2011-09-15 : PAX Dev: You Should Play Bad Games
I’ve been giving this session kind of a bad rap, post-con, but come to reflect on it I need to reverse myself.
Why Everyone Else Loves the Games You Hate
Monopoly, Risk, Killer Bunnies - there’s a long list of games that we game designers teach ourselves to hate. They violate some core principles of game design we hold dear: they never end, they reward the leaders, they come down to a coin flip. But Magic: The Gathering designer Richard Garfield has another take on these games, one that suggests that their designers might have been doing something right all along. Come hear Richard tell you why you should play these games and many, many others if you want to be a successful game designer.
Coming out of the con, it was discouraging: do we game designers really need to be told to play lots of games? Isn’t it obvious? Don’t we all have restless imaginations and unfillable appetites for games? Do we really avoid games, of all things? Instead of an hour of “game designers, you should play games,” I’ve been saying, it should have been a first slide of “game designers, you know how we all play games all the time?” and then an hour of something deeper.
But I was missing the something deeper. “Game designers, you should play bad games too. You should study even games you hate.” Which, yes, is right there in the description, so duh on me for losing track of it. He said something very cool about Monopoly in that session, for instance: when good things happen to you in that game, they happen on someone else’s turn. I’ve played a certain number of, like, mutually competitive solitaire games recently - Dominion, Race for the Galaxy - and I abandoned a cool game of my own a couple of years ago because nobody cared about anybody else’s turns - but come to be told, frickin Monopoly solved that problem.
So that’s cool.
But you know what? Even without the deeper point, I think I needed the reminder. I didn’t put it together at the time but now I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an accident that within a day or two I’d decided to be enthusiastic about playing new rpgs instead of reluctant.
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