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Subject: "So the other day, Reiner Knizia and I got into a fight ..." rss

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Andrew Sheerin
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... would be an overly-dramatic way of describing our board game panel at DiGRA 2011, but it was fairly confrontational and generally enlightening despite (or because of) that.

I've just written up the entire event on our blog for those of you interested. Here's the link:
DiGRA 2011: Gamification, Morals, Mimes and a Hungover LARP

And I think I saw someone filming the entire keynote by Reiner and the ensuing panel discussion, so I really hope that sees the light of day soon.

DiGRA was really eye-opening for me - mainly to see how wide the chasm between theory and practice is. I stayed for the entire conference and came home full of ideas and research points. Any designers out there - if you get the chance to attend in 2013, do it, seriously.

TL;DR: If you're pressed for time, bookmark: Antanas Mockus, Nordic Larp and Mary Flannigan on critical play.


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TerrorBull Games wrote:

mainly to see how wide the chasm between theory and practice is.


Sounds like a successful conference.

Uncovering the great and wide schism between theory and practice feels like the uncovering of a universal contradictory truth to me which goes far further than just game design.

Links between theory and practice are more akin to one-night stands than anything else; they never get one another number. But rumors of their love linger longer.
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Andrew Sheerin
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monkeyhandz wrote:

Links between theory and practice are more akin to one-night stands than anything else; they never get one another number. But rumors of their love linger longer.


That is beautiful and profound! Mind if I nick it and pass it off as my own wisdom?
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Rodney Clowsewitz
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If any medium adheres to a certain set of regulations or principle it will quickly grow stale.(I'm looking at you big company video games, Hollywood movies and Pop music).

Some of my favorite games don't promote positive morality. I have to be moral in real life. Sometimes I like a break and want to steal your loot and feed you to a dragon as I escape through the back tunnel.

Seccondly, games don't have to be about real life. Thematically, I'd much prefer to play a post apocalyptic zombie game then a game called "My Shitty Job". A real time adventure of data entry and a soon to be released blue collar expansion where you can stamp labels onto cans on an assembly line.
Mechanically, I prefer games with tough choices I'd never want to make in real life such as should I feed my family this season or stock up on brick instead? Should I sacrifice this guy so my higher victory point pawn can make it to the exit?
Boardgames, like all games, are a distraction from real life and this is why we enjoy them.

For boardgames to grow in popularity they can't only target the "family fun night" crowd. They also have to target the deranged, the solo player and the group of stoned college kids and I'm glad you guys are around to fill up that (very) niche market.
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Andrew Sheerin
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Rodney, I do agree with you in many ways. But actually "real life" doesn't have to be about your shitty job Personally, I like games that explicitly reference the "real world", because I think it makes for a more powerful roleplay experience. But here's the thing - games and playing are essentially roleplay. So when you endanger your hypothetical family, or you stab someone in the back, you are analysing and exploring genuine "real life" thought processes and conflicts and acting on them - albeit within the safe confines of a theoretical world. This could be classed as real life behaviour and depending on the context it might or might not have any deeper significance, but it certainly shouldn't be written off simply because it involves dragons.

Believe it or not, our target audience is fairly mainstream - including families. Stoned college kids love our games, sure, but they love most games! We've found however, that those people with whom our games tend most to resonate are those who don't play games that often, but are drawn in by the promise of the theme and being "allowed" to take a position (or role) that is normally frowned upon; that of the baddie.
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Brian Schroth
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That's rather sad that Knizia's talk was so silly. He likes to make games of a very limited style, so now he's come up with "rules of game design" that say you have to make games of that very limiting style? Sounds like he's let those 500 published games get to his head.
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Andrew Sheerin
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BagelManB wrote:
That's rather sad that Knizia's talk was so silly.


It lacked profundity for me, but also bear in mind that I was paraphrasing his position and his talk lasted for 40 mins, so don't take my word too much as gospel. However, I happen to agree with you about what you say regarding the limited style. But when that limited style works so well, who can blame him?
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Brian Schroth
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TerrorBull Games wrote:
BagelManB wrote:
That's rather sad that Knizia's talk was so silly.


