Classification Confusion

Response to Alexander Galloway’s “Gamic Action, Four Moments”

Over winter break, my little cousin Ben begged me to play Xbox’s Bakugon Battle Brawler with him.  The experience was surprisingly enjoyable.  The game’s menus were slick.  It was simple to start and to stop, to save and to quit. The hardware wasn’t stubborn like the controllers of my youth.  There were no stuck buttons (though sticky buttons there were—at five, Ben’s wont to spill sugary liquids on his toys).   These nondiagetic elements, the parts of the game “still inside the total gamic apparatus yet outside the portion of the apparatus that constitutes a pretend world of character and story”, make my little cousin’s gaming experience far superior to mine at his age.

As Galloway states, since ‘the nondiegetic is so important in video games, it is impossible not to employ the concept.’  I see how this classification could be helpful, but it seems some gamic aspects don’t fit neatly within this system.  When talking about Final Fantasy X, Galloway classifies combat as diagetic and the process of selecting how different aspects of combat will unfold as nondiagetic.  The diagetic aspect is narrative, while the selection is not.  But what happens when most of one’s game play time is made up by choosing, when choosing becomes part of the narrative?  Is the selection process then ‘diagetic’, too?

As I wrote about in a previous post, I was obsessed with The Sims as a kid.   For me, the most fun part of the game was choosing my characters’ personality, appearance, and residential settings.  Technically, thuogh, these are contextual aspects surrounding the game, mere settings determined before ‘play mode’ where the Sims take actions.  It’s pre-narrative, and, therefore, nondiagetic.  Something doesn’t feel right about classifying my Sim selection process as nondiagetic, though.  I can’t quite put my finger on it.  Perhaps it’s that most things determined nondiagetic in this piece are non-gamic.  Non-playful.   Yet The Sims’ choice mode is arguably both gamic and playful.  “A game,” says Galloway, ” is an activity defined by rules in which players try to reach some sort of goal.”  Selection mode has a goal: creation of the perfect Sim (or, at least, the Sim that will perfectly conform to your wishes, be they creating a Sim that looks like your mother or crafting and sabotaging a doppelganger of the stupid kid across the street who always jumps on your backyard trampoline without asking).  Plus, while one might not consider selection a playful act, for me, this was ‘play’ as Callois defined it:  a “voluntary activity…  having its aim in itself and accompanied by a feeling of tension, joy, and the consciousness that it is ‘different’ from ‘ordinary life'”.  However, later in the essay, Galloway indicates the setup act is separate of play: “There are many significant aspects of gaming,” Galloway states, “that happen completely outside play proper (e.g. the setup act)…” I spent hours in the selection mode—if I wasn’t playing, what was I doing all that time?  Planning to play?

Methinks I’ve confused myself.  If I’m misinterpreting Galloway’s definitions in some way, please enlighten me.  Also, for those of you who are avid gamers, what improvements have you noted in the nondiagetic features of gaming?  If you *had* to choose, would you rather improve the nondiagetic aspects of your favorite games, or within-gameplay features?

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