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A Few Remarks on Creative Play (29 Jan 2005)
As game designers, we spend most of our effort on competitive play, whether it's player-versus-machine, player-versus-player, team-versus-team, or any of the other possible competition modes that we can use. Many of our discussions about core mechanics and balancing are essentially about the design problems of competitive play. We concentrate on competition because that is the essence of the oldest games, from Go to the Olympics of ancient Greece. It's also what our traditional market, the hardcore gamer, likes most. But what about creative play? It doesn't get as much attention.

There are a few theorists who like to claim that all gameplay is creative. I think this is based on an assertion that decision-making is self-expressive, and that because the player is taking a hand in constructing her own experience, she is necessarily creating something. From a philosophical standpoint, there may be merit in that argument, but I'm concerned with more practical considerations. The parent standing in the game store, wondering which games will allow his child to play creatively, probably doesn't think that deciding to shoot the toxic headcrab first and then the zombie constitutes “creativity.” So, for my purposes, creative play means play that enables you to point at something in the game and say, “Look – I made that.”

There's no question that creative play is an important part of video gaming, and its importance is only going to grow as our markets expand beyond the hardcore gamer. Women and young children are less motivated by a desire to compete (in the direct, gameplay sense) than boys and young men; and girls in particular like to use the gaming experience as an opportunity for self-expression. If we want to include creative play in our products, what should we include, and how should we go about it?

I'm going to propose a rudimentary taxonomy of types of creative videogame play, with a few random thoughts about each category. This isn't an exhaustive list, and I admit right from the beginning that the borders of these categories are very fuzzy. Still, I think they might help to guide our thinking about building creative play into our games.
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