2013-10-08 : Recipe vs Game

Here's a weird one! This is a conclusion I draw from this business of "games have objects." I don't expect you all to agree with it, and I don't intend to spend too much effort trying to talk you into it if you don't. Nevertheless, I think it's what I think.

In a game, to get the object, you must contend with the rules.

A super easy example: in the Doomed Pilgrim game, your goal is to see me to my doom, but you can only answer my direct questions, so you may not be able to do it.

In a recipe, to get the object, you must follow the rules.

A super easy example: to make a PB&J, spread two slices of bread, one with PB, one with J, then press them together PB to J.

I think that this means that the object of a recipe is worth pursuing all by itself, because it aligns with your natural interests - you're hungry, so a PB&J is worth making - where the object of a game is worth pursuing only because the contention with the rules makes it so.

I think further that this means that an rpg designed as a recipe, not as a game, will fall flat upon its audience instead of seizing their attention and imagination.

1. On 2013-10-08, Vincent said:

2. On 2013-10-08, Robert Burson said:

I think I see what you are getting at, but I would use different words. Maybe the old "it's the journey, not the destination." Cooking with recipes, for example, can be enjoyable all by itself. I can enjoy following a recipe and making a meal without consuming it afterwards. The act of cooking can be fun. I don't even have to know if someone enjoys the food later.

Or, to put it more in gaming terms, I think there is a necessary play pattern. You need game mechanics. Rather than just mechanics. If that makes sense.


3. On 2013-10-08, Gordon said:

Well, you CAN contend with a recipe - any-old PBJ may satisfy my hunger, but unless I toast the bread and get the PB to J ratio just right, my taste buds will be less than pleased. And when just the right temperature/PB-meltiness happens without J overheating, that's the best.

So: agree on contention, not so sure about recipe vs. game? Contention's probably the important part, unless I'm missing something.


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4. On 2013-10-08, timfire said:

This is what Vincent said previously:

"[T]he tools you have [in a game] make it possible for you to achieve your object, but not easy or certain. This is a key idea, the distance or tension between the object of the game and the tools it provides.

To my brain, it seems easier to say that a game gives you an "uncertain" goal, while a recipe gives you a "certain" goal.


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5. On 2013-10-08, Rafu said:

It follows from your definitions, Vincent, that games are a subset of recipes: they're recipes whose object is a specific state of contention.


6. On 2013-10-08, Vincent said:

Whatever, and double whatever!

There are a bunch of interesting games we could look at, real games that really exist, that haven't gripped their audiences the way their creators hoped. Is this why? Is it part of why?


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Rafu go "Might be! Name a specific game"*
VB go "I daren't."*
Rafu go "try with one of yours"*

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7. On 2013-10-08, Kit said:

I've talked a bit with Joe Mcdaldno about just this. From a UX/UI perspective, games are really interesting, because they are intentionally a bit of a bad UX. I think that's cool.


8. On 2013-10-08, Vincent said:

Kit: I see! Aha! That's great!


9. On 2013-10-08, Josh W said:

"the object of a game is worth pursuing only because the contention with the rules makes it so"

That's odd. You could easily say that certain rpgs enable things that wouldn't otherwise be present.

Interestingly, a game that presents you with a recipe for something new will by definition be providing something novel. That means you don't get it till it works, unless it's an obvious derivative of other things. This also means that in the case of an rpg played by humans with it?s system enacted by us not computers, misplays of various kinds, miscommunications of that recipe or lack of applicability in certain circumstances, all of these can stop the finished bread from coming out edible.

The fact that you have to learn and perform the game yourself to achieve an end you haven't yet experienced, tricky!

Conversely, if the game primarily presents you with problems, then direct engagement with the structure of those problems is its own immediate reward. Learning how this game works is about learning how to get through its tangled webs to a natural known goal. The player's interests are aligned with the basic task of learning how to perform the procedures of the game.

