Attract Mode and young children: Using a game to not-play a non-game

(Another good post I made in the class discussion board today)

When I was a kid, there were arcade machines everywhere. They had a few at the grocery store, or at the mini-mart, or at the gas station. Pretty much anywhere you could stick one, you’d find one. This was a wonderful period in the history of video games.

When I was a kid, I didn’t have a whole lot of money. I didn’t have a job, and I didn’t get much of an allowance. I rarely had quarters on hand. If I did they got spent on candy bars.

But I didn’t let that stop me! I’d walk up to the game and “play” its attract mode. Attract mode is the replay of recorded gameplay demo footage. I’d walk up, grab the controls, and pound the buttons. I’d get to “play” for maybe 15 seconds or so and then the Hi Score screen would display.

I bet millions of kids without quarters did this back in the day. It was a way of life for those of us not old enough to have a job, or too young to see over the controller deck.

It was a lot of fun, pretending to play a game. It was free, and I could play all day long. It didn’t seem to get boring. It didn’t matter that there was no actual interactivity. It didn’t matter that I didn’t develop any skill. It didn’t matter that the demo footage was always the same, looping over and over. It didn’t matter that the game made the same stupid mistake and kept dying over and over. To my 5-year-old self, it didn’t matter. I was playing the game. Pretend-playing, but it didn’t matter. Just like it doesn’t matter that I’m not *really* flying a *real* spaceship when I got old enough to put the quarter in.

As soon as I got older, of course, I lost the ability to enjoy pretend-playing a videogame. I might watch an attract mode and be amused by it, but I no longer attempted to pretend to interact with the demo. Fortunately, I had gained the ability to really-play a videogame.

By the definitions offered in Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, “pretend-play” is not a game, since it lacks the interactivity and does/doesn’t have a real player… but what is it? Is it anything?

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