Contemporal, Cospatial and Connected

Tadhg Kelly writes:

Asynchronous gameplay is a popular phrase for describing various forms of online games that connect players but don’t require simultaneous play. Many eminent commentators have talked about the possibilities for this kind of gameplay, and how it might be the future for games.

In the debate on Gamasutra, I suggested that the casual definition of synchronous or asynchronous is actually describing a different property to synchrony. I labelled it temporany. The definition of temporany is:

If the play of the game contains the simultaneous presence of two or more players, it is contemporal. If not, it is atemporal.

Synchrony and temporany form a grid. There is contemporal synchrony, contemporal asynchrony, atemporal synchrony and atemporal asynchrony. More conventionally, although less accurately, you might call them: multi-play, parallel-play, turn-based-play and single-play. Quake, World of Warcraft, WeeWar, Portal 2.

There’s too much tongue play going on here.

Synchronous definition, occurring at the same time; coinciding in time; contemporaneous; simultaneous.

There’s too much similarity in the terms so discussion becomes meaningless. Also, games which are single-player only are somewhat removed from the scope. I would claim there is:

  • contemporal – at the same time, simultaneously. Like players who are in a FPS or strategy game. Even if playing a turn-based game.
  • cospatial – in the same space (real or virtual). I don’t think it matters which.
  • connected – linked through event protocols with a reciprocity and a reason for the connection.

Games can be contemporal, cospatial and connected all at the same time or they can have components of each. e.g

Left4Dead is contemporal (the 4-8 players are there at the same time), cospatial (are in the same virtual arena) an connected (the actions of players directly affect the actions of others). Games like Dogfighter and Galcon, though they have different gameplay, have the same qualities. You might also point at Monopoly or Connect4.

While this is fun for discussion, the impact on game design is to think of interpretations of games which are not commonly found by excluding components from this description.

How about a Location-based game which is cospatial and connected? I’d say this is FourSquare. The timing is irrelevant but the physical locations are important and the passing of events between players (I’m the Mayor!) is also important.

What about contemporal and connected? These are the components of leaderboard games. You’re passing events and playing at the same time but you’re not necessarily occupying the same place, playing the same game.

Cotemporal and cospatial but not connected? I would look at many MMO open world games. In the same (virtual) space and time but not necessarily interacting. But you can interact – making the gameplay connected as well. The point being you don’t have to.

This isn’t meant to be canonical – just a way of thinking about games.

0 thoughts on “Contemporal, Cospatial and Connected”

  1. Your point about single-player games being removed from these kinds of discussions, can’t help but feeling that mainstream games are missing a massive trick in today’s (near-)ubiquitous connectivity and strong web service ecosystem.

    A term that pops up from time to time is “Passively Multiplayer”, Spore was an example where players never directly connected, but their universe was filled with content from other people’s games in the background. Interesting but lacked follow through in some regards – how many games had my species made it into, were they winning and losing out there in cyberspace? Why can’t I create a shared universe with friends?

    One game that always strikes me as enormously innovative ( but dreadfully overlooked because its relatively inaccessible due to harsh difficulty ) is Demon’s Souls on PS3 ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demon's_Souls#Online ).

    The game allows people to tag the game world in order to leave hints or warnings for other players. These sigils are silently loaded into your game world – as are splashes of blood you can touch to see a replay of someone else’s recent death, collective learning via mostly invisible connectivity. If you’re entirely stuck, you can put out a call for someone to join you in your world as a spirit to help out, which is the closest it gets to genuine online play, but there’s no matchmaking or menus, its all kept in the context and lore of the game.

    The player’s individual world is even swayed very slightly by overall player activity, deaths and boss kills altering the world’s alignment between light and dark. Lots of clever innovations but I still feel its just the edge of a bigger idea to inject social networking into mainstream gaming, something that definitely requires contemporal play at the very least.

    If you marry this with games like Little Big Planet pushing user-generated content into AAA console games, it gets even more interesting, for example, a next-generation GTA-style game that allows players to have a shared social save, leaving each other messages and even creating interactions within the context of the game – missions, hideouts, challenges. You only have to look at some of the Minecraft servers out there to see how quickly player groups can build entire worlds in a sandbox without really being in a true multiplayer mindset.

    1. Hi Barry,
      I’ve loved the term “passively multiplayer” ever since I first heard it. The notion of a game where the activity is multiplayer but where the action doesn’t need to be quite so frenetic – or even quite so competitive – is intriguing.

      I had the same “issues” with Spore. Some sort of visualisation of where your “DNA” had reached would have been a fascinating add-on. The game you mention, “Demons Souls” has some lovely touches. Isn’t it weird that “in game” worlds have so few real world elements in terms of social networking – not even wikipedia. A real-world detective game where hints would be hidden in virtualised “chalked” symbology, perhaps pulled live from games being played or archived. Being contacted in real-time and given 30 seconds to provide a “Pictionary” style hint to another player who was currently in-game would add a whole other level of meta- to the game experience.

      Eventually you have “players” being constructors of games within the hybrid/layered world. I know a guy who’s doing this (if my understanding is correct).

      I’d love to see a sequence of murder mystery style games (in the vein of “The Da Vinci Code” or “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” where they broke the mould with Alternate Reality Games. The device you play on should be the interface. I think sometimes developers try too hard to obfuscate clues.

      You should apply for a CIIF grant and do something with this.

  2. “Eventually you have “players” being constructors of games within the hybrid/layered world.”

    That’s an aspect that’s never satisfied me with online “roleplaying” games, why aren’t they trying to create tools for dungeon masters? EVE online is highly player sculpted, but very inaccessible and a lot of social aspect wasn’t cultivated by the game but by its players. Time and technology has moved on a lot since it arose, but its still very unique.

    But I think you’re right, I should have a think regarding the CIIF program.

  3. When I look at what my kids are able to do with Little Big Planet and I see people talk about Minecraft, I think our tools have now reached the stage where we can do stuff like this without PhDs.

    Kinda think that the DS-style RPGs would be so simple to build/script. They’ve also seen a massive resurgence on mobile.

Leave a Reply