The latest hot stuff in the lunchroom conversation these days is the show My Kitchen Rules. So I watched a bit of it to see what the fuss was. Have no fear, I did the same thing with the Harlem Shake and Rebecca Black. You can see the lengths to which I'll go in order to get my head around pop culture references.
I've no intention of continuing to watch the show but as I watched I saw an important lesson for game designers. It's possible to create a game that is unenjoyable as a participant and enjoyable as the audience.
In the episode I watched there were two contestants who hosted a dinner party for the other contestants and judges. At the end of meal all the guests gave scores for each course. Each episode the role of hosts moves to the next team.
From what I saw it was clear that almost none of the contestants enjoyed having scores come their way. Like most people they think they're more competent than they are so naturally they're disappointed with the scores. Secondly the scores come from the competition, all of whom want to win so naturally there's a tendency to score harshly. Being caught in this kind of game, where the competition determines your success and failure, would enrage me. It encourages spitefulness, vengefulness and bickering. It's unenjoyable.
At the same time this is one of the most popular shows on TV so there are plenty of viewers who enjoy it. I think they enjoy it for the same reason that bitchy soap operas are enjoyable. The show generates spitefulness, vengefulness and bickering: in other words, it creates conflict between people, and the audience likes to see conflict created and resolved.
To repeat the lesson: it's possible to create a game that is unenjoyable as a participant and enjoyable as the audience.
My Kitchen Rules is such a game and is a perfect example of what to avoid when designing a tabletop game. Remember to make the game fun as a participant and as an audience. Creating conflict is good for story games, but don't do it at the expense of player enjoyment.