2013-08-30 : The Object of the Game vs Your Character's Goals

In this game, your character is a wizard seeking profound power. Your character's goal is, ultimately, to bring the world to its knees in worship and supplication. This may mean the political world of kings and nations. It may mean the physical world of earth, mountains, seas, the continents, the heavens, the weather. It may mean the natural world of life, birth, death, age, memory, form. It may mean the cosmological world of gods, demons, humanity, spirit. It may mean all.

Here are some possibilities:

(a) Your job as a player is to see your character achieve her goal. You must overcome every obstacle in her way and throw down every enemy. If you do, you win.

(b) Your job as a player is to have your character pursue her goal, having her act with integrity to her personality as it develops, and play to find out what happens to her.

(c) Your job as a player is to play against your character's goals, setting her pursuit of her goals up to lead her into misunderstanding, trouble, danger, or disaster.

(d) Your job as a player is to play against your character's ambition, using her pursuit of her goals to illustrate her inhumanity and arrogance.

(e) Your job as a player is to see your character survive and prosper, regardless of her goals. You can have her pursue her goals when convenient, and ignore them when they conflict with her survival and prosperity.

(f) Your job as a player is to see your character into adventures and danger alongside the other players' characters, regardless of her goals. You can have her pursue her goals when they'll bring her along, and ignore them when they'd have her retreat into her seclusium to study instead.

These are all legit RPGs about wizards, and no doubt there are more that I haven't happened to think of this morning.

My point here is that when you design a game, the object of the game can align with the characters' goals, it can depend on the characters' goals, it can ignore the characters' goals, it can contradict the characters' goals, or whatever you as the designer decide.

1. On 2013-08-30, Vincent said:

Here's where I start talking about the object of the game in rpgs: 2013-08-02 : Conversations and Games.

Questions and comments welcome as always.


2. On 2013-08-30, Yanni said:

I feel like most RPGs shoe-horn you into F pretty hard. Sometimes you can dabble with one of the other options, but generally RPing is a multi-player game not designed to be "won" by a single person (if at all).


3. On 2013-08-30, Vincent said:

Yanni: I think (f) is common in conventional rpgs, (b) is common in games after the fashions of the Forge, and (a) and (e) are common in the OSR.


4. On 2013-08-30, Gordon said:

Quick check - looks like, for purposes of this post, "your job as a player" = designed object of the game?

I think the insight about establishing, distinguishing and defining the relationship between character goals and the object of the game is excellently stated here.  I'm concerned that expecting "your job as a player" (player goal?) to simply match up with the designed object of the game is, in many cases - though by no means all - problematic in RPGs. I mean, in a "that's a built-in issue - often a feature, not a bug" way, not cause "gamrz r da stupidz" or anything.

That said, what I'm most wondering about right now is play of a particular game that ranges across multiples of a-f (and others), at different times, play situations and etc.  Seems like that's gonna be more difficult to design for, but I guess - not really a problem?  Or am I missing something about the point?

Two notes: 1) My paragraph 2 concern may have a GNS connection, but the paragraph 3 a-f multiples thing totally doesn't, and 2) it may be obvious, but since I just noticed I had to remind myself of it - choosing align with/ignore/etc. character goals is simply one aspect of establishing the object of the game, not like the whole trick to it or anything.


5. On 2013-08-30, Vincent said:

Gordon: Right.

Most rpgs are not simple games. They're cooperative no-winning games with a dozen or dozens of subsystems that play out over untold hours of play. They often have two explicitly recognized different player positions (GM and player), and many unrecognized different player positions. They're the most complicated games I can think of.

The relationship between the object of the game, my goal as a player, and my job as a player is directly (not simplistically!) causal, but they aren't identical things by any stretch.


6. On 2013-08-30, Vincent said:

Here's how I just said it in the companion G+ thread:

In a straightforward game like Chess, the player's goal is to achieve the object of the game, and the player's job is to try to achieve the object of the game. The relationships are both causal and straightforward.

The more complicated a game is, the more complicated those relationships can be, but for the most part they remain causal.

Like, I can imagine a game where my goal as a player is to make it impossible for myself to achieve the object of the game, but that's weird. Or I can imagine a game where doing my job as a player structurally prevents me from accomplishing my goal as a player - where my job and my goal are by design mutually incompatible. But again, that's weird, that's not usually how you design a game that's fun to play.

For the most part, in most games, certainly in any game you or I would consider broadly well-designed for play and replay, your goal as a player is concretely compatible with the object of the game, and your job as a player is concretely compatible with pursuing your goal.

(Again, your goal as a player may be to see your character fail utterly to accomplish her goals. That's a different thing.)


7. On 2013-08-30, Ben Lehman said:

In Beloved, your job and your goal and mutually incompatible, right?


8. On 2013-08-30, Vincent said:

Ben: Yes! An excellent example.

I take back what I said about certainly, but not what I said about weird! Beloved's an exceptional game in basically every way.


9. On 2013-08-31, Josh W said:

I feel like at the moment I'm halfway between nodding and shrugging on "objects" and "goals"; when definitions start getting intricate and intermeshed, it's sometimes because there's cool interactions there, and sometimes it's just because the definitions themselves are starting to fall part apart. But shrugging is boring, here?s some thinking instead:

If the object is the collection of goals around which the games structures and tools are constructed (including cooperative or abstract goals) then what about when the player's encouraged goals are in contrast with the structures of the game?

Is this a game without object (because the structures are simply not tools to reach that goal), is it game who's designer's purpose is to create frustration, or is the object for the player to push the limits of the game?

