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Keeping the player in dream

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larienna
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Almost 2 years ago, I wrote an article on my site that explains that games should put a player into a dream. This theory was inspired after seeing the inception movie. The article can be found here:

http://bgd.lariennalibrary.com/index.php?n=DesignArticle.Article20100813...

Now I am trying to push the concept forward and trying to determine what can keep a player in dream and prevent his mind from rejecting the game. I decided to post here first to get more feedback before writing an article.

The 2 problems found so far are:

Brain calculations: If the game requires a lot of calculation from the players, it will kick out the player from the dream because he will not see the game as an experience any more but rather a combination of mechanics that can be resolved with maths.

Illogical with theme: if the many mechanics does not make sense with the theme, the player's mind will eventually reject the dream which will kick him out. This is because the game does not give the immersive experience the player would expect from the theme.

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Why should we keep players into a dream?

If the player is dreaming, he sees the game as an experience rather than a series of mechanics. So a game like puerto rico will feeling like:

"Managing a colony in the Caribbean" rather than "Role selection and resources management".

Managing a plantation in the Caribbean looks like an interesting experience compared role section and resource management.

So by keeping the player in dream, the player is focusing on experience and does not event bother about the bottom mechanics of the game. While if the player is kicked out of the dream, then it's all about analysing mechanics and optimising actions and resources.

It also means that a player would bother less about a game with flawed or unbalanced mechanics if he is still in dream.

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Another things that I could consider is that kids can dream more easily than adults which became too much rational (or boring). So this could be a reason why adults like games that makes no sense and where the theme is irrelevant. It's because they cannot dream. In fact, I think they can dream, but they just don't want to because of various reasons including social stigmatisation.

On the other hand the kids games are too simple and too dumb. Sometimes they have little strategy and sometimes it feels like the designed did not care if their game is bad as long as kids are not intelligent enough to realise that the game is bad. Since kids have a dreaming ability that is so strong, it will exceed the bad mechanics of the game making the bad game good.

The problem is that there is little games that fit in between. This is why, most of my games that I make tries to make the player dreams while giving him enough strategic options. This is why, many of my variants tries to simplify the game or make mechanics have more sense with the theme. The objective is to keep the player in the dream.

This is why I came up the with idea of loose strategy games. Games where there are decision, but where a bad decision will not cost you the game. For adult that cannot dream, that might be seen as a very simple game because it's not a puzzle challenging enough.

I think I am in the category of the few adults that can still dream a bit, but not as much as a kid. It might also be the reason why there is a lot of games out there that I don't like, especially euros, because they are only about mechanics, not dream at all in there.

I don't know is some of you share the same point of view. Else I would like to know what else could kick out a player from the dream.

suf
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The dream state should be the target of a design

Great topic!

Illogical with theme is what kicks me out also, although I love euros in general.

Another thing that kicks me out is too much random in a long game. Like an incredibly bad roll after 6 hours of careful planning in TI3.

Waiting 15-20 minutes for your turn in TTA is not easy to overlook also.

Overused mechanics making the core of the game are usually annoying, like simple set collection where you have to combine stuff to maximize points, long auctions where you make little to no strategic decisions, dice rolling with little to no means of countering a bad roll.

Some players don't like the upkeep: pushing lots of bits around, having to work with small bits or tight spaces.

Counter-intuitive rules (somewhat related to pasted on theme).

Other reasons are usually a sign of bad design and are things that make you angry or annoyed or make you lose interest in winning, like obvious lack of balance or almost impossible winning conditions.

larienna
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Games and Imagination

I talked about it to my girl friend who studied in psychology.

There would be a minority of adult people who would still have the capability of dreaming. People who plays role playing games are more likely to be able to dream because they have the ability to create the world in their head which is not something that apparently everybody can do.

As for if board games can help players learn to dream, the answer is probably NO. Board games and Role playing games are all in the player's head. It's the player's imagination that enhance the game. If players had little imagination, they is no way they can learn that ability from them. But maybe using medias like video games and movies could be easier because they can actually see the world under their eyes, they have little to imagine.

Second, since the new generation of people play more games than the older generation, people are more likely in the future to have a stronger imagination capability.

So as for game design, how do you design games that fit in between? My idea is that you need to have a good game that offers good strategic decision, that is not too long and that does not ask to do heavy calculations. That would make the game playable for 8+ or 10+ years old. So that the younger people with stronger imagination and the adults with dreaming skills would enjoy the game. While the more rational adults, they might be willing to play the game with their kids because it is not a bad game, but it's just not enough challenging for them to play with other adults.

I think that this could be the optimal way to maximise the target audience for that style of games.

By the ways, those who have not seen "the Imaginarium of Dr. Parnasus" movie should really take a look. It somewhat talk about the idea that imagination can free you.

Dulkal
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larienna

larienna wrote:
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Why should we keep players into a dream?

If the player is dreaming, he sees the game as an experience rather than a series of mechanics. So a game like puerto rico will feeling like:

"Managing a colony in the Caribbean" rather than "Role selection and resources management".

