This is another one of those posts that’s been sitting on my hard drive. Pity I didn’t have the motivation to release this with the other indie game-length posts, even though it’s half finished. In this case, I wrote it almost 2 years ago. I actually still agree with it, although it makes me laugh how academic and logical I am with my argument. Maybe others will find it interesting, and since I will likely not finish the second half any time soon, I’m sharing it now…
Oprah’s Game Design Wisdom
A while back, Oprah had a show about simplicity. I don’t really watch Oprah, but as I came home to grab some food, I walked in at just the right time to clearly hear her closing remarks, which included something along the lines of “the goal for this year is less stuff, and more meaning.”
Oprah isn’t explicitly providing that as a Christian message, but having a simple and efficient life just makes sense given my experience in life so far and more importantly, it’s a biblical principle that’s mentioned in several different places. It struck me, and naturally, my next thought was “How can this be applied to videogames?” What first struck me was how similar that statement was to how Rules of Play defines good game design. But I realized that she started with “less stuff,” and the more I thought about it, the more important the concept of “less stuff” became.
Effective Game Design is Meaningful
Rules of Play states “the goal of successful game design is the creation of meaningful play.” This assumes several things. Design is intentional (has a goal) and design can be measured in terms of success (how well it achieved the goal). Agreed. After that is that game design creates play – as in what you do with a game is play it. Lastly, it assumes meaning can also be measured in terms of success, with more meaning being more successful. Agreed, although meaning is difficult to measure.
So if a person is describing the value of a game, the person who says “this game has better design” would really be saying “this game creates more meaningful play to me.” That makes sense, so it seems like a sound definition. However, when you consider the concept of efficiency, there are cases where the definition creates problems.
Here’s an example. There’s a game that gives you a certain amount of meaning – let’s call that amount m – in 3 hours of play. There’s another game that gives you m meaning in 5 hours of play. Which game is better? According to Rules of Play, neither is better. Both create meaningful play, since the definition never addresses time.
Effective Game Design is Meaningful and Efficient
If time spent on this earth wasn’t limited, then that would be ok. But time spent here is limited, so a person can only play so many games. Therefore, if a person plays a game with the same amount of meaning but in a shorter time, the person can play another game in the time that was saved. That leads to more meaning experienced over a game player’s lifetime, which, according to the assumptions, is better than less meaning. I think this makes sense, since players already do this by seeking out and playing the games that are most meaningful to them.
If all this is true, then successful game design is the creation of meaningful play in the shortest experience. And consequently, the success of a game design is measured by an average representing the amount of meaningful play per a length of experience.
Implications of Game Design Efficiency
The addition of the concept of time to the definition of effective game design, and its subsequent affect on valuing a game, has wide-ranging implications, and also describes several game-playing behaviors.
Aaannnnd that’s all the further I got, sorry for the cliffhanger.