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

On 2013-08-31, Josh W wrote:

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.


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