But is that what we want? A series of games that give us the same outcomes we had before but with different obstacles?

I don't think so, but I do think that having the system be an obstacle can encourage system mastery, which can enable using it as a recipe for whatever it particularly produces.


10. On 2013-10-08, Seth Ben-Ezra said:

I've long maintained that games are composed of simple activities made arbitrarily hard. The rules are what make those activities hard...and it's this very challenge that makes games fun.


11. On 2013-10-08, Josh W said:

As a non-rpg example, avseq.


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12. On 2013-10-09, Gordon said:

Lost a post - demoralizing. Re-creation attempt:

If players (all-participants sense) think a game is a non-contentious recipe, or treat it as one, is that a problem? Hell yeah.

Is it a problem if designers try and create non-contentious (in Vincent's sense) rules, or fail to help players engage in that contention? Yes, very much so.

Can we talk about games that have this problem? Some people will have no doubt found ways to add what's necessary, but sure. How do we pick one?

The rest - I guess I just let go of for now.


13. On 2013-10-09, Gordon said:

OK, I think I'm missing something, and so I'm gonna go ahead and pick AW even though I just asked "how should we pick [a game]?" Here are some quotes:

[T]he tools you have [in a game] make it possible for you to achieve your object, but not easy or certain. This is a key idea, the distance or tension between the object of the game and the tools it provides.

the object of Apocalypse World is to find out what these characters will make of their world

In a game, to get the object, you must contend with the rules

I'm not finding a way to put these all together. Individually they all make sense to me, but - I don't see a tension between tools and THAT object for AW. I see contending with the rules in AW, of course, but it seems more about getting the specifics of what (the players decide) the characters want, not to get the object.

Seems like that object is kinda a recipe, and it ends up either bland or tasty maybe because of finding ways to add contention - but at some level, no contention really. You WILL found out what the characters make of their world, and it may be "nothing."

Am I missing something, or is Vincent really telling us "virtually no RPG ever, including most of mine, actually has an object under these definitions?"

(I've noticed lately it's hard to decide whether to address questions to Vincent directly or just throw 'em out for discussion. I don't want to expect/seem like I'm demanding a response, but is failing to be direct rude in its own way? I guess all I can do is confirm I'm OK with the obvious: response or none from any or all is totally their choice.)


14. On 2013-10-09, Robert Burson said:

Wait, I think I see it now. (That bit about UI/UX is brilliant.)

So, if a game makes your object a guaranteed success than it ends up being not much of a game (and thus not very satisfying). See also illusionism, I guess.


15. On 2013-10-09, Vincent said:

Gordon: Great question!

For me, the key to it all is Eat Poop You Cat. Eat Poop You Cat is, in these terms, the most rpg-like non-rpg I know.

I think it was Ben said to me once, that RPGs are exquisite corpse games but you make a coherent narrative instead of an incoherent one. The object of Eat Poop You Cat is super easy to achieve, but the tools you have at your disposal create tension in themselves.

Maybe a better way to look at tension than uncertainty is difficulty. My thinking is that, for a certain audience (including, by the way, me), Apocalypse World makes finding out what these characters will make of their world just difficult enough.

Like, it would be easier for us to find out what my hardholder Barbecue would make of his world if you could just turn to me and ask me, and I could just tell you. But making it that easy would rob it of its value.


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16. On 2013-10-09, Piers said:

True story:

My interest in rpg-theory led to me repeatedly having this conversation with an ex-girlfriend: 'Look, I know you think the recipe would be better if we just changed that thing, but can we please just try it the way it is written one time before we alter it?' (Contribution of this conversation to why we aren't together anymore: none.)

But the recipe : rpg rules analogy doesn't really work. Or it might only work if we take the obduracy of certain ingredients into account: the recipe for bechamel sauce is not like rpg rules, or it is only to the extent that you are still faced with the conflict of getting the damn stuff to emulsify properly.

