Ludology: From Representation to Simulation






  • Most of the current studies of the creative potential of computer games have been done through tools designed for narrative media (literary theory, narratology, film theory). Several attempts have been made by both academics and designers to create “interactive narratives” that would allow players to experience the qualities of narrative while being able to interact with the environment, characters, and events in the “story.” Nevertheless, authors have so far failed to provide a compelling example of “interactive fiction.” Brenda Laurel, a long-time advocate of this genre, recently described it as “a hypothetical beast in the mythology of computing, an elusive unicorn we can imagine but have yet to capture.” [Laurel 2001]

    In this paper I argue, following the work of such theorists as Espen Aarseth and Markku Eskelinen, that narrative is not the best paradigm for understanding not only computer games but also cybernetic art and toys, simply because they do not rely on traditional representation but on simulation.

    By simulation, I mean an alternative form of describing and understanding reality that is based on the modeling of systems. My semiotic approach to simulation is close to the one developed by computer science’s simulation theory, but it differs in that its goal is not necessarily predicting behaviors. Rather, I view it as an alternative representational form that opens a new set of rhetorical possibilities that stress system behavior and user experimentation.

    By comparing the similitude and differences between simulation and representation, I will provide a theoretical framework that will allow us to better comprehend the process behind the interpretation of such cybernetic systems as toys, cyberarts, traditional games, and computer games. My ultimate goal is to contribute to the understanding of the rhetorical characteristics of these simulational media.


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