Design Ruts Vrs Existentialism

I’ve been in a rut. I’ve accomplished only a few things over the past couple days:

1. Played the Immortal Defense demo. It’s quite compelling, insofar as pretty geometry meets tower defense, sprinkled with a story about being forced into eternal disembodied servitude, can be.

2. Wrote up the Spellborn Character Selection Guide, perhaps the best summary of the classes you’ll find on the net for a game only a certain niche plays.

3. Did my laundry.  This was probably the most productive thing of the three.

Hardly compelling steps on the path of ultimate game design. Wednesday was perhaps a complete waste, bouncing about those eternal black holes of angst, Internet forums.

However, here on the cusp on my Thursday, I think I’ve at least partially figured out the cause of my lost flow.

I had a game design approach of going back to the drawing board, and drawing something up until I have what plays from back to front in my head as a compellingly interesting game. I spent the entirety of Monday doing this.

Unfortunately, the trouble with this approach is I was basically giving my inner critic the reigns. Such is my level of creativity that I’ll hit an ultimate conclusion in fairly short order.

The inner critic’s ultimate conclusion is that absolutely nothing satisfies in the long run.  That’s depressing.

A Re-Examination Of A Theory Of Fun

Cats are interesting creatures in that they seem to have some semblance of predatory intelligence, but (like most animals) are not very-self aware.

So it’s interesting to see that I’m able to entertain a cat for quite some time by putting a toy that it wants up on a mantelpiece which it can’t quite reach.   It’ll pace back and forth for quite some time trying to figure out how to get to that toy.

During the time it spends trying to accomplish an aim, I suspect it’s not too bored, because its mind is very much turning over how to accomplish something.  Trivial aspects such as what it will do with that toy (quickly lose interest in it) are put aside because the cat’s new goal is simply get that toy.  The cat’s having fun.

This is pretty much an MMORPG’s appeal.  We put the next level up on the shelf for the players to accomplish, and they’ll busily occupy themselves with getting that level.  So long as what they have to do is obviously not something they find distasteful, or better yet they’re not sure what they have to do but are making progress towards discovering it, the mind feels as though it’s making progress.  The mind is content, it’s having fun.

Again, we bring about humankind’s main difference over the lesser beasts: a greater amount of self-awareness.  When we begin to question why we’re doing something, we completely derail this activity of apparent contentment, and are able to move on to better things.

The holy grail in this case becomes defining a greater outer purpose behind the act.   When you’re gaining levels just to gain levels, and your self-awareness makes you aware of this, the lack of a greater outer purpose propels you do something else.  When you’re defeating other players in PvP, and all they do is respawn and defeat you right back, the lack of a greater outer purpose makes the PvP seem pointless.

So, what is the ultimate greater outer purpose we can give players?  That’s a toughy.  The really tricky matter behind all this is that, when you get right down to it, our very creator seemed loathe to apply to us a greater outer purpose — humankind, such as it is, has been inventing our own for quite some time.  Even if I were give people cash for winning the game, wouldn’t there eventually emerge a point where they have everything they want and little need for cash?

Perhaps at the upper end of society, where money no longer contains a meaning of something you need more of, we’re trying to establish the same things we are at the upper end of MMORPG development:

  • We seek direction, so we welcome quests from NPCs, handing down instructions from leaders (possibly imaginary).
  • We seek to build something greater than ourselves, so we embark upon what would be dynamic content in a MMORPG, the building of dynasties.
  • We seek conflict and, in what would be player versus player activities in a MMORPG , we spark wars (another builder of a dynasty if you happen to be an arms dealer).

The inevitable question, in life or in game, is “what’s the point?”  The inevitable answer of the creator can only be, “points are for you to decide.”  It’s an unsatisfactory answer, but the only one of lasting perpetuity.

The bottom line is that it is forever the core of fun of a game design to create a desire and provide mind-occupying means to pursue it.  It’s not the desire, but the occupied mind that entertains, but the player is still there under false pretenses.   So long as a player’s self-awareness fails to pick up on this, and the mind remains occupied, the game successfully entertains.

Therein lay my rut at its root level.  The would-be game designer (me) must learn to carry the burden of knowing the outer purpose behind a virtual desire may well be absent.  I must willingly weave an illusion.  Unless, perhaps, I were to succeed in inventing an outer purpose – perhaps if the game were to deliver a useful skill or life lesson.

One Response

  1. […] the end of April, I was writing up a Chronicles of Spellborn guide and played the Immortal Defense […]

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