How Pac-Man Eats
How the tools and concepts for making games are connected to what games can and do mean; with examples ranging from Papers, Please to Dys4ia.
In How Pac-Man Eats, Noah Wardrip-Fruin considers two questions: What are the fundamental ways that games work? And how can games be about something? Wardrip-Fruin argues that the two issues are related. Bridging formalist and culturally engaged approaches, he shows how the tools and concepts for making games are connected to what games can and do mean.
Wardrip-Fruin proposes that games work at a fundamental level on which their mechanics depend: operational logics. Games are about things because they use play to address topics; they do this through playable models (of which operational logics are the primary building blocks): larger structures used to represent what happens in a game world that relate meaningfully to a theme. Game creators can expand the expressiveness of games, Wardrip-Fruin explains, by expanding an operational logic. Pac-Man can eat, for example, because a game designer expanded the meaning of collision from hitting things to consuming them. Wardrip-Fruin describes strategies game creators use to expand what can be said through games, with examples drawn from indie games, art games, and research games that address themes ranging from border policy to gender transition. These include Papers, Please, which illustrates expansive uses of pattern matching; Prom Week, for which the game's developers created a model of social volition to enable richer relationships between characters; and Dys4ia, which demonstrates a design approach that supports game metaphors of high complexity.
Praise for How Pac-Man Eats
"This is the heart of this book - a new abstraction, a new tool for discussing something that we've always felt was there, but didn't have a good way to identify. This tool lets us broaden our conversations as we discuss game design: we can talk about mechanics and systems not just in terms of what they do, but also what they will mean to the player.”
- Robert Zubek, author of Elements of Game Design, Gamasutra
“Wardrip-Fruin's use of logics and models works impressively well at offering readings of what his chosen games are about in ways that a focus on story, mechanics, or rules alone cannot.”
- Rainforest Scully-Blaker, Critical Studies in Media Communication
“The creative form of the video game has entered a phase of development that is both fraught and promising, attracting notably intelligent designers and scholars. How Pac-Man Eats should figure prominently in the way these makers take on a catastrophic world.”
- Stuart Moulthrop, Electronic Book Review