Roger Ebert recently argued that games can never be art, partly because of the player’s need to win. I have doubts about this, and the issue was recently brought up again this weekend as I watched some friends play the World of Warcraft board game .
I’m certainly not arguing that WoW is art in any way beyond the stunning talent required to produce the visual beauty of the world . But here you have a game that one doesn’t win. There are objectives and goals, but there is no win condition.
Does this mean WoW is not a game? Perhaps. It’s been argued to be many things, and often even argued (and indeed experienced by many of its players) to be work.
What fascinated me, however, was the adaptation of this computer game in which there is no winner into a board game in which there is. Of course, it’s not difficult to impose some arbitrary goal, but the real fascination came from the change in the atmosphere of the game simply by adding a victory. Now there was a sense of competition, but more importantly, there was an ending.
As with any cross-media adaptation, the change in the system of constraints created a unique and interesting approach to an experience that tries to be as similar as possible to the original. So how did the board game handle those constraints? Their conspicuousness delighted players through their ability to remain fairly true to the mechanics and balance of the original. The narrative of the game, however, got lost in the brilliance of the mechanics.
The ludology vs narratology debate continues.