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Subject: Why I love abstract games rss

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Nick Bentley
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I've been on vacation in Mexico, and it put me in the mood to reflect on things I don't normally think about. It led to an essay in which I try to articulate why abstract games mean so much to me.

I tried to go beyond the usual "I-like-X-because-of-features-Y-and-Z" explanation. It was hard to write.

Here it is

Does any of what I say accord with your own feelings? Do you have entirely different reasons for caring about these games?
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Russ Williams
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An interesting exploration/explanation!

One random (perhaps tangential, or not?) thought:
your article wrote:
2-player games are more contemplative – we expect 2-player games to be more contemplative than games for more players. Or maybe they’re just less of a party. In any case they’re more conducive to the meditative experience.

By that principle, one might expect a 1-player game to be even more contemplative. Which could partly explain the increasing popularity of solitaire games? But most solitaire games are thematic. The "abstract game" equivalent might be Japanese puzzles like Sudoko and Nonograms etc. I often get into Nonogram binges and find them very nicely contemplative/meditative, and they have the direct spatial element you discuss also, rather than being more algebraic/linguistic/etc like some types of puzzles.
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Nick Bentley
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russ wrote:
An interesting exploration/explanation!

One random (perhaps tangential, or not?) thought:
your article wrote:
2-player games are more contemplative – we expect 2-player games to be more contemplative than games for more players. Or maybe they’re just less of a party. In any case they’re more conducive to the meditative experience.

By that principle, one might expect a 1-player game to be even more contemplative. Which could partly explain the increasing popularity of solitaire games? But most solitaire games are thematic. The "abstract game" equivalent might be Japanese puzzles like Sudoko and Nonograms etc. I often get into Nonogram binges and find them very nicely contemplative/meditative, and they have the direct spatial element you discuss also, rather than being more algebraic/linguistic/etc like some types of puzzles.

Totally!
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Eric Farmer
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That's a lovely piece, Nick. And when I signed up for your Blooms KS, I discovered that we live about a mile from each other!
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Nick Bentley
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WellMoustachioed wrote:
That's a lovely piece, Nick. And when I signed up for your Blooms KS, I discovered that we live about a mile from each other!

No way! How have we never met? I feel like lunch is in order.
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christian freeling
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Hi Nick,

Now I see what's been keeping you busy! Thanks for putting an image of Dameo at the top.

It's a pleasure to read your attempt to frame your love for abstract strategy games and it resonates quite significantly with my feelings about them. I also suspect that your relation (like mine) isn't noncommital. Many inventor's may choose to commit to the design of an abstract game, yet they may take it or leave it or design other games altogether. I didn't and you don't. Well, you do actually, but work is work and passion is passion, or so I've always understood your attitude. I've once described you to Russ as a 'half alien'.

I'm the alien in the works. You look for a retreat, I looked for an escape. You find it in playing abstract strategy games, I can only find that in inventing. Too impatient, too impulsive and too easily distracted as a player I guess. Even now it's hard not to think about mechanisms (especially after Richard's find showed once again that there's no end to beautifully simple ones), but although still on the wrong planet I can now ride it out rather conveniently without much interaction with the locals. When I go shopping I mimic their behaviour and it works!
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Eric Farmer
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milomilo122 wrote:
WellMoustachioed wrote:
That's a lovely piece, Nick. And when I signed up for your Blooms KS, I discovered that we live about a mile from each other!

No way! How have we never met? I feel like lunch is in order.


Maybe we have! Madison's a big small town. We should grab a coffee and a game at the very least.
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Nick Bentley
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christianF wrote:
Now I see what's been keeping you busy! Thanks for putting an image of Dameo at the top.

It absolutely embodies my feelings, so it was a good one to put there

Quote:
It's a pleasure to read your attempt to frame your love for abstract strategy games and it resonates quite significantly with my feelings about them. I also suspect that your relation (like mine) isn't noncommital. Many inventor's may choose to commit to the design of an abstract game, yet they may take it or leave it or design other games altogether. I didn't and you don't. Well, you do actually, but work is work and passion is passion, or so I've always understood your attitude. I've once described you to Russ as a 'half alien'.

