Limited Communication Abilities

Possible Closure Effects

-

Potentially Conflicting With

Actor Detachment, Enforced Player Anonymity, Diegetic Consistency, Ragequitting, Unmediated Social Interaction

History

An heavily updated version of the pattern Communication Channels that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[2].

References

  1. Linderoth, J., Björk, S., & Olsson, C. 2013. Should I Stay or Should I Go? Boundary Maintaining Mechanism in Left 4 Dead 2. DiGRA Nordic '12: Proceedings of 2012 International DiGRA Nordic Conference.
  2. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.

Acknowledgements

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