Managing a plantation in the Caribbean looks like an interesting experience compared role section and resource management.

So by keeping the player in dream, the player is focusing on experience and does not event bother about the bottom mechanics of the game. While if the player is kicked out of the dream, then it's all about analysing mechanics and optimising actions and resources.


Am I right in saying that the 'dream' is closely related to suspension of disbelief?

larienna
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There is probably a better

There is probably a better expression than "Dream". I think I prefer to use Imagination.

Apparently, this could be the reasons why most table top RPG are played by teenagers, it's because they require some sense of imagination from the players to be able to imagine the world they are playing it.

So in board games, player's imagination would enhance the game and make it look better than what it seems. So designing games which make sense with the theme and not too much complicated would make it easier for the players to use tehir imagination.

It reminds me of when we were trading sheep for brick at 4:1 in settlers of catan. My friends used to say that they compacted sheep into small blocks that became brick.

But a player with little imagination will never think that far when making a 4:1 trade.

Dulkal
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larienna wrote:There is

larienna wrote:
There is probably a better expression than "Dream". I think I prefer to use Imagination.

Reading your posts again, I think I would actually divide what you are talking of into two separate concepts.

First, there's the issue of imagination. It is the ability of the players to 'create' a context for what is happening in the game. It could be the ability to imagine an RPG world, or the ability to imagine a 'story' behind the game that is larger than what the game provides. I am not sure if I'd put compressing sheep into bricks in this category in relation to the game. It's certainly related to imagination, but it is more a recognization of the absurd in using sheep to build something solid when no one wants to trade you bricks.

Imagination does not have to be all or nothing. You can play a pretty abstract game of settlers and imagine the trade anyway. You can play an RPG where you spend most of the time playing strategic battles and tweaking the stats of your character, and then once in a while engage in some degree of imagining (I'd actually guess that this is the most common way to play D&D). In other words, you don't "keep players imagining". Imagination works at various levels, and it works on and off throughout the game. You can, however, design your game to play more to the imagination of the players, and many thematic games try to do so.

The second issue is that of suspension of disbelief. We all know that we are not 'there', but if the interaction clicks, we allow ourselves to forget. It's probably less common with board games than it is with other genres (movies, console games). This 'forgetting' takes some effort on the part of the players, but if the design is good, it is easy. The thing with suspension of disbelief is that it's all-encompassing. We can suspend our disbelief to quite a large degree, but if something cracks the illusion, it's bad. If you want your players to be able to suspend disbelief while playing your game, you have to be very careful to avoid mechanics that make players go 'wait a second, that isn't right'.

I think that the design steps you need to take if you want to invoke imagination and if you want to invoke suspension of disbelief are related, but not equal. Shooting from the hip, I'd say imagination is easier because you can take a step back once in a while and use more abstract mechanics or allow yourself to take the player out of the 'dream' when the game calls for it. That is harder to do if you really want to give the players the sense that they are somewhere else.

rtwombly
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larienna wrote: It reminds me

larienna wrote:

It reminds me of when we were trading sheep for brick at 4:1 in settlers of catan. My friends used to say that they compacted sheep into small blocks that became brick.

But a player with little imagination will never think that far when making a 4:1 trade.


An excellent example, but maybe not in the way you intended. Clearly your friends are WRONG in the purely adult sense. What the 4:1 trade in Catan represents is a barter economy in which any given resource is always worth 1/4th the value of a unit of any other resource -- the value of a flock of four sheep always meets or exceeds the value of one load of bricks -- which isn't much of a stretch. When Teuber was designing, I'm sure this is broadly what he had in mind.

But of course your friends are RIGHT in the imaginary sense. The theme in Catan is loose enough to allow multiple interpretations. The sheep could be compacting into bricks. I can just imagine a wall falling down and the mason complaining that it isn't his fault if the darn sheep bricks are slippery. Just like the old saying, "A baaaa'd workman always blames his tools."

Seriously, folks, I'll be watching this discussion because it strikes me that very few games walk the line larienna is describing. Immersion is hard to pull off if the game is to be functional and playable at any depth. Has Martin Wallace ever pulled it off? Has Knizia? I put forth Dixit as a game that allows one to enter a dreamlike state, but not one with any narrative consistency.

And what about a dream within a dream?

SlyBlu7
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How do you classify

How do you classify competitive gaming then? For example, my friend is an avid M:TG player, but he doesn't particularly care if Phyrexia is overrunning some other continent. In fact, many games only have the thinnest veneer of a story attached - look at the Sodapop Miniatures "Super Dungeon Explorer" - the theme is an 8bit videogame, but the reason that your explorers are entering the dungeon, what their names are, where they came from, none of that is really explained.
I play Warhammer, and I am against what players call "Fluffy gaming" which means collecting an army that represents a force from the vast reams of background story attached to the game (they have their own publishing company for fictional stories). I play the games with a calculating mind, constantly using math, odds, and percentages. I reduce it down to a game of numbers, and still enjoy every outing. I love the fiction, but when I'm actively engaged in the game I just don't care about it.
How do you classify players who approach games from this perspective?

larienna
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Quote:Imagination works at

Quote:
Imagination works at various levels, and it works on and off throughout the game.