That's about right!

Quote:
I'm the alien in the works. You look for a retreat, I looked for an escape. You find it in playing abstract strategy games, I can only find that in inventing. Too impatient, too impulsive and too easily distracted as a player I guess. Even now it's hard not to think about mechanisms (especially after Richard's find showed once again that there's no end to beautifully simple ones), but although still on the wrong planet I can now ride it out rather conveniently without much interaction with the locals. When I go shopping I mimic their behaviour and it works!

Designing is the opposite of playing them for me. Designing, at its best, revs my imagination. It's like running naked through the countryside (but the countryside is design space?)

It's less intentional and more ecstatic. And even more pleasurable for the knowledge that I'm designing something meditative.
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Nick Bentley
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WellMoustachioed wrote:
milomilo122 wrote:
WellMoustachioed wrote:
That's a lovely piece, Nick. And when I signed up for your Blooms KS, I discovered that we live about a mile from each other!

No way! How have we never met? I feel like lunch is in order.


Maybe we have! Madison's a big small town. We should grab a coffee and a game at the very least.

I'll ping you on my return from Mexico in about a week.
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Brett Christensen
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Very nice. thumbsup
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Nick Bentley
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mothertruckin wrote:
Very nice. thumbsup

thanks kindly
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Interesting read. Food for thoughts.
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Nick, great read as always! Many of your points resonate with me to some degree, but one point hits home:

Quote:
When I lose, I know the explanation for my loss is right there, in the game, even if I can’t see it. That inspires me to try to figure out where I biffed.


This!

This is the thing that brings me back to 2p abstracts over and over. Certainly there are aspects of this in non-combinatorial games, but often I find that my exposition bottoms out at "if I had only better draws/rolls/etc..." which is often less than satisfying. You know what I mean?

In any case, Kickstarter notification email registered!
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Rahn
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Another phrase for your meditative state would be flow state.

There's an interesting hypothesis there that rules overhead is a barrier to flow. While perhaps rules overhead can be (but isn't always) conducive to narrative/thematic immersion.
 
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fogus wrote:
Quote:
When I lose, I know the explanation for my loss is right there, in the game, even if I can’t see it. That inspires me to try to figure out where I biffed.


This!

This is the thing that brings me back to 2p abstracts over and over. Certainly there are aspects of this in non-combinatorial games, but often I find that my exposition bottoms out at "if I had only better draws/rolls/etc..." which is often less than satisfying. You know what I mean?

In speaking with people who don't like abstract games, I've learned this is exactly what they don't like. Knowing the answer is there, and not seeing it, is frustrating and makes them feel dumb.

I find this super-hard to relate to. In normal life outside of abstract games, we're positively bathed in ignorance every minute of every day. I would've expected we'd have all just gotten used to it by the time we're adults. Maybe it's an "out of sight, out of mind" thing. We know we understand little, but would prefer not to be reminded of it.
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Russ Williams
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milomilo122 wrote:
In speaking with people who don't like abstract games, I've learned this is exactly what they don't like. Knowing the answer is there, and not seeing it, is frustrating and makes them feel dumb.

Cf. people often complaining that combinatorial/abstract games have a determined winner assuming perfect play. (And sometimes confusing that with all such games being "solved".)

As if the notion of perfect play has any relevance to their real-life play of the game...
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christian freeling
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milomilo122 wrote:
We know we understand little, but would prefer not to be reminded of it.

At the same time our behaviour makes that extremely hard.
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Hey, I saw you on Reddit! Interesting to see the difference in community responses
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MantaRider wrote:
Hey, I saw you on Reddit! Interesting to see the difference in community responses

That's one of my favorite parts of posting. Huge differences between the prevailing perspectives of different groups.
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As I’ve played abstract games over decades, my assumptions about them have crept into my life, in a kind of metaphorical seepage. For every kind of problem, I assume there’s an answer, even if I can’t see it.


Really love this sentiment. I had an epiphany along these lines while playing the excellent digital puzzle game "Jelly No Puzzle" (http://qrostar.skr.jp/en/jelly/) years back. Every level appeared to be impossible at first glance yet slowly but surely I would eventually find a solution!

