Authored by: Joris Dormans

The Routledge Companion to Video Game Studies

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415533324
eBook ISBN: 9780203114261
Adobe ISBN: 9781136290510


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Emergence describes the phenomenon of systems that consist of relative simple, interacting parts, creating rich, unforeseen patterns of behavior after being set into motion. Within the science of complexity that studies emergent systems, games are a popular and intuitive illustration. Classic board games such as chess, checkers, or Go create nearly endless variety in possible game states; all the possible configurations of pieces on the board that are the result of playing the game from its starting conditions. Series of successive moves create patterns of behavior that are the building blocks for strategic play. Anyone familiar with these games will analyze a game state for patterns that can be understood as lures, traps, defensive positions, offensive potential, and so on. To play them successfully, players must be able to read the game state in this way. This is both the beauty and the difficulty of mastering an emergent game, and requires considerable experience with playing the game. At the same time, for emergent games, “the whole is more than the sum of its parts.” The sheer number of possible game states and the endless variety in subtle gameplay patterns stands in stark contrast with the number of rules that define these games: all the rules of either chess, checkers, or Go can easily be printed on a single sheet of paper. These classic games are the epitome of elegance and effectiveness in complex systems designed for emergence.

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