My system for reading the New Yorker has evolved into this:
It comes weekly to my sometimes-place in Austin where one of my lovely roommates piles them into a safe place. When I go through Austin, a once-every-4-months thing lately, I pick them up. It takes me as long, or longer, to read them than it did for them to pile up, and when I am back through ATX I pick up the new stack and put it on top of the remainder of the previous stack. I always have a good 6 months worth on me.
So it’s not terribly surprising that last month I finally got to the issue from December 20 & 27, 2010, and read Nick Paumgarten’s profile of Shigery Miyamoto, the creative mind of Nintendo. A few things in the profile made me think about climbing. One issue it’s made me think about is how well/not well climbing, in my life, fits the definitions of “play.”
Paumgarten brings up this Dutch cultural historian named Johan Huisinga, and what he wrote in 1938 about the definining characteristics of play. He came up with five.
Play is voluntary – you can’t be forced to do it or it stops being play.
Play “takes place outside the realm of ordinary life and is unserious, in terms of its consequences”
This isn’t always true I suppose, since you could hurt yourself a million ways, or get into highballing, or something. I think my natural cowardice and aversion to dangerous things keeps me and climbing on the play side here. If I sense any even slightly serious consequences, I usually back off.
Play is unproductive. “nothing comes of it – norhting of material value, anyway. Plastic trophies, stuffed animals, and bragging rights cannot be monetized.
This is a real choicy thing for a lot of people I know, and myself. If you start thinking about selling photos or videos or winning money, things begin to leave the ‘play’ realm, just a little maybe.
Play “follows an established set of parameters and rules, and requires some articifial boundary of time and space.”
So you start with this jug and this crimp, go right, and this is the top. Sometimes you top out sometimes not, this hold is off and no dabbing.
Play “is uncertain; the outcome is unknown, and uncertainty can create opportunities for discretion and improvisation.”
I might or might not make it up this thing this time, might as well just campus that part.
So that was interesting.
There’s also sections of the profile where Miyamoto talks about the difficulty of video games, and how you have to balance impossibly hard things with repetative easy things to keep players engaged and allow them to improve. I related to this a LOT. Nothing like an easy start or chill section to keep me motivated trying something very hard.
“Miyamoto recognizes that there is pleasure in difficulty but also in ease, in mastery, in performing a familiar act with aplomb…His games strike this magical balance between the excitement that comes from faving new problems and the swagger from facing down old ones. The conseruent sesation of confidence is useful, in dealing with a game’s more challenging stages, but also a worthy aim in itself.”
Then the man himself is quoted
“All the time, players are forced to do their utmost. If they are challenged to hte limit, is it really fun for them?”
In his games, “You are constatnly provising the players with a new challenge, but at the same time providing them with some stages or some occasions where they can simply, repeatedly, do something again and again. And that itself can be a joy.”
“We always use the term ‘difficulty’ when we talk about gameplay…If the game is too difficult, people may not want to play it again. With the appropriate level of difficulty, people may feel like challenging it again and again. As they repeat it, the amount of information they can acquire naturally increases….I always try to be conscious about that kind of gradual improvement.”
So do I, Miyamoto San.
He describes the crux of a game or a skill as a kind of “bridge”, between being a beginner and coming into mastery and deeper joy found through performing the activity.
“a kind of a bridge between indifference and pleasure. ‘If the bridge is too easy to pass by, it’s called ‘entertainment.’ If it’s rather difficult, it can be called ‘hobby.’
Here’s the article online.