what is a game? - anutara 1.2
more rambles on game design and play
improv and/versus gamification of things
quick living rant (means i update so the post changes over time)
so some ppl like to "play maths", they like games that really define the borders of play, the actions possible or impossible within that game, and usually a lot of numbers to rank, define or signal various game mechanics and elements. these numbers are usually paired with words, but the numbers are in some ways more important than the words.
again, i am calling this "playing maths". there are real people who enjoy playing maths. its like playing bookkeeping or plying spreadsheets or playing resource management etc. just think about it. sometimes its very comforting to just play the maths and accept the outcome. in many games, the maths is the arbiter of the outcome (think blackjack, etc).
but it’s not ONLY maths that makes a game a game.
and there are games where the playing of maths is not the priority.
gaming as "playing risks". this is all the games in which player choice aka gambling, is part of the fun of the game. there is a thrill in risking, gambling, and its still a form of maths in some sense. but the maths is in service to the inner feeling of risk, reward, and punishment. fucking around and finding out constrained into a game of both skill AND luck. the ratio of skill and luck is different in different games, and sometimes different in different phases of the same game.
if we go far more towards luck, we get some kinds of games.
if we go far more towards skill we get other kinds of games... like sports.
poker is kind of a strange middle ground between pure skill (sports) and pure luck. esports and videogames is also a sport in this context. skill vs other ppls skill and everyone vs the environment (the totality of the game, rules, conditions, roles, etc)
ok ok so playing maths and playing risks...
another kind of play though is the play of theater, and im still futzing around with how to talk about it. for now i will just say "playing actions" to mean all the kinds of improv, theater, dance, creative writing, poetry, singing, etc. a kind of language-about-language built upon the baseline language of bodies: space and spatiality, emotional energetic feeling states, sound vibration and resonance, rhythm, etc.
in this kind of playing, use of words and meanings is still just playing an action. words are not so abstracted. the words are part of a "total actioning".
in this kind of playing, the rules are far less about math, and still somewhat about risk, but not primarily. i would say any constraints or limits placed upon this kind of playing result in "concentrations", the concentration and expansion of energy and attention into particular pathways of action, leading to interesting states or outcomes.
a role playing game can reside in any of these "buckets" and some people really like a lot of maths, some a lot of risk/gambling, and some a lot of theater. finding the sweet spot is neverending because you can continually graft entire arenas of mood, setting, etc into a gameplay, altering the limits and potentials of the gameplay.
designing a roleplaying game, for me, is in blowing out the frames and recognizing certain realities... i don’t want to play maths, but some maths, like in a game of poker or chess or craps, are very useful, especially rolling dice, point tallying or betting.
even a form of divination (yijing, tarot) use math a little (numbers and signifiers of meaning, symbolism).
so all of this to just map out a rough ingredients list to begin finding the right kinds of ingredients and ratios of ingredients to make the kinds of meals i want to eat.
all games have rules, but what are rules for? they are for creating "stakes". the "stakiness" of any particular game is a large part of why ppl would choose to play that game. sports for example, is very high stakes. so is any form of gambling for money. these are high stakes games. but of course, also, "stakiness" is relative to each person, it is subjective. so designing "stakiness" itself is a key component of using games and play to discover something about fate, about learning, about nature, etc.
i would even say that a therapeutic process (like systemic constellations or emdr) is a game, even if no one calls it that. but in the design process we must see how so much of life, so many of our PROCEDURES are games. they have rules and mechanics, constraints and conditions, risk and stakes.
on the crooked road to heaven
angels and devils trade us in a game of veils, dried flowers found in lost oubliettes
i got a pearl closer to the swirling heart of the true dream of the ttrpg system im hacking together.
i went down a wuxia xianxia manhua rabbit hole, thinking through and reading various takes on the genre as a game.
i was big into manga and then found manhua for a time long ago. maybe folks dont know i could read before age three and have been hooked on comics since. i found manga and manhua in my late teens. back when u really had to hunt this shit down and many of the translations were funky.
the poetic passion of manhua is pretty hilarious and less dumbed down than most manga. wuxia has a history as the action romance pulp novels of china that then became like their version of superheroes. it lends a more ridiculously glam veneer on supernatural and mythic heroic drama. of course some of the most amazing martial arts movies are in this genre.
anyway, i stumbled across a few ideas and started thinking with them and some vibes really started clicking. my rpg design idea is much more improv and less math, with dice rolls, numbers and such only being there to constrain and limit/nudge the improv. basically, design the mechanics around the fiction, not the other way around. and play the fiction to discover more about the fiction (world, setting, history, characters, etc), to reward players not with "xp", but with more interesting and surprising fictional elements.
im also not doing typical gm and players, but instead working on distributing the load of the gm to all players. its very animist complex systems meets folk theater.
but having fun dice mechanics and risk/betting mechanics is very important, otherwise it is just improv, which defeats the purpose of gaming.
one pickle im still in is how to incorporate a poker like betting aspect into the game.