Social Leverage GamesAugust 29, 2016
There’s a type of game I call “social leverage” games – these are games where the primary fulcrum of power is social leverage between people. Mafia, Werewolf, and Diplomacy are classic games of this type.
I just watched this GDC talk about a prototype tank game that turned toxic and had to be banned within the studio testing it. What the speaker misses out on, is that the core of the game he’s set up, was social leverage.
In all of these games, the primary way to win is to convince people to trust you, to believe you, and to choose good times to betray people. These games depend on building trust then breaking it. Bluffing games like Poker aren’t about building alliances – you aren’t expected to trust the other players. Games where there are other methods to win, rather than just manipulating trust, also don’t suffer this problem.
The reason these games turn toxic is simple – it’s not about lying about numbers, resources, or in-game factors – it’s about lying between the real people about real people relationships – “You can trust me”. Players who do best at these games often leverage what they know about the other players’ personalities… so the expertise at the game is how well you manipulate your friends.