However, if you do want to think about writing recipes as analogous to providing clear and helpful rpg rules, I recommend the introduction to M. F. K. Fisher's With Bold Knife and Fork. Great stuff about the history of the recipe, what was originally left out, etc. Also probably the best writing in a recipe book.


17. On 2013-10-09, Josh W said:

Ok, thought of a simpler explanation; I do love solving puzzles in games, getting through obstacles and learning systems.

But if that is what games represent in this particular schema, then rpgs are also structured creativity. They can also be (as Ron said about dust devils a while ago) "more like a blank canvas with a well-chosen arrray of paints and brushes. So playing it won?t yield a ?mere curiosity,? but rather your group?s own original western, measuring up as well or as poorly to the existing texts as you can manage."

As an aside, I've noticed when playing games with less gamer types who don't quite get them, an interesting pair of attitudes: There are those who focus on creating immediate changes, but don't think in terms of long term strategy, and there are those who focus on a long term strategy, but a creative one not aligned exactly to the win conditions of the game.

In other words, one is engaging with the system itself, feeling it out, seeing what it does, but isn't thinking ahead to an overall goal. The other is seeking an overall goal, but has found the goal of "get so many victory points" underwhelming, and has gone for something more imaginatively interesting like "get a big pile of money", "build loads of stuff" "get an empire from sea to sea" etc.

The trick with people who are interested in games in themselves is that they keep their eye on the goal, but because of the value of the journey of seeking it. You don't really care about having points, but you care about how the game or the other player makes it hard to get points.

And in fact this is something that I think makes rpgs more accessible than many other games; the end state you are aiming for is not something banal like points, but something that people can legitimately want in itself, bringing together the journey/obstacle people and the creative outcome focused people.


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18. On 2013-10-09, Rickard said:

One thing Bernard Suits wrote when he was trying to define games was that they are inefficient. What he meant was that they are often there to slow down the players on their way to the goal. Is that what you're after? Then I agree.

And I can bite into your definition if it's only about one player and the game. If there is two players, then they can fight each other with the rules as a limitation - as something to follow. This is what happens in sport.


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19. On 2013-10-09, Vincent said:

Rickard: My take is that in sports, you usually have to contend both with the other player or other team AND with the rules. Like, in Basketball, you aren't allowed to put the ball through the hoop in any way you want, if only you can manage to overcome the other team, but you ALSO have to deal with the barriers the rules put in your way.


20. On 2013-10-09, Rickard said:

How about two chefs competing in making a PB&J sandwich? :) The recipe tells what they must have but not what more ingredients to add or how to do the presentation. That's what I had in mind when I mentioned sports. Without the opposition, rules in sports would be recipes. With an opposition it's more about clever use of the rules, like how dribbling in Basketball came to life.


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21. On 2013-10-09, Gordon said:

Rickard I've been here before, and it makes me get queasy (not your fault!) But ... I'm pretty sure "opposition" is a dead-end. A golfer, not in a tournament - alone on the course - is contending with the rules just as sincerely and profoundly as teams of [any]ball players do. A climber, alone on a cliff-wall, is engaged with solving the problem before him as deeply and consequentially as a chess-player is engaged with the (shared with his opponent) chessboard.

Or maybe said another way: I think "opposition" is about the easiest thing there is to find.


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22. On 2013-10-11, Andy Hauge said:

It sounds like you're talking about agonia! And suddenly, that all makes sense. Why we play games, why powergamers get such a thrill out of min-maxing, why Burning Wheel (for example) winds up being such an excellent game. Because it's about the struggle. In that light, it's a pity that some gamers give up on rules instead of struggling with them...

(And yeah—when I think about it that way, most powergamers probably aren't in it for the power trip. They're in it because they relish the challenge and the limitations of the game system. They break it because that's how they struggle with the rules!)

And struggle comes from limits. But through struggle comes an empowerment that allows you to transcend those limits, because the struggle makes you grow. So you have to find new limits to struggle against.


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