what is a game? anutara 1.3
furthering the ramble
more on play & games
(i swear i'll make these better blog posts someday)
so i've gone through the different kinds of play: maths, risks -luck:skill (sports and gambling essentially), and actions
and some different goals of play: playing to "win" via the terms of the game, and playing to play.
of course we can subdivide and combine, and in fact, every game has some of all these various tags.
im going to focus in this rant on some of the aspects of play that are about the conditions of winning and/or playing. some of the goals of play.
and im gonna use TTRPGs (table top role playing games) and videogames as some containers t talk about various player experiences.
in the playing to win genre, whether against another person or against a computer, playing maths is essential to playing, and playing to win is an obvious goal, because "losing" doesn't really produce a reward. so you are biased or herded into playing maths in order to become "better" or "stronger" in the game. this can mean "leveling up" getting "stronger" weapons and armor, etc etc. theres an endless list of "stronger upgrades".
your attention becomes focused on what strategies will get you the better stuff aka "grinding". its a bit of gameplay as a capitalist simulation, progress and betterment are the "points" of play, because you feel better, accomplished, successful when you win, and you have to become stronger and get better stuff in order to win.
this facet of gaming is enjoyable in some way (and if you can sense that im gonna tell you that you should be ashamed for liking this, welp, here comes the paradox)
in small doses, competition is VERY HEALTHY. feeling powerful and succeeding in a chosen strategy with skill and perseverance has some great side effects. tetris is a great example of a videogame where winning is fun and helpful, makes you smarter etc. if u like that sort of thing. other games that are like this are mahjong, and i think sudoku etc. i dont really play these kinds of games but i deeply respect them.
but i did say small doses... and this has to do with how you are practicing and transferring what you practice and how you practice.
because if you play the game of relationships to win, you will lose. same if you play music to win, you lose. you don't play either of these amazing experiences to win, you play them to play because playing is the enjoyable part. "winning" only means anything if you are working towards a higher level of craft so that everyone (and you) benefits. for instance, in playing theater improv, part of winning is helping your partners find themselves in better positions. setting them up for success, which in this case might be feeding them a line so they can "score" a punchline.
jumping back to TTRPGS and videogames... with video games you cant really decide to not play by the "rules" which are baked in. playing to win IS THE POINT of a lot of these games. but in TTRPGS you can essentially shift "the point", and this is interesting to me, because it still has to "be a game" (there has to be mechanics that you cant always control) and not merely "open improv" (which is also great and not a problem, i'm just talking about this thing called role playing games)
in the beginning (the 1970's)- RPGs were very much about playing a heroic character, like a conan or pulp hero, on thrilling and dangerous quests, exploring unknown ruins and killing monsters etc etc.
waving away some of the obvious hero's journey bullshit and racist frontier ideologies, we can see some of the fun play-to-play aspects embedded in this style of play (which is now called sometimes a "west marches style of play" - dont ask, im not going to explain)
exploration of mysterious, unknown locales
worldbuilding in which you and your character actually affect and alter the world over time
engaging in simulated risk and consequences/death via your proxy character
being a part of emergent fiction/cinema/narrative - aka being surprised and having to react to what happens - your choices matter in terms of affecting the shared reality
crafting an aesthetic within an aesthetic (this is probably way more key than most ppl will talk about... its rarely ever mentioned)
essentially leading a "double life" with hardly any of the negative effects of actually leading a double life
returning to childhood wonder and agency aka "playing pretend for no reason"
for me, the requirements for real engagement - the stakes (not just in game stakes, but in real life stakes) must be really examined in order to see how "THE game" and "REAL LIFE" are actually co-affecting each other.
prepare for psychedelia now.
because if there is a "you" that exists in this "game world" that is similar to how there is a "you" that exists in dreams. a you that is both you and not you. and that has an inter-correlative affect on "each other".
meaning that this kind of game starts to get to the core of nondual animism which is that ITS ALL A DREAM, and that you could actually participate more fully and with more behavioral options in this dream that is made of dreams.
so you want to play the dream of killing a bunch of "goblins"? tell me how that is any different (other than accepting the truth of it) than an ancestor going into trance in the middle of a community chanting and stomping in order to "defeat" the "troubled spirits" that are "causing famine"?
or how about divination. you can literally pick any system of divination. what is actually going on there when you pick a card or roll the dice or flip the coins?
again, im not going to explain all the intricacies of everything ive mentioned. im just blowing open the possibilities that are already here. this is probably why we play games and play pretend IN THE FIRST PLACE. inventing games did not invent nondual reality, science fiction, etc. it was all already part of the package deal. games and language (another game) are just an expression of the great tentacled beast called nondual reality dreaming.
but let’s rein it back a bit to TTRPGS because i am engaging in an effort to design a system.
if we play to play and still want game mechanics, then those mechanics are essentially a form of divination, not "chance". this changes the whole idea of risk, gambling , betting, etc. it opens up its hidden face.
therefore, playing a simulation, a dream character, becomes very different - not only a way to offgas emotional impulses we cant, and shouldnt, express in real life. (although im glazing over this, it actually is an essential reality of role play)
what is this hidden face though? and more importantly, how do we design game mechanics in order to consistently activate this aspect?
one way i have been thinking about is the concept of death itself in gaming.
in certain kinds of heroic fiction, the "heroes" rarely die because the point isnt for their epic stories "to end". but the characters are placed in extreme and ridiculous peril, and often are permanently altered by their dilemmas. this "scarring" of a character is very fascinating to me in terms of managing the narrative risk and mechanics of risk.
so, with all my stupid research i decide that instead of saying "death" i will change it to "pay the price". this "paying the price" mechanic will serve to make life terribly interesting for the character and player. essentially we must simulate real sacrifice, not merely to make the character "disadvantaged", but to introduce new and novel constraints upon the fiction and fictional actions. these new constraints should be leverage-able.
that is to say, they should be devil's bargains and we should revel in the playing of them.
when we add this mechanic into a more divinatory outcome resolution mechanic, i think a powerful aesthetic begins to develop, nascent in the catacombs of the ancestral heart.
perhaps next i will talk a bit more about maths in terms of quantifying ability and attempt to free all of that from its ableist and eugenicist stain, in order to more fully open up "what a character can be and do" in such a game.
#rpgdesign #ttrpgdesign #nondualtheater #divination #play #dreaming #deathpractice
(pic below is my garbage mock up to mark my thought process)