Space, vast lands and dungeons… It is no coincidence that Space War and Adventure are among the best known of the first computer games. Both clearly appeal to the player’s curiosity, and desire to explore unknown territory. When exploration ceases, the game comes to a stop … For some time it has been clear to me that the importance of exploration has remained largely unexplored by game research. Sometimes it is used as a subset of a larger theory or analysis. However, I believe there are strong reasons for giving it more attention. The case I want to make in this paper is that exploration is an essential part of computer games. I will concentrate my argumentation on exploration as a basic drive for playing computer games. To achieve this I will look at exploration in computer games from two different perspectives: A player perspective and a system perspective. The argument is that each perspective is a different set of optics for the perception of the exploration of the game. The system perspective denotes the rules necessary to play a game, and the player’s exploration of them. The player perspective explains the phenomenological game experience, where meaning is central to the exploration. Succinctly, my argument will be as follows: All computer games start with the player building a state of tension (a conflict), which gradually subsides through the ongoing exploration of the game universe. A computer game is characterized by an ability to support different optics of explorative activities. The primary goal of this article is the description of those two sets of optics.
The paper introduces a particular approach to the study of rules. Different aspects of rules are studied: what are their functions, what do rules govern, what is a ruleset, and what are the elements in a game that rules govern. Five elements are discussed: components (pieces/ player characters/etc.), procedures associated with components (moving them or manipulating them in other ways), environments that define the physical boundaries of a game, theme that gives the game a subject matter, and interface which is used to access the game. The author introduces five types of rules, each type relating to a game element. The typology provides a better understanding of rules as a fundamental structure of games, and it can also be applied as a tool for analysing individual games’ structure and ruleset.
Following Huizinga’s view, the play element of culture is emphasized. While playing, by means of rules, the participants in a game interact with one another to impact on the reference system. Thousands of simulation games are available that depict many different areas and purposes of use. The variety of the gaming landscape is illustrated by linking the various foci and areas of interest in one scheme. To see the wood for the trees, the generic model of games is presented, based on the three interconnected building blocks: actors, rules, and resources. I will point out that even if games have similar forms, their purpose, subject matter, content, context of use, and intended audience(s), may be very different. A framework for constructing, deconstructing and classifying games emerges, based on the combination of the three building blocks with elements of a semiotic theory of gaming: syntax, semantics and pragmatics.