Interesting, that is quite true that it could be hard to keep your player focused in an imaginative state all the time. But I think it should be more like a variation of the level of immersivity. Because there seems to be something that once the game kick you out of immersivity, it's really hard to get back in. So maybe it fluctuate through game play, but when it reaches a limit you are kicked out.

Quote:
I think that the design steps you need to take if you want to invoke imagination and if you want to invoke suspension of disbelief are related, but not equal.

So Imagination is about creation while suspension of disbelief is about feeling beign elsewhere. They are like 2 side of the same medal that mutually help each other.

Quote:
Immersion is hard to pull off if the game is to be functional and playable at any depth. Has Martin Wallace ever pulled it off? Has Knizia?

These people only see the mechanics and the math behind the game. So it's pointless for them to value imagination because they cannot perceive it.

Quote:
How do you classify competitive gaming then?

I imagine that by competitive gaming you mean a playing to earn money or win a tournament? In that case, it might be harder to get immersed in a game because there is something at stakes. And that simply raise the tension and brings the game to a different level. For example, playing poker is boring, but playing poker with a 1000$ bet suddenly becomes interesting even if the game has not changed at all. This is why MTG is much more exiting to play with the Ante simply because there is something at stakes, but it does not add more strategy to the game.

I think that to get immersed in a game, you must play the game for fun. The game must be pure entertainment.

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About this topic history: after I received few replies from this thread, I wrote an article on my website and posted the news on BGG. Then it made a controversy on BGG. Apparently, it was the way that I expressed my self that made people think that I knew it better than everybody, that I was accusing people of having no imagination and that games needed to use imagination to be good. So I had to rewrite some part of the article to be less "offensive". It's possible that when I wrote the article, I was in an aggressive mood, I just hope the article is better now. Here is the link and give me your thoughts:

http://bgd.lariennalibrary.com/index.php?n=DesignArticle.Article-Imagina...

rtwombly
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Friendly Advice

larienna wrote:
About this topic history: after I received few replies from this thread, I wrote an article on my website and posted the news on BGG. Then it made a controversy on BGG. Apparently, it was the way that I expressed my self that made people think that I knew it better than everybody, that I was accusing people of having no imagination and that games needed to use imagination to be good. So I had to rewrite some part of the article to be less "offensive".

Hmm. I missed the controversy on BGG, but having re-read the article and a couple more on your site, I have some friendly advice. Your writing reminds me of reading somebody's diary. You speak from a definite bias, and though you occasionally preface your comments with "to me" or "I think", the tone of your articles suggests a limited appreciation for the range of gamer tastes.

For instance, you discuss your dislike for auction mechanics in games where the auction does not simulate a similar real-life experience. The article makes some good points, but you lose the sympathy of your audience with your counter example. A dice-base mechanic for a technology race? Any Age of Steam/Caylus/Puerto Rico fan would turn their nose up at such an indignity! These are gamers for whom determinism and perfect information are the highest art. They have neither respect nor sympathy for the designer who sacrifices these essentials for mere thematic resonance.

My point is that some readers are not going to be able to overlook your preference for theme and experience, because what they're looking for in games is symmetry and intellectual satisfaction. If you would like your articles to have broad appeal, you might adapt your style to pay more lip-service to the abstract and strategic gamers. If you haven't done so, please listen to Ryan Sturm & Geoff Engelstein's recent podcast with Lews Pulsipher on Epic Gaming. The range of tastes is quite evident, but it doesn't (for the most part) get in the way of the discussion. It's also worth noting that Prof Pulsipher's credentials establish him as an authority in the field.

On topic, have you considered that imagination is the wellspring of mathematics? Pythagoras and Archimedes were highly imaginative. I think the strategic game designers I mentioned are as well. Perhaps another movie metaphor will help to illustrate: Once you see the Matrix, you can't unsee it, but stare at the Matrix long enough and you can read its language. You can pick the woman in the red dress out of the stream of numbers.

I submit that there is no dichotomy between calculation and imagination. There is only "language" and "imagery". Neither exists apart from the other and either may express the other. An immersive design may wear its mechanics on its sleeve and still thoroughly engage the player. But perhaps not on the first play, which is a big problem in the era of "The New Hotness". Perhaps the successful designs of the future will embrace modularity, enticing the player with the intuitive, imaginative, and thematic, before offering more abstract strategic choices.

larienna
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Thank you for your comments,

Thank you for your comments, very interesting.

The reason why I use the `"to me" or "I think"` formula is to clearly indicate that it's a personal preference and not a universal rules. Because if I try to state it as a universal rule, there is even more objections since it's never a universal rule. In fact I don't think there are that many universal rules. A designer could design a game around breaking a universal rule and it could work.

So it's really related to my tastes and I know that many people out there does not have the same tastes than I do. But by using the formulation above it's a way to prevent the "I am right and you are wrong" syndrome and it's another the way to make other people discover different tastes or another point of view.

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