The Missing Element

The game of the missing element draws the user in by denying them information. The user's role is to find the missing information so that they can understand and thereby cope with their environment. The role of the creator is to create an environment where there are enough clues to convince the user that there is a hidden order to be found. Whether or not there is such an order, and whether the creator knows what it is are up to the creator.

Missing element games are useful for drawing a user into exploring an environment. It is easy to create simple missing element games, but the systems also scale upward to allow extremely complex and subtle challenges. Hidden element games can be used in conjunction with almost any other generative or organisational scheme to generate a "sense of depth."

Strategies in dealing with missing elements games include the following:

  • Variations in the level of interactions between the missing element and the remaining elements

No Interaction -- Black-box games. The nature of the element is determined by the "shape" of the surrounding elements, the negative space between them. The element is normally determinate (see below), or "hard-edged."

Limited Interaction -- Missing culprit games. The element has interacted with the environment, and left trace clues scattered around the environment. The element is determinate, but similar to a number of other elements. There is the possibility of multiple elements fitting, but generally only one element will fit perfectly.

Solely Interaction -- Dialectic and riddling games. There is no particular shape outlined by the surrounding elements, the sole source of information is from the interactions of the elements with each other and the missing element.

  • Variations in the determinacy of the solution via the specification of elements

Determinate -- Missing puzzle pieces. A single element will fit the problem. The game is not likely to develop any sense of mystic purpose.

Limited -- Specifications and limitations. Any of a type of elements will fit the task. The user begins to focus on the definition of the type.

Indeterminate -- Dialectics and Ampersands. No known element will suffice. The user has to transcend the system and develop a new element which will match the requirements of the system. The user is focused on the nature and underlying principles of the system. The missing element is seen to "emerge" from the interactions of the other elements.

  • Level of abstraction

Physical -- Blank spaces, missing features.

Planned Physical -- Grids, proportions, elements which are often detectable only by modelling the system mentally or on paper.

Planned Generative or Organisational -- Guess the game. The elements which developed the features are no longer part of the environment. The user needs to recognise the patterns and reconstruct the (possibly only remotely connected) generator or organiser.

Abstract Meaning -- Recognise an extremely complex and distant idea by the forms which might be generated by the ideas which arise from it.

  • User Tools and Incentives

Definitions and limitations on the problem. Framing the problem socially or textually.

Group approaches, to the decoding of a design. The development of critical circles, creates a culture of shared knowledge, and a sense of community among the adherents.

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Copyright (c) 1997 -- Mike Fletcher
Reproduction for other than personal use prohibited without express written permission from the author.