Archive for April, 2012

Spectrum of Agency: Microagency & Macroagency

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Because they are interactive, most games have some form of player agency. But not all agency is equal. Some games take the player’s input and translate it to every twitch of an avatar, but still constrain the player to follow an exact sequence of events. Others abstract the player’s input, but every decision made shapes the course of the entire game.

We can term these two levels of player agency as microagency and macroagency, respectively. Microagency deals with the player’s small moment-to-moment decisions, macroagency is about the player’s ability to shape the larger course of events.

Microagency is more closely connected to immersion, with the player’s physical actions often mimicking the avatar in rhythm or unconsciously mirroring the avatar’s pose. Microagency is present every time the player chooses to turn slightly to the left rather than the right, to jump at this particular moment, turn this particular piece, or otherwise manipulate the environment or the avatar.

Macroagency is more concerned with the overall picture. How can the player shape the condition of the playspace? If every session features predictable events, with the player given little control over the result, there is little macroagency, even if the player is given lots of control over when and where to jump. In contrast, if the space is rhizomic, a web of possibilities with many possible results and no defined ending, there is a lot of macroagency.

They are not mutually exclusive, rather they are opposite ends of a spectrum. Tetris gives the player a lot of microagency, while Civilization and Chess are largely focused on macroagency. But Tetris also has a lot of player choice in where the pieces go, creeping upwards towards the middle of the spectrum, while the final condition of every Civilization game is built out of thousands of tiny actions that coalesce into a whole.

In both cases, the meaning of the agency is still important: irrevocable choices carry more weight than reversible choices, and choices that affect other choices multiply their importance. If there are many ways to traverse a space, but the order does not make a difference to the experience, then the choice of order is largely a false choice. But in most cases the order is important, even if just emotionally, and the changed context does have an effect.

Gravity 0.08

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Gravity is progressing. So far I’ve implemented the wrapping space, recording the player’s flightpath, playing back the flightpath with the planets, and the flocking words. It’s interactive, but there isn’t any gameplay there yet. Not 100% sold on the name, which is walking the line between forceful and generic. “Groovy” doesn’t quite sell it.