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What if there were a game about means rather than ends, the experience rather than the completion. It appears to me that "leveling up" "beating the game" or "killing the monster" are not the inherently rewarding components of a game. Take sports as an example. People don't play sports just because they want to win. Rather, they play sports because the mere experience of engaging in them is rewarding on a level far below the abstractions of status and hierarchy. Sipping hot chocolate or smelling a frangrant flower are engaged in because the experiences themselves are rewarding, not because once you've drunk the cocoa you get "cocoa xp" or because you "leveled up your flower-smelling ability." In short, I think that the whole concept of designing games around "success" or "end" should be exchanged for games which focus on the experience of the game or means to its "end".
I think thatGameCompany has adopted this idea in its purest form with its flOw and Flower games. These focus exclusively and very consciously (on the designer's part) on an experience rather than an end. As one review I read put it, flOw and Flower blur the distinction between the "toy" and the "game". These games are about creating feelings in the player directly rather than handing them "medals". Another game which implements this experience-based model is Shadow of the Colossus. I think this game is more about experiencing the colossi than about "beating" them or achieving the "end" of the game. The sights, sounds, and movements are, in themselves, the essence of what makes the game enjoyable. Also, Age of Conan's combat system is a decent example of this. When I engaged in combat in AoC, I never thought for a moment about how much closer the approaching kill would get me to an objective, I enjoyed the act of battle itself. I could be level 60 or level 1 and still get the exact same enjoyment out of it.
Ultimately, what I'm envisioning: a truly huge "game" that is really just the toy-like experience of stepping into another world and being there, "smelling the roses" as it were. Probably the most perfect encapsulation of this idea is the old story of Alexander the Great in which, upon reaching the Himalayas he cried because there were no more worlds to conquer. He didn't care that he had conquered the world, he cared that he could no longer be conquering one.
Here's an excellent article on the subject - in case you haven't had enough of the experience of reading yet
...and while you go indulge your lust for reading about game-design theory, I'm going to have a swig at this Irish-cream type liquor over here... just so I can say I did it, you understand.
lolcatz - ftw