Any of the above could be true, and it's all a bit mumbly, it seems to me that when you start to distinguish the player's goals from the object of the game, things get more woolly, unless the "object of the game" is simply the unifying feature of the goals that you expect the player to have during design.

The stuff about self-sabotage and stopping yourself from achieving your object becomes just two goals in tension, like trying to play a good game of chess against a child but finding ways for them to win, the object becomes a pseudo-cooperative game of the child achieving a substantial and well-earned checkmate for his age.

Then you have any competitive game where player goals are asymmetric, obviously it's no longer simply true that the object of the game is identical but inverted, so the designer is designing for two overlapping sets of goals, two interlinked "objects". Of course, if you actually want to set up a game, usually the goals expected of each player are reasonably equivalent - there's usually a common enthusiasm for a game that underlies conversations about it that lead to people going "lets play that game again", but with stuff like matchmaking (mostly used in computer games, no principle reason you can't have it in tabletop though, if played in a public place) you can have a completely different reasons for each player to be there.

Sunshine boulevard is annoying because of the way it abuses the processes of social lead in; it relies on people saying stuff like "we're going to play a game, we need someone to ___" or "hey we found this game you might like, you ___" when all of that description of the game must be false. Of course, if you think they'd actually like the horror game element, then it's pretty much as evil a deception as a surprise birthday party.

So yeah, design for overlapping conflicting goals, some of them asymmetric, and those in aggregate are the object(s) of your game. Possibly I've missed some stuff out though, stuff possibly implicit in the idea of the "object" of a game that I don't (yet) care about!

For example, this is obviously leaving out some interesting stuff about doublethink and self-deception, half-acknowledged goals etc. but I think the fact that those things are all about messing up analysis means it's good to put them to one side!

The job/goal thing strikes me as a lot cleaner, with a lot of potential.

Here's another distinction; your job holds you to a repeated set of actions by your "duty" (to the rules, to your previous commitments) or by what other players demand of you or need from you during play.

These can conflict with your goals because of the completeness with which they determine your expected reactions, and the inflexibility in how they can be bent in that direction (etiquette melodrama), because they directly work in the opposite direction (old school feudal tragedy), or because they shuffle up contributions in a way that undermines part of their impact (farcical stuff).

Playing with job in terms of duty is probably better than in terms of relationships, because if you sneak a load of tension in there, you don't want players wrongly externalising it onto other players, unless you?re getting advanced and doing that on purpose.

But more normally, if you want to put the player in a bind, you want to give them time to resolve it (beloved), or you want them to come to a slow realisation of how their means are defeating their ends (surely someone has published a game about it, although I can't think of one off hand).

On the other hand, player demands that simply complicate your goals in a productive way are awesome, like the endless creativity that erupts from trying to support someone else's idea.

This relates to another idea, in a computer game, the basic gameplay loop is "your job", the continuing task that the game presents you with, and making it a fun job is a design thing in itself, whereas in rpgs there can be similar loops that relate to where information has to pass between players, or where there are non-negotiable steps in a game's process. Creating fun mechanisms for character design, resolution of actions etc would then be job design.

It also occurs to me that there's another way to make tensions between that and goals by shifting the goals out of focus within the mechanism; make your job such that you have to fight to remember your goal. This is reasonably common in strategic games, where players can be trapped by intermediate goals relating to the completion of specific tasks or the perfect management of a subsystem, to the detriment of their overall position which can be taken advantage of by other players. In this situation the game sets up a loop of distraction and the other players help to flag it up adversarially. In a game without that dynamic a reckoning/perspective moment might be helpful.

I think this gives another way to look at option e in your player/character goals thing: In a game where there is a continuous cooperative job of staying alive and getting stuff, although all of the players may have goals, the job and the social pressure of not endangering each other can conflict with that. One way to resolve that tension entirely is to assume that our goal as players relates first and foremost to the survival job, with the character goals being de-invested in as extra luxuries.
This relates to the case of a strategy game where the player is like ?well if I?m not going to win, I might as well get the most money?, reinforced by social pressure of inter-dependence and the lack of a finishing point for the game. It occurs to me that you could create a game with unusual inter-dependences between players such that this "means-focusing" happens in a different domain, as in freemarket.


10. On 2013-08-31, Rickard said:

A roleplaying game doesn't have to be about a character, but about a story with characters. If we had a pool of characters to play, each one could have different goals - but as players, we can have a totally different goal.

Many people mixes up character and player goal, because it's a traditional standard that they are the same. A character doesn't even have to have a goal, but the player do.

I will claim from this statement that the game should teach the players that goal. I would also prefer if the game was clear about it, so the whole group are at the same page. We all know the goal of the game in Monopoly.


We don't know however why each single person wants from playing a boardgame. Is it because they want to compete? Because they want to hang out? Because they want to learn a new game? But that's a totally different story.


11. On 2013-09-02, Vincent said:

Josh W: I'm with you, top to bottom.

Rickard: Making the object of the game and the players' goals and jobs explicit is one approach to game design. I won't go so far as to say "should," because there are so many fruitful ways to make things implicit or contradictory. See Sunshine Boulevard for a stark and brilliant example.

But for the most part, if you aren't screwing around with the form, just making a straight-up roleplaying game, making the players' jobs and goals clear is a good and useful approach.


12. On 2013-09-02, Josh W said:

Dammit, agreement is boring, grudgingly glad to hear it!


13. On 2013-09-04, David Berg said:

Vincent, this all makes sense to me.  I'm trying to synthesize with your previous post about tension between tools and goals.  When you talk about "the player's job" above, can you relate that to tools?


14. On 2013-09-04, Vincent said:

David: That's what the next post is all about: 2013-09-03 : Ordering the Conversation: How do you choose?


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