A new ideology for gaming, both play and design, based on an unusual example from the world of sports. Salacious hype or a genuine hypothesis that's time has come? You make the call.
Have you heard of the Eco-runner? I first stumbled upon a story about him participating in the Dubai Marathon. His name is Hajime Nishi, a Japanese marathoner of unusual records. For example, Nishi is listed in the Guinness Book of Records for being the first person to run seven marathons on each of the seven continents in seven months in 1997. And that is about as competitive as he gets in the traditional sense.
A snippet from one news article:
" 'Ecomarathon is not just a marathon or running event, it's an environmentally responsible life style for all species on earth and for its future generations,' said Nishi, who will spend the entire race running, walking, taking pictures, making videos, talking to animals and cheering on the other competitors. "
At first blush Nishi is put across by the media as a quaint but endearing oddball. His approach to marathoning is presented as full of heart but a little wacky. Basically he is used as comic relief at the end of reports about more serious runners.
The Eco-Marathoner, however, is completely serious. He is internationally recognized and setting world records for participation. He started and runs an organization which is actively rating global sporting events based on ecological friendliness. It is more than a pastime; it is a life's ambition. Nishi's approach is delightfully Zen-like. He is quoted, "I enjoy the wholeness of the marathon instead of its competitiveness." Step aside motorcyclists, it is time for "Zen and the Art of Eco-Marathoning".
Setting politics and altruistic values aside, the Eco-runner's philosophy begs a question: Could marathons run his way still be interesting? Little or no traditional competition? Where would the excitement come from if all the athletes took his approach?
There is the example of the Harlem Globetrotters. With winning streaks of thousands of games in a row there is lots of showmanship in place of straight competition. They expanded the games to include the audience with their antics. Merely scoring points was secondary to performing in their own special style. Also like Nishi, they were the light-hearted exception rather than the rule.
The Harlem Globetrotters were, without a doubt, wildly popular. But a whole league of Globetrotter teams? Could that really work? It is hard to imagine. The dynamics would be changed at the very least. Games would be as much show as sport for both sides, like the WWF minus the enacted brutality. The choreography would demand a high degree of athleticism worthy of professional sports and also an equally high level of performing arts skills. All these things could maintain the entertainment value, however the excitement of winning and losing would pale.
While Nishi espouses socially enhancing participation instead of traditional forms of competing, and oozes a certain fainthearted goodness, he has a stern streak in his philosophy. He poses a direct challenge to generally accepted notions about competition. And Nishi is not afraid to strike right at the heart of what he sees as the problem and who is ultimately responsible. He sums it up, "You have to deal with yourself by overcoming your ego which misleads you to compete against others. Some people call it an accomplishment to establish a personal record by passing other runners".
Jumping the Gap
Moving away from a purely sports comparison, the idea of Eco-gaming is worthy of examination. Is it the same as Cooperative Play or Reduced Violence concepts, or is it a variation on the themes or a unique concept that can stand on its own?
Cooperative gaming appears closely related although not quite identical to the eco-runner concept. Cooperative designs generally provide a challenge outside of the inter-player relationship. For example, a classic table top RPG adventure, with all players in a party focused on a common goal and assisting one another, is cooperative. Monopoly, on the other hand, where players are set against one another to become the sole winner, is competitive. Team games are hybrids, with intra-team relationships being cooperative and inter-team relation being competitive.
Nishi encourages other runners by cheering them on -- whether they like it or not. It isn't clear if he looks for reciprocation during the races or what the other runners' reactions are to his encouragement. Some runners might find his behavior disturbing. Without both sides involved it doesn't quite qualify as "cooperative". The term "Unsolicited Assistive Gaming" doesn't carry the same clearly positive image as "cooperation".
Nishi's efforts in-race also involve non-competitors, he chats up the crowd of spectators or passer-byers, and gives encouraging words to the support staff. Even animals that happen to be in the area get a few warm words or pat on the head. This "enlarged focus" views the event as part of the world, inclusive of all people involved, rather than seeing the race, community, athletes, spectators, etc., as separated from one another.
Reduced violence in designs, currently being explored here (and here) on Gamegrene, is not as close as cooperative gaming to the eco-runner concept. Nishi and his organization would no doubt approve of reduced violence, but it is not a specific focus. Lack of violence is likely a given in marathons and eco-theory. If Nishi sees passing other runners to set personal records as haughty audacity, then the act of boxers punching one another in the face until one falters is not even in the realm of the credible.
Could the Eco-runner's philosophy work in game design? Just the possibility of launching a new school of thought on game design should be exciting. Breaking new theoretical ground in any field is a rare treat. Academia is, however, a highly competitive environment, just like sports. While we have the eco-runner as a precedent for sports, we do not have a representative example of 'eco-academia'. People may not be kind or cooperative. But would pushing the bleeding edge of academia be rewarding without some element of risk?
