Friday, September 08, 2006

The Breaking of DAR/RAI Theory

It's only fair to point out that the last main game design article, where I put forth the DAR/RAI theory, was composed, for the most part, as I typed. That is, I started writing an article looking at how DAR interacted with the player, and I wasn't entirely sure where it was going before I started typing.

This is par for the course for this blog, seing as how that's how DAR came to be. To be honest, when I started writing on game design, I had intended to put forth an entirely different theory of design, one based on GNS theory and other ideals from table-top role-playing game design. I thought they were nice theories, and they (when appropriately modified) do have some applicability to videogame design.

But then I thought up DAR. And RAI came out of that. Now, I have a whole bunch of ideas swimming around in my head that no modified GNS theory could touch, ideas and analyses that are useful to explaining why some games work and some don't. In essence, my modified GNS theory would have explained gaming from a top-down approach, while DAR theory operates from the lowest level of game design and scales up.

Because I thought up DAR and RAI basically on the fly, I'm still revising them fairly substantially. Take DAR, for example.

At first, it was designed to model both what the game presents and what the player does. The player's decision, the player's action, and the game's response. As I started on RAI theory, however, I realized that this was all wrong. It's actually the game's decision, and the game's available action(s). The game presents one or more DARs to the player, and the player uses Reason to select among them. In a particular DAR, the player uses Ability to act and receive the response. And, as a correction to the last article, the player uses comprehension (thus turning RAI into RAC; it sounds better to me) to take that response and turn it into knowledge.

I'm still somewhat concerned by one, seemingly glaring, omission in the DARRAC theory: the fact that Ability and Action have no third component. Knowledge feeds Reason, which leads to a Decision. And Response feeds Comprehension, leading to Knowledge. But Ability stands alone, fed only by the decision and never changes from one iteration of the same DAR to the next. There is no knowledge analog that represents the possibility for the player to improve in this domain.

In fact, I've really glossed over Action in discussions about the DAR model. This mostly stems from the fact that I'm fairly uncertain of it and its future. By all rights, making a decision and acting upon it are two separate things. Forming a plan and executing it. However, I don't really deal with it much. The Interactive Loop is based on decision and response; there just happens to be this middle section where you have to act on a decision in order to get the response.

The main problem is that the simple DAR model doesn't allow for the action to fail. See, you don't decide to fall into a pit in SMB; that certainly wouldn't be anything involving Reason. But it happens. It happens because you made an error in your actions; you jumped at the wrong time and couldn't get over the gap.

Then again, that last line can be reframed into a decision, rather than an action. The problem is that you decided to jump at the wrong time. And the knowledge of that failure would, when properly Comprehended, results in the player improving over time.

When phrased like that, it sounds like you don't need action. Yet action is clearly a part of game design. Any number of games have failed totally because of poor user interface. Given the above, just because you know when to jump doesn't mean you can do it all the time. That makes it seem like there is something between Decision and Response.

Not only that, I've come to realize that the DAR/RAC model is wrong more fundamentally. Elements are the wrong way to look at a game; it should be looked at from the perspective of a player playing the game. And a player doesn't get a DAR, a player is confronted with many DARs from which the player uses Reason to choose.

In short, I'm revamping DARRAC theory somewhat. The new model will become known as the Situation model, and will be forthcoming.

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