Game Play

Paratextuality in Contemporary Board Games

- Author Paul Booth

Simply Complexity cover

I do a small prayer to invoke the spirit of Paul Booth before every talk I do on board gaming. I then call upon this guardian to aid me in spiritual warfare against the heretecs of Board Game Design.

I completed this book june 2 2015. This book was the litany as I evangelized why you should incorporate board game design in pedagogy.

Four years later, I returned to this text to measure its contents against the climate of board game the popularity of today.

I'm pleased to say that the book completely holds up like a prophetic cave wall painting.

Game Play, deconstructs and defines the elements of a board game. Using this narrative microscope, Paul Booth goes beyond mere mechanics and how they operate. Paul also examines how this analogue medium impacts the microbrial fabric of society.

Here are some quotes that stood out for me

As electronic games have become more complex, more graphically intense, and demanding of ever more expensive technologies to play them, the relative familiarity and simplicity of board games and the intimate socialization needed to play them form a new, yet somehow recognizable, game experience. Board games remind us of our face-to-face past, and recall a type of pre-digital ludism where we all circle around the “campfire” of the game board.

Game Play By Paul Booth

The term paratext developed from the narratological writings of Gerard Genette, for whom the paratext exists at the “threshold” of literature, between the “inside and the outside of a text.” In other words, paratexts help us understand the larger connections between elements of the contemporary media environment. In game studies, the term “paratext” has mainly been used to describe video games and their ancillary products. Gray describes licensed video games— promotional games based on films or television series—as allowing players to enter cult worlds and “explore them in ways that a film or television show often precludes, and/or that amplify the show’s meanings and style.”Mia Consalvo has applied the term to describe commercial and noncommercial artifacts that shape “our experiences of gameplay.”The paratexts she describes, including video game walk-through guides, cheats, and strategy books, have become essential elements themselves, and a diverse array of paratextual content, from player-created websites to branches of video game publishing, has developed more formalized structures for understanding the context of video game play. Ian Peters writes about video game “feelies”—material artifacts that are packaged with video games—as paratexts that offer further insight into “the accumulation of material culture in the digital age,” and ask us to “reevaluate our notions of the material and the immaterial.” Importantly, he notes how paratexts can become as important as—or even more important than—the original text, especially given the commercial value of ancillary products surrounding media texts such as video games.

Game Play By Paul Booth

Studying games as cultural artifacts allows us to focus on new ways of interacting with the world around us.

Game Play By Paul Booth

The Principles of the the Paratexual viewpoint.

Principle 1

Paratextual board games rely on two sets of guiding rules: the rules of the game and the rules of the world upon which the game is based. These rules do not have to match, and can work well even when in conflict with one another.

Principle 2

The rules governing paratextual board games work algorithmically, and, in conjunction with uncertainty like randomness and player action, create unstructure.

Principle 3

Paratextual board games create meaning from the tension between an authorial presence and audience play; this meaning is created between player, designer, and original text.

Principle 4

Paratextual board games use play as a specific mechanism by which players inhabit and make media their own.

Principle 5

Through player/text interaction, paratextual board games can transmediate pathos and affect better than they can transmediate narrative.

Principle 6

Paratextual board games rely on mixing familiar characters and unfamiliar characteristics to facilitate player investment.

Principle 7

Just as a media text takes place within a specific spatial-temporal environment, paratextual board games mirror this space/time amalgam via the board and the pacing of the game play.

Principle 8

Paratextual board games can offer players the opportunity to mirror characteristics of particular characters within the specific spatial- temporal environment of the media text.

Principle 9

The materiality of the game pieces in paratextual board game facilitates fan interaction with the game as a system while also externalizing the game as an additional episode within the media franchise.

Principle 10

Mutable elements randomize game play while also reinforcing the paratextual game structure.

Principle 11
Paratextual board games harness the affective power of fandom to help generate player interaction within the game.
Principle 12

Paratextual board games can either allow players to create their own stories or discourage players from doing so within the larger narrative framework of the text, depending on the structure of the game’s narrative elements.

Principle 13

Paratextual board games expose the database and the serial at the heart of licensed gaming, revealing connections between players, texts, and actions through the mechanisms of play, algorithmic procedure, narrative, and player interaction.

Principle 14

Paratextuality can be achieved in multiple ways through differing emphases on simulating thematic content.

Principle 15

When seen as strict adaptations, paratextual board games close off interpretation of the media text; when seen as ludic interaction, they open up player dialogue with the media text.

Game Play By Paul Booth

Rules have a “mechanical rigor” and an “algorithmic specificity” that help determine the play experience.Matthew Berland goes so far as to argue that “playing strategic tabletop games requires that individuals think like a computer.”The constitutive rules are what lead games researcher Greg Costikyan to argue that, for instance, Tic-Tac-Toe is “a trivial” game because “you know that the outcome of the game is utterly certain.” The game is only enjoyable when “the naïve player has not yet learned, or figured out, that the game has an optimal strategy.”Once the underlying logic of the game has been uncovered, the uncertainty in outcome is resolved.

Game Play By Paul Booth

Board games create a unique situation where the term “play” describes both the action that happens in the game and an “engagement with any fixed structure, something that both games and ... stories invite.

Game Play By Paul Booth

Reiner Knizia describes having written and designed LOTR as a way of understanding not just the literature of Tolkien, but also the half-century of popular culture surrounding it:
"For the Lord of the Rings Board Game I needed to develop a deep understanding of Tolkien’s world, the underlying themes, and the motivations of the characters. This was not achievable by merely reading the book itself. I also needed to know what excited the fans, and what was at the center of their discussions."

Game Play By Paul Booth

Structurally, human play is always constructed within and around a particular societal and cultural moment. Any game “requires a gaming society, and any society has norms and hierarchies that interpenetrate the game”; for Sutton-Smith, “players enjoy participating in social play because it makes them a part of the collective social dreams” that undergird contemporary culture. Games reflect the prevailing cultural economy. For my board game group in particular, a gaming society of sorts, the socialization of play is one of the most compelling elements. Whether we considered a game “good” or not, the social interactions we experienced helped make each session memorable (perhaps even more so when the games weren’t very good and we all could laugh about it). Whether or not the game has a competitive mechanic, we cooperate throughout, often offering help and advice to players who are new to a particular game, or talking through rules for everyone in a supportive and encouraging environment.