A closer look at the eco-runner philosophy is needed to see if it can translate into or inspire ideas on game design. Nishi has set many records based on being part of the race alone. He stays under the regulation time limits to qualify as having finished and thus unquestionably participated. Obviously Nishi believes in "competing" in marathons as a runner. The next step is to see how his competition differs from established definitions.
From the Eco-runner's website. a mission statement:
Ecomarathon is not a race, but it's a way of life
Beyond competition, but with connection
Beyond conquest, but with harmony
Beyond dominion, but with sharing
Beyond possession, but with simplicity
Ecomarathon is not a race, but it has a goal
Everyone has equal opportunity to live with dignity
and to have enough food to eat with peace in mind
and with gratefulness to nature
No visa, no border
One people, one planet
Don't just run it, Ecomarathon it
Time is not essential, but the timing is.
Between the Lines
Examining the poetry line by line, some things appear to be fit directly into gameplay theory, while others may be beyond the realm of most game designs. The general sub-theme of "Wholesome Humanity" can still serve as a
positive influence, a reminder of depth and the spirit to be maintained, even if not actively employed.
Within the description, there are three general categories emphasized: Things promoted, things transcended, the "not" things.
- Connection - "Beyond competition, but with connection"
- Taken from some other points the relations are between people to people, people to nature.
- Harmony - "Beyond conquest, but with harmony"
- The opposite of harmony is discord. There is action, dynamism involved. The eco-doctrine is not passive but active; proactive, positive.
- Sharing - "Beyond dominion, but with sharing"
- To share something must be possessed. It covers greed and gluttony but not Materialism per se.
- Simplicity - "Beyond possession, but with simplicity"
- This hits closer to Spartanism, frugality.
- Goal(s) - "Ecomarathon is not a race, but it has a goal"
- The persistence of goals indicates focus, drive, things to put energy into, to strive for.
- Dignity - "Everyone has equal opportunity to live with dignity"
- The importance of respect, the good forms of pride.
- Enough [ basic need ] - "and to have enough food to eat ..."
- Food would seem to be representative of the fundamental needs; nourishment, shelter, safety. For example, clean drinking water is a similarly huge issue and probably intended. All part of the greater 'Wholesome Humanity' ( W.H.) concept.
- Peace of Mind(?) - "... with peace in mind ..."
- Assuming the intention is "peace in one's mind" the spirit of the meaning follows the food comment above.
- [ enviro-spiritualism ] - "... and with gratefulness to nature"
- Wholesome Humanity + Wholesome World
- No visa, no border
- Political side of W.H. concept
- One People, One Planet
- Reinforcement of W.H.
- Timing ...- "Time is not essential, but the timing is"
- A mystery. Suggestions anyone?
- "Beyond competition"
- The term "beyond" doesn't automatically mean elimination, although it can. Taken in light of the eco-runner still participating in marathons, albeit in his own way, transcending could be taken to mean remaining but in altered form. The competition can be striving against one's own previous record limits, in any aspect, or even one's perspectives or thinking. Breaking the molds of stereotype and "The Typical".
- "Beyond conquest"
- Continuing in the theme, this means to eliminate forms of conquest that are not in accord with the other principles -- harmony, simplicity. Other concepts of conquest remain valid. A marathon can still be run, a challenge undertaken, and internal spiritual conquests acceptable.
- "Beyond dominion"
- Getting past persecuting domination over others. No more "pwned"; "owning", "ruling", "lording over". Bullying, harassment, intimidation,
- "Beyond possession"
- Applied to forms of possession that are aggressive, materialistic, and the antithesis to sharing or where there is a conflict.
- "Time is not essential"
- Transcending time of the stopwatch? That meaning would fit with Nishi's quotes perfectly.
- "Not a race"
- This is a critical point. The doctrine is not about the competitive event itself, the race, but an association with the event. Ecomarathoning is "a way of life".
- "Don't just run it, Ecomarathon it"
- Realize a greater depth than just running as fast as you can. Actively promote and give back instead of ignoring all the rest of the world around you.
At least some of the Eco-Doctrine works for game design theory. It can easily encompass cooperative and reduced-violence gaming while adding other positive and proactive considerations: Encouragement of others -- GM and other players and also people or animals in the vicinity who are not involved in the gaming. No rush to a solo win, no emphasis on passing others in power and levels. "Share the Loot", in both real and game worlds.
The potential eco-designer's role, much like eco-marathon organizers, would be to present situations that can satisfy and actively promote eco-gaming. The designer cannot fulfill the doctrine alone however. Eco-gamers are essential. They could be encouraged and facilitated, but in the end it is they who must "Eco-game" by following Nishi's tenets in play.
What is not yet clear is one most important question: Will it be any fun?
Come share your thoughts and ideas on the concept and make your mark on game theory history!