thread: 2014-07-15 : Procedure, Components, Object, Strategy, Style

On 2014-07-15, silby wrote:

I'm sold on strategy being an emergent or implicit property. If we restrict ourselves to games where the components are numbers, the procedures manipulate the numbers, and the object is to get the biggest of a particular number (most games), it's pretty evident that the strategy is a result of those things which define the game, but you couldn't define the game from its strategy. ("Go first" is the winning strategy for many simple games of two players, so there's no unique mapping from strategies to games.) This generalizes to weird games like RPGs just fine I think so I'll leave that argument as an exercise for Vincent.

So for games about numbers (again, most games), style falls into the "lays-atop-without-changing" category. Eurogames, "abstract games", combinatorial games, games of chance, all have "themes" which are not really themes but aesthetics to make the numbers easier or more fun to think about or engage with. They are essentially marketing. If, to use another valence of the word "style", it's "stylish" to make a certain chess play or a certain poker bet, that's in many ways a consequence of the game's definition or of the strategy emerging from it. ("Under X analysis this is a suboptimal move, but player Y has style.")

But for weird games, my intuition is that style is part of the game's definition. So for instance: "Make the imaginary world seem real" is an objective, not a procedure. So what's the procedure by which we pursue this objective? Let's say we have just one, "Ask questions and build on the answers." Okay, great, that plus another player with complementary procedures gives us everything we need for a weird game. (The components being the players.) But our players don't know what their weird game is about, and I think aboutness in a weird game is irreplaceably part of the game's definition. (I could go further and say weird games are precisely those games which have aboutness, but I won't!)

So anyway if we tell our players "This is a game about the apocalypse" we've equipped our weird game with something to be about. The game as realized by its players is (and here's my actual claim) a different game than if we tell them "This is a game about the end times", or if we tell them nothing. I think that a weird game's aboutness is close to what its style is. In a weird game, the style interacts with the components and the procedures and the objects and affects what they do. You can legally play a weird game with no style, but then it's the wrong weird game, or not weird at all, and you might not even be able to fulfill the more objective objects.

For instance, a true story: Diplomacy is supposed to be a weird game, where the game is about making and breaking deals with your opponents, and the style is all backstabbing and broken hearts. I played it online once, and I didn't really get that the game was supposed to be weird, and I just tried to move my armies and boats around without really talking to people much. I didn't have much fun. Also, interestingly, that's probably a poor strategy.

So, I think your gamut of things that games have is pretty good, but I don't think style is in the same category as strategy, as an emergent thing that is dependent on other parts of the game's definition.


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