[Our own Leigh Alexander recounts observations from Warren Spector's recent NYU Game Center lecture to illustrate the philosophy conflict between user-created experiences and designed authorship.]

Should a designer's objective be to build an environment where players can drive events and experiences, or should the game determine the objective, with responsibility for leading player behavior in meaningful ways?

This philosophy conflict between user-created experiences and designed authorship is one of the most interesting issues emerging in next-gen games. I first started getting my head around it when I recently heard Warren Spector giving a lecture on his approach to design at NYU. His talk was followed by an informal but fascinating Q&A with Area/Code's Frank Lantz -- if you're familiar with both these guys, you can imagine how interesting the discussion was!

In case you're unfamiliar, Lantz and Area/Code are very well worth reading up on -- Lantz is, last I checked, a professor in the Tisch School’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and heads up NYU's Game Center. But if you're a Facebook user, you probably know Area/Code best for Parking Wars, which played a major if not defining role in turning the spotlight on FB as an emerging platform for social play.

Whether or not Parking Wars is a "video game" is open for debate, of course -- but it is interactive multi-user play imagined by traditional game designers, and it's significant because it reached users where they were already interacting, rather than demanding they enter the designer's world in a traditional way.

You also may or may not know that it was created as a cross-media extension of an A&E reality show -- I sure didn't, at first -- which provokes some interesting thoughts on how game design can help IP be media-independent.

These kinds of ideas about games are less-known to the core video game audience, of course, but at Austin GDC last year, Lantz said Parking Wars pulled 400,000 users in its first two months -- close enough to twice what EVE Online has got now, if I'm not mistaken.

Hopefully you can see why it was so interesting to see someone like Lantz talk with someone from Spector's world -- Origin, Looking Glass, Ultima, System Shock, Deus Ex, Thief -- about the role designers play in the kind of experiences players have.

I've always tended to fall on Spector's side of the fence -- I've never been a fan of multiplayer games, because really, I want to interact with a guided vision, not my pals from the internet. Spector would rather have you talk around the water cooler about the moments you discovered in his game that he didn't plan for, and discuss amongst yourselves the way you all experienced the same thing differently, rather than hear a recounting of what was essentially your group social outing (involving headshots).

I get it. Say what you will about the BioShock "choice," for example, but we're all learning from the differences in one another's experiences of the same event. Meanwhile, the story of your WoW raid is solely personal, and interesting only to you and your guild.

One thing Spector said during the NYU discussion was that he feels multiplayer games are "lazy." This is the designer in him talking, of course -- his theory that in letting players build stories via Left 4 Dead-style happy accidents in open worlds, the designer doesn't have to tackle complex challenges like making choices meaningful, or making characters believable.

Spector wants to take on those challenges, and he doesn't like the idea that user-driven play, from his standpoint, effectively allows game design to bypass them. It's actually an idea I relate to a lot as a writer -- I was raised in an era of authoritative media, when individual voices drove culture, opinion and information. The internet's changed everything, of course; the authoritative voice has evolved into a conversation between writer and audience, and the writer now leads the community discussion rather than acting as a single determiner, a unilateral judge.

And it doesn't take a professional writer to lead a community -- many feel that the rise of citizen journalism and the core concept of crowd wisdom means that individual authority in media will eventually disappear altogether.

Naturally, as someone who makes her living as a journalist, I reflexively dislike this idea -- is this why I am a Spector-sympathizer? If the game designer insists on authorial authority, is that his self-interest in the way?

Lantz actually called Spector out -- politely, of course, as it was obvious that both gentlemen respected their differences -- because one of the advice items Spector had offered the primarily-student audience was that the design process shouldn't be ego-driven, and that designers shouldn't try to impose their will on players. Why then, should Spector want to fight the apparent trend toward user-governed gameplay in order to build the experience from the game design power seat?

As with most divergent perspectives, it's unlikely that reality will skew solely to one side or another; the rise of social games and user-generated content doesn't mean the author-driven video game will just poof away. But questions of control are still fun to think about -- do you want to drive the community yourself, or do you want to interact in an environment that's been created for you?

Are all of us together as good at game design as one Warren Spector? And what might we see taking place in the games industry if in fact the answer is yes?