It lacked profundity for me, but also bear in mind that I was paraphrasing his position and his talk lasted for 40 mins, so don't take my word too much as gospel. However, I happen to agree with you about what you say regarding the limited style. But when that limited style works so well, who can blame him?


I can't blame him for sticking to his limited but successful style. I can blame him for thinking it's the only way. Then again, you are no different, saying you strongly with his rule that "Games are about real life". Maybe the games you like are, but certainly they don't have to be. They don't even have to be about anything!
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monkeyhandz wrote:
Links between theory and practice are more akin to one-night stands than anything else; they never get one another number. But rumors of their love linger longer.


In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they rarely are.
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Ralph T
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What were rule 2 and 5?
And can you explain what he meant to say about "Games are about real life?" Clearly he doesn't mean that literally. His games on Star Trek and Lord of the Rings, Blue Moon, and "Scary Tales" are not real life. So it doesn't mean that literally.
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Richard Dewsbery
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TerrorBull Games wrote:
So the other day, Reiner Knizia and I got into a fight ...


There we are, straight away my ability to suspend disbelief is stretched beyond breaking point.

Reiner does not get into fights. Instead, he has a little book, and if you upset him enough your name goes in it.
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manyslayer wrote:


In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they rarely are.


See also: The difference between theory and practice is greater in practice than in theory.
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Andrew Sheerin
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RDewsbery wrote:
TerrorBull Games wrote:
So the other day, Reiner Knizia and I got into a fight ...


There we are, straight away my ability to suspend disbelief is stretched beyond breaking point.

Reiner does not get into fights. Instead, he has a little book, and if you upset him enough your name goes in it.


Well I did pretty much say at the very top of my post that this was a complete fabrication
 
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BagelManB wrote:
Then again, you are no different, saying you strongly with his rule that "Games are about real life". Maybe the games you like are, but certainly they don't have to be.


Fair point. You're quite right, they don't have to be. I should expand what I believe in and say that games *should* be about real life *if* they are to have cultural or social benefit.
 
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ralpher wrote:
And can you explain what he meant to say about "Games are about real life?" Clearly he doesn't mean that literally.


Really I was baffled at this as he seemed to mean it literally and his slide stated this rule pretty straight-forwardly and yet the content of his talk at this point didn't refer back to it much ... if at all, if memory serves me correctly. He talked about "through the desert" and how the feelings that come to the surface - "oh no, he's trying to ring-fence that area; ah, she's trying for the longest caravan; I've got to protect my waterhole" etc.etc. - are felt "for real", ie. they are emotions and desires in you that the game has brought out, but kind of exist also without the game (you develop a certain animosity towards your fellow players). I'm totally reading into what he's saying here, but I think he was kind of summing up the magic circle. It wasn't explicit, but that's what I got out of it.

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TerrorBull Games wrote:
BagelManB wrote:
Then again, you are no different, saying you strongly with his rule that "Games are about real life". Maybe the games you like are, but certainly they don't have to be.


Fair point. You're quite right, they don't have to be. I should expand what I believe in and say that games *should* be about real life *if* they are to have cultural or social benefit.


What do you mean by "cultural or social benefit"?
 
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BagelManB wrote:
TerrorBull Games wrote:
BagelManB wrote:
Then again, you are no different, saying you strongly with his rule that "Games are about real life". Maybe the games you like are, but certainly they don't have to be.


Fair point. You're quite right, they don't have to be. I should expand what I believe in and say that games *should* be about real life *if* they are to have cultural or social benefit.


What do you mean by "cultural or social benefit"?


That's a hard question to answer. If we treat games (not "play", but games) as media, then it's safe to say that just like any media there is a scale from "high brow" to "pop". Of course,this scale is both subjective and contentious but nevertheless it exists for all artistic endeavours: play, film, books, poetry, you name it.

Nothing wrong with the pop end, but it tends to be shallow and transient and have limited lasting social impact or cultural benefit (sometimes none if it's really empty and trashy - I'm looking at you, Miss Congeniality 2).

So, very broadly speaking, that's what I mean. A game can be anything, but a meaningful game, by definition needs to be relevant.
 
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TerrorBull Games wrote:
BagelManB