It made me think: If this game, with its unbelievably simple rules, limited universe of options, can fool my intuition so easily, then the real world has all sorts of solutions or avenues to explore that are difficult to spot at first glance! Nice to hear this idea echoed.
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musicismath wrote:

Really love this sentiment. I had an epiphany along these lines while playing the excellent digital puzzle game "Jelly No Puzzle" (http://qrostar.skr.jp/en/jelly/) years back. Every level appeared to be impossible at first glance yet slowly but surely I would eventually find a solution!

It made me think: If this game, with its unbelievably simple rules, limited universe of options, can fool my intuition so easily, then the real world has all sorts of solutions or avenues to explore that are difficult to spot at first glance! Nice to hear this idea echoed.


Jelly no Puzzle is fantastic, as are his other games Hanano Puzzle 1 and 2. The world of digital puzzle games expanded greatly in the last few years, so if anyone else here is obsessed with puzzles let me know and I can try to recommend something.

EDIT: I even made a blog post about it, despite nobody reading my blog.
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Nick Bentley
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musicismath wrote:
Quote:
As I’ve played abstract games over decades, my assumptions about them have crept into my life, in a kind of metaphorical seepage. For every kind of problem, I assume there’s an answer, even if I can’t see it.


Really love this sentiment. I had an epiphany along these lines while playing the excellent digital puzzle game "Jelly No Puzzle" (http://qrostar.skr.jp/en/jelly/) years back. Every level appeared to be impossible at first glance yet slowly but surely I would eventually find a solution!

It made me think: If this game, with its unbelievably simple rules, limited universe of options, can fool my intuition so easily, then the real world has all sorts of solutions or avenues to explore that are difficult to spot at first glance! Nice to hear this idea echoed.

Along the same lines, this always inspires me.
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christian freeling
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milomilo122 wrote:

Along the same lines, this always inspires me.


Note that this statement
Quote:
Second, there is what I call the orchard of undiscovered knowledge. This is the knowledge which exists theoretically, but just hasn’t been harvested by humanity yet. In this orchard, the trees are full of fruit. Our job is to find the ripe fruit that is ready to be picked.

is reminiscent of a discussion we've had here on several occasions: do things exist before they are discovered?

Quote:
Imagine taking a cube the size of our solar system and putting it in empty intergalactic space. There would basically be nothing in the cube except hydrogen atoms.

Imagine I'm in a vacuum sphere here on earth, then I stick to the earth and to the sphere (apart from exploding and all that, but that's not my point). Imagine I'm in the same sphere in outer space then I float. So someting about the 'emptiness' of the sphere is different. You may 'explain' it by saying it's gravity, but in that case here's another quote from John Erskine's 'Adam and Eve':
Quote:
His naming the animals, what was it but a parable of the scientist in him? He knows the name of a thing at sight. Later he tries to find out what it is.

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christianF wrote:
Note that this statement
Quote:
Second, there is what I call the orchard of undiscovered knowledge. This is the knowledge which exists theoretically, but just hasn’t been harvested by humanity yet. In this orchard, the trees are full of fruit. Our job is to find the ripe fruit that is ready to be picked.

is reminiscent of a discussion we've had here on several occasions: do things exist before they are discovered?

In this case, I don't think the orchard analogy needs a platonic realm. It just needs a universe that exists independent of our knowledge of it.

Quote:
Imagine I'm in a vacuum sphere here on earth, then I stick to the earth and to the sphere (apart from exploding and all that, but that's not my point). Imagine I'm in the same sphere in outer space then I float. So someting about the 'emptiness' of the sphere is different. You may 'explain' it by saying it's gravity, but in that case here's another quote from John Erskine's 'Adam and Eve':
Quote:
His naming the animals, what was it but a parable of the scientist in him? He knows the name of a thing at sight. Later he tries to find out what it is.

Even our knowledge is mostly made of ignorance!
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christian freeling
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milomilo122 wrote:
Even our knowledge is mostly made of ignorance!

Ok, let's stay ignorant on topic!
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