Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Morality of Games

The other week, when Nathan Russell dropped in to Brisbane for Go Play Brisbane, we had some extended chats about the nature of gaming and of games themselves. In amongst all this was a hefty discussion of my Game In Design (the game with the working title of Nobles) and I made a comment that I want to make again here.

Roleplaying games make moral and philosophical assertions through their mechanics.

Now, initially one might think that the word "mechanics" should be "story" but upon closer examination it is apparent that it's the mechanic that does this. A good game (according to various versions of game design theory) includes mechanics which reward players for a particular kind of behaviour. The story will always arise from the mechanics; if it didn't then we could - and would - tell the same variety of stories with only one ruleset. Dogs in the Vineyard stories told in GURPS, for example. I'll concede that it's possible, but it's not likely. DitV creates a particular kind of story because of its game mechanics, and the same is true of other game mechanics.

If a game system creates a particular kind of story, then the abstract concept of that kind of story is connected to the morality implied by that system. Here are some examples.

Dungeons and Dragons (and others of this kind) imply a moral statement something like this: defeat monsters and you will gain items that make you more powerful, better enabling you to fight monsters and gain more items; ergo, the central path to self-improvement is through the violent defeat of monsters. It's not simply that the PCs use violence to defend against The Darkness, but that through violence the PCs actually improve.

Don't Rest Your Head is particularly Nietzschean in that the characters are asked to dig deep within and become what they already are. Characters are driven to exhaustion in order to add more dice to the pool. Characters use their Madness talents to add more dice, and these talents are taken from the basic elements of the characters themselves. Through magnifying the character as it is, the character becomes a larger version of what they already are. And also note the flipside to this, becoming what they already are (that is, pushing exhaustion and madness beyond mortal limits) is a horror itself. To be quite technical, the horror of the DRYH overman is the self qua exaggerated-self, the horror is the same God that Nietzsche pronounced as dead.

To return to my point. Games imply a moral or philosophical truth, deep within the mechanics of that game. Most designers may not realise it at the time of design, and in that regard we have something of an insight into the designers themselves. The game is the absent-minded drawing, the unintentional revelation of the mind of the designer.

Monday, 22 September 2008

As you were

Go Play Brisbane came and went on the weekend. For me personally this was an interesting experience and one which achieved the three primary goals of a local indie games convention.

1. Have fun
2. Meet other players
3. Meet other game designers

I managed to arrange it so that Go Play Brisbane delivered all of this to the participants. Nathan Russell and Mark McPherson were both there, with their games in tow. We talked about the design and production processes of Dash-in Dungeons (a 3 year project!). We also met other players of indie games in Australia - all of whom are keen to play more. And most importantly, we had fun playing indie games.

The fun is the most important part of it all. Meeting other players, meeting designers, organising conventions... all these things exist to support the fun generated by play.

And for that, Go Play Brisbane was an unqualified success.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Car Wars - the Movie

This post has nothing to do with indie games, but a game I played many years ago and which now belongs in the Cult Classic section of your local gaming hyper-mega-mart: Car Wars by Steve Jackson Games. I played that game a lot, but not as much as I sat down and designed cars for it. Most of my enjoyment was in engineering the cars, in much the same way as someone in a points-based game would engineer a character. And surprisingly it was a lot of fun.

Nevertheless, I see that a new movie is en route to us, and it seems to fit neatly within that genre of armed vehicular combat. Affectionately entitled Death Race, the poster alone seems to give the whole thing away. It'll be big action, corny dialogue and bad acting for the whole 2 hours (or less, whatever...) but I will go into it with one simple question in my mind, "How does a miniatures gaming experience compare to a movie experience?"

Now, some of this can be answered by looking at other genres (sci-fi, fantasy, etc.) but I feel as though I'm too familiar with those genres. With a break into minis and into Car Wars I expect to learn different things about it. I'll be sure to put some thoughts up here when the time comes.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Houses of the Blooded

I bought a PDF copy of Houses of the Blooded this week. Just in case you hadn't heard, this is the new game from John Wick and is currently available for 5USD as PDF from various places. I got mine from IPR without hitch.

At the moment I've not read more than a few pages of it, so it's too early for me to give a solid opinion of it. Layouts and fonts are all very classy, and the use of PDF doesn't seem to pose any threat to the dead-tree editions. It's 436 pages, but it really should be printed with two pages to an A4. Even so, 218 pages from a single-sided printer is a big effort.

I'll have some more comments later, I'm sure.