When we design and build game systems, we’re often interested in exploring emergent behaviour, or more specifically emergent gameplay. Even simple rules can give complex outcomes and part of the process of designing a game is to discover what the possibilities of its system might be. A classic example of emergence in computer simulations, for example, is flocking algorithms, where extremely lifelike group movement can be created with a small number of rules.
In games, emergence might equally appear in 3D physics, dynamic meshes, puzzle design or artificial intelligence (AI) opponents. Emergence is what is happening when a developer sees a non-player character (NPC) do something unexpectedly clever, or by equal measure something unexpectedly stupid. This is what a puzzle designer is harnessing when they use a minimal set of puzzle elements to create a mind boggling array of clever levels.
Art can help us to visualise these processes. Ryan Fox’s video Avant-Garde (R.P.M. 2) is a fun example of unexpected emergence created by combining two seemingly well-understood systems: a car and a GoPro camera.
The work brings to mind the outcome of similar experiments, whether it be the large-scale mechanical systems of Damien Hirst’s spin paintings, the wild abandon of Cy Twombly’s Bacchus paintings or the organic cycles of Hans Haacke’s Condensation Cube.
By thinking like these artists when we make games, we can conduct unusual experiments, invent new systems and find different ways to play.
Also covered in the Guardian.