Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bonus Dice: Designing Tabletop Games for Better Game Culture (Part I)

In Part I of this article, game researcher Mark Chen takes a look at what might create better game culture, i.e. a community of consumers and creators who think critically and reflectively about games.

image from barefootliam at deviant art!
I’m going to make two statements (interleaved with ideas) that converge later.

What is Better Game Culture?

One is that, as we argue for better game culture, I think we’re basically arguing for more critical and reflective consumers, creators, and scholars of games and gaming practice. “More” in the sense that we just need proportionally more people who do think critically and reflectively about games and gaming. But also “more” in the sense that who we do have are continually learning and making connections and generally becoming better at what they do.

Use Game Design to Understand Games Better

And one of the best ways to learn how to think about games, their structures, and experiences is to make them. By making games and thinking through player experiences as they navigate rules and systems, a designer really starts to pay attention to cohesiveness and the internal logics of a game’s space. Equipped with this experience, the designer starts to also see other games differently, understanding that sometimes intent just doesn’t match up with underlying mechanics whether that’s due to technical limitations or something inherently flawed with the design structure. When the narrative or theme is supported by the game’s rules (sometimes in place as a holdover from whatever genre tradition the game is following), it can be an extremely beautiful experience, such as with the case for some players of Depression Quest or Lim.

Speaking of Lim, Merritt’s previous article speaks to a diversification and inclusion of gaming (which really can’t happen fast enough… and I don’t think is going to happen unless we continually fight for it), and something that should be stressed is how relatively low the barriers to making small digital games are these days (once you get past the initial barriers of social structure and disparate everyday experience, as Merritt aptly points out). Indeed, the hardest part of making interactive fiction games in Twine or Inklewriter, is the writing! Even 2D platformers, top-down JRPGs, and point-n-click adventure games can be made pretty easily these days with GameMaker, Construct, RPGMaker, and Adventure Game Studio.

The Rise of Tabletop Gaming

The second statement is that tabletop gaming (i.e., gaming with and around board and card games) is experiencing a massive growth and golden age right now, and, just as with digital games, a lot of community and culture around tabletop games is supported and afforded by the net. It’d be very easy to get lost in the forums of BoardGameGeek (BGG).

In fact, BoardGameGeek has a crazy extensive database of tabletop games. If a game is played with physical material and had some sort of distribution (as in, it’s not just a game cousin Jane made up and shared with her brother), it’s in BGG’s database. Each game has its own set of forums that cover reviews, strategies, house rules, clarifications, news, issues, etc. Then there are non-game specific forums, such as regional ones to help people meet up with other players, general boardgame news, reviews of iOS and Android ports of favorite games, etc. (A whole bunch could be said here about affinity groups and literature on digital media and learning.)

[This article originally appeared on Critical Gaming Project’s new blog series, Better Game Culture]  

Mark Chen is an independent researcher of gaming culture and spare-time game designer. He also holds appointments at Pepperdine, UW Bothell, and UOIT, teaching a variety of online and offline courses on game studies and games for learning. He recently wrote a book, Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft. Currently, Mark is making games to promote critical thinking and cooperation and researching the communication practices of users.


Post a Comment