Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Web Design & Development > PHP/MySQL/Scripting


So much for gameplay; now for interactivity. Interactivity isn't gameplay. It's much more important.

Most of the time when you're playing a game, what you're doing is just that—play. You're exploring, running, jumping, or thumb-twitching furiously to unleash a barrage of bullets—which can be lots of fun, but a game that only has that going for it won't be fun for long. Gameplay enriches the experience because it allows you to interact and take the experience somewhere. It's the difference between idly kicking a football about in the back yard and setting up a pitch with goals and having a match.

But gameplay is only one way of interacting. Take a game such as The Getaway. If it consisted of only a detailed city for you to drive around in, that kind of game would soon pall. The first thing you want to do is be able to interact with your environment. Bump another vehicle off the road, smash the doors off a police car, run somebody down. It's violent fun—but it's still fun. Kids play the same way, building bricks and knocking them down. So you need to have enough opportunities to interact so that the setting becomes more than a backdrop; it becomes an environment.

A game like that will be better still if you can, for instance, knock over a fire hydrant and leave it spouting water. Then that pool of water makes the road slippery so that a passing car skids onto the sidewalk. A pedestrian has to dive out of the way. He hauls the driver out of the car and punches him. Now what if the driver identifies you, the player, as the source of the trouble? He points, the pedestrian looks your way, and then both characters start yelling at you. That way the interaction has created a story with tension and action with emotions running high.

When you are playing Creatures or Black & White or The Sims, most of what you are doing hardly involves gameplay at all. Those titles, like many other entertainment software products, aren't truly games at all. You don't mind—you probably don't even notice—because you are having fun. But if these products weren't interactive, you would certainly notice that. Then you might start wondering if your time wouldn't be better spent reading a book, watching TV, or throwing a frisbee around in the park. A non-interactive computer game wouldn't win out against other fun activities.

Interactivity is what computers do best. Thus interactivity, much more than gameplay, is the heart and soul of entertainment software.

Kinds of Interactivity

You can interact with a game or narrative in many different ways. Even so, computer game designers have pretty much restricted themselves to interaction with the facts. Their concern is whether I open the first door and get the lady or the second door and get the tiger.

Maybe this is because designers, like Mr. Gradgrind in Dickens' Hard Times, believe that "facts alone are wanted in life". But in focusing only on the details of action and plot, they are overlooking other possibilities.

Consider the ways that I, as a player, could potentially interact with a game:

  • Affecting the game world itself, either by changing the front end settings or (in simulations and god games) as part of the game itself

  • Directly controlling the actions of a character or group of characters

  • Influencing a character's actions at one remove (for example, by giving him clues or weapons, like Zeus aiding a favored hero)

  • Influencing a character at two removes (for example, by leading him somewhere or pointing something out for him to look at, like a Muse providing inspiration)

  • Deciding who to follow, rather than what happens—an invisible observer flitting between narrative strands

  • Selecting what is interesting to me personally and making the game give more time to those elements—as any child will, when told a story at bedtime

How many of those kinds of interactivity do you commonly see implemented? The first, certainly, but only insofar as I can make the game easier or harder, or change the speed. Why shouldn't I also be able to say to a computer opponent in StarCraft, as I can to a human player, "Hey, let's build up a big army before we start fighting!" or, "Don't attack me because I just want to have fun building a city."?

The second kind of interactivity in that list—direct control of one or more characters—accounts for pretty much everything else. You find almost no games with the other kinds listed. And even the direct control option is used in a very restricted way. I don't know of any recent games, now that we're in the era of realtime, that allow you to switch control between two characters who are not on the same side. Why not? What inviolable rule says you can only play one side in a game?

This is a failure of imagination. Computers give us the means to create new kinds of games—and other toys and entertainment genres that aren't games at all. And yet most computer games remain, still, mutant versions of other media: films, or novels, or boardgames. And, since those media have not made much use of interactivity, there has been no prior example to guide the game designers of today. Case Study 3.5 discusses one of many possible alternative models for interactivity.

Case Study 3.5 A Different Kind of Interactivity

A couple of years back, Dave was discussing various design proposals with the managing director of a large development house. One of the ideas Dave was most keen to pitch was Dalek City, a tie-in to a BBC science fiction series of the 1960s.

"It's set on Skaro, the Dalek planet," he began. "The Daleks have been mutated by nuclear war and can only move about in mechanized travel machines. At the start of the game they pick up power by induction, so they can't leave the city."

"Yep, got it." said the managing director. "So you have to get upgrades to let them travel outside the city."

"Well, it's certainly possible for the Daleks to get those upgrades. But you don't play the Daleks in this game."

"What, then?" He was getting impatient. Concepts that take more than ten seconds to explain are hostile territory to managing directors.

"There are all kinds of threats to the Daleks. Various mutants live in the jungle around the city. Natural disasters like meteor showers can occur. There's another race, the Thals, who are their ancient enemies."

"You play the Thals, then."

"Not really. That's the point. You don't play anybody. You can step in and help the Thals if you want. Or you could spawn lots of mutant monsters to overrun the Dalek city."

The managing director evidently thought that here was something familiar. "That must cost you resources?"

