Raph Was Right

One of the most significant things that I took away from Raph Koster’s excellent book A Theory of Fun— which seems to be discontinued, sadly enough– was that to bring games into the realm of art, one thing that they must learn to do is to convey true life lessons– to truly teach us something about the human condition (and not just by remediating old film conventions via plot).

One example he gave of this was a game that forces you to balance power with friends, in which your power to act is dictated by people controlled, and power to heal dictated by allies. Then he implements an algorithmic and exponential falloff of allies as power increases, leaving you to  discover for yourself that, it is indeed quite lonely at the top.

I won’t discuss the anecdote too much, other than to say that it has substantially informed the way that I’ve looked at the formal systems implemented in games ever since, and that is why I was so excited to see this article written up over at The Escapist.

The trap of perfectionism is particularly treacherous for computer programmers, since we’re saddled atop of Turing-complete programming languages that are capable of doing almost anything. Every bug is fixable. Every behavioral rough spot can be smoothed over with just a bit more coding, a smidgen of extra special-case logic. Programming isn’t like carving something out of marble, where if your sculpture’s nose is too small, you must either live with it or start over with a fresh block of marble. Our code bases can be massaged indefinitely.

In designing a game to explore this issue, I thought about players tweaking some set of game objects toward a goal, but forcing them to decide how far toward the goal they needed to go.


It’s hard to believe the renaissance that we’re currently experiencing in the industry due to the rise of Indies and the easy proliferation of data over the web. Give it ten years and maybe we’ll reach our Citizen Kane.


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