June 14, 2010

“Your game is broken because I went out of my way to break it and then I broke it”

If you were trying to play chess, and your opponent deliberately tried to lose, would they be breaking the rules? There’s a certain social contract that goes with any game, including roleplaying games- it’s the goal or point of the game.

I was just reminded of this thing gamers do:

A: “Here’s this game I made about telling stories of tragedy.”
B: “But if you use the rules like this, this, and this, then someone could play the game and totally avoid having tragedy, therefore your game is broken!”

In the broadest sense, you could consider the overall goal/point of a game (“Chess: Checkmate their king, protect your own”) as the founding directive rule to any game.

Naturally this goes back to the usual issues of assuming all games being all things and general poor reading skills people do, but still, it’s really interesting the way in which folks act as if a game is supposed to somehow keep working when you’re not playing by the rules.

“Your game is broken because it doesn’t play itself for me!”

In a similar vein, I’ve also been reminded of people who look at a game, then complain about the part of the game that’s designed to exercise/challenge certain skill sets as the focus of play. That is:

A: “Here’s this game where players take turns adding imaginary bits to create a great story!”
B: “But the rules don’t MAKE the other players like what you contribute! It’s broken!”

“Chess doesn’t have rules that MAKE me make good tactical choices! It’s broken!”

Both of these things come back to not just understanding that games do specific things, but also a core aspect of social contract and buy-in:

Game design has no obligation to cater to people who don’t buy into the premise of the game.

Although you might be interested in Chessboxing, chess has no obligation to meet the expectations of boxers, and boxing has no obligation to meet the expectation of chess players – these are two games that do very different things.

In the same sense, as gamers, we have no obligation to the player(s) who don’t want to play the game we’re playing- if we agreed to play chess and then you start complaining that there’s not enough punching… guess who’s being out of line here?

Likewise, if you’re complaining that “only people who can think strategically can win at chess!” guess how much sympathy you’re likely to get?

In both cases, it’s people ignoring the premise of the game and complaining when it fulfills exactly what was advertised.

It’s pretty sad how many conversations get mired in this: from design, to play, to the GM asking for help how to deal with a “problem player”.

Game design is getting really damn good about being consistent in purpose and design, and being clear about telling players what the game is about.

I wonder how long it will take for folks to start catching up.

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