"No, your resources are unrestricted, up to whatever the game engine can handle. You could just send in so many monsters, raiders, and natural disasters that the Daleks would be wiped out right at the start. The point is, say you do that a few times. Then you try something different: sending in just one monster to begin with. The Daleks kill it and take it to their labs. They start researching it. Pretty soon they don't have any trouble dealing with that kind of monster—and what they've learned will help them in other ways, too."

"I see; it's one of these Artificial Life things," the managing director said. (It was more of a growl, really.)

"Kind of. The Daleks are prime candidates for A-Life because their psychology is so simple. They're paranoid, inquisitive, power-hungry and they hate everything. And their society is like a type of insect hive."

The managing director wasn't even growling now, just giving Dave a worried frown.

Dave decided to press on: "The aim of the game, you see, is whatever you want it to be. You can just observe the Daleks going about their duties, like your own little formicarium. Or you can trash their city and watch the little buggers get stomped. Or you can test them with various threats and see how they learn and develop. It's the cruel-to-be-kind method. Eventually you might find you've nurtured them to the point where they can take anything you throw at them. Played that way, the ultimate aim of the game is to make the Daleks into an opponent you can't beat."

The managing director said nothing for a long while. Dave almost thought he might be chewing it over. But then he shook his head. "Players don't like games without a clearly defined objective."

Inwardly, Dave sighed. Drawing another sheaf of papers out of his file, he said, "Okay. Well, in that case I've got this really good storyline for a first-person shooter...."

New kinds of interactivity promise a world of possibilities that we have hardly begun to explore. To fully realize those possibilities, though, we have to be prepared to let go some of the control that we have come to expect, both as designers and as players.

"Why?" Versus "What?"

Interactivity doesn't have to be about what happens. It's natural for programmers who are also designers to emphasize the logical details. That's the way they see the world. But it is often more interesting to think about why something happens, or how it caused other things to happen.

"-If you are a process-intensive designer...then the characters in your universe can have free will within the confines of your laws of physics. To accomplish this, however, you must abandon the self-indulgence of direct control and instead rely on indirect control. That is, instead of specifying the data of the plotline, you must specify the processes of the dramatic conflict. Instead of defining who does what to whom, you must define how people can do various things to each other."

—Chris Crawford, writing in Interactive Entertainment Design, April 1995

Games guru, Chris Crawford, talks about process (the laws of the game world) as opposed to data (the details of what happens in the game world). It is the blinkered, data-intensive approach of most designers that has mired entertainment software in the simplest forms of interactivity. To illustrate this, think back to some of the early discussions of interactivity using digital TV. Lots of people proposed a system (which they seemed to regard as a new kind of narrative) in which the viewer could decide what the characters did. Essentially, they were talking about that unlamented genre the interactive movie.

Would that work? Imagine an interactive version of the television series ER. You get to choose. Does Noah Wylie obey the hospital rules, does he give the experimental drugs to the sick kid, or does he just go outside and play basketball? Is that a rewarding way to experience interactive drama?

No. It assumes that the point of all drama is simply to find out what happens next. If it's good drama there ought to be a lot more to it than that. As we saw in Chapter 1, "First Concept," Aristotle listed five elements of drama: plot, style, setting, theme, and characterization. It's the last two that aren't well served by the data-intensive designer. Going back to the hypothetical example, is the point of the player's choice to guess what Noah Wylie's character would really do? Then the interactivity reduces merely to an empathy test. Is it to make him do things he wouldn't normally? Then the interactivity is just a nerdy way to test the storyline to destruction. In neither case is characterization explored in any detail, and the only theme we are apt to uncover is that it's kind of weird when people behave inconsistently.

Now consider a different way we could have played our interactive ER. This time we don't get to choose what the characters do or say. Now all we can do is choose which character to follow around the hospital. Dr. Carter quarrels with Dr. Pratt over a diagnosis—both storm off. We follow Carter, who gives his version of events to a third character. Later we switch back to Pratt, who by now has spoken to various other characters and is pursuing another agenda. It is only later, if ever, that we may stumble upon the resolution or aftermath of the quarrel that we witnessed at the start.

This example in itself isn't a sufficient condition for interesting interactive drama, but it illustrates a couple of important points. The first is that all drama (whether interactive or not) derives momentum from the viewer's relationship with the characters. A rule often quoted in writing classes is that a character has to change and develop—which, in turn, leads to the simplistic conclusion that all stories are about redemption. In fact, characters don't have to change to be interesting. But our understanding of the character has to change. We need to see things that will build on our first impressions and, ideally, that will surprise us and force us to reassess those impressions. That's because the viewer is part of the system—and if that's true of non-interactive media, you can bet it's even more so in the case of games.

The other point is that interactivity can enhance enjoyment of all the elements of drama, not only the hard facts of the plot. In the previous example, the protagonists would behave true to character. Various themes might be revealed, whether the writers intended them or not. Our motives for interacting would be emotional as well as logical, and it would remain an immersive experience into the bargain.

The aim of all entertainment is to make the audience care. Interactivity is a new and powerful technique in the writer's repertoire for achieving that goal.

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive:

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020