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10 April 2008 @ 03:14 pm
Designing Fun with Rules  
So, in my last post, I put up a diagram. People seem to like the top half of it. zamiel has a problem with the bottom half and my implication of Authorial Intent.

Since I didn't actually write any content around the diagrams I posted, it's not surprising that I didn't communicate what I had hoped. Here's a new picture for discussion:

Here's where Authorial Intent comes in. Notice that this diagram doesn't contain anything about players yet. This is just the rules and the designer and his expectations. Hopefully, his expectations come from playtesting and not random theorizing about what his game will do. If the game designer doesn't actually playtest the rules, then substitute "designer's fondest hopes and dreams" for "playtesting" on the diagram.

The upper left drawing is the optimal condition. The rules as written communicate what the designer thinks they do, as borne out in playtest sessions. This is what designers strive for.

The lower left drawing is a little less than optimal. The rules as written are still fun! It's just that the designer didn't have much to do with it. Hey, good for the players. What happened here? Well, maybe the designer didn't really playtest and what she thought would be fun wasn't actually what turned out to be fun, but the rules were good enough at getting the fun that the players will never know. Expect huge arguments on the Internets between the players who are having fun and the idiot designer who is telling them their fun is wrongbadfun. "But that's not the right way to play!" "Well, the 'right way' is a steaming pile of poo and is no fun!"

The upper right is a little worse. The rules as written just aren't fun. Sure, the designer saw a fun game during her playtests, but then the players bought the game and it was a dud. What happened? Most likely, the designer failed to explain what was in her head. Expect to go to the designer's Internets forum space and say, "When I played, it sucked" and get a response like, "Well, did you do X, Y, and Z [that aren't in the rules]?" "Uh, no..." "Well, you should have known that." "Can I have my $19 back please?"

The bottom right is the worst. The designer knows what he wrote, she plays by the rules, and she knows the game isn't fun. But she sold it anyway.

None of this is saying that a player can't go monkey with the rules and make them fun. That's essentially changing the shape of the yellow box so that it overlaps with "fun." Maybe the designer even expects the players to do this during play (Gamma World -- dunno what edition -- is an example of a game that says, "You need to fill in stuff here"). Maybe it's perfectly fine for gamers to have to be armchair designers to have a good time. None of these diagrams address that.
the_tall_man on April 10th, 2008 09:27 pm (UTC)
While this isn't quite what Adam was talking about?

It's still a damn good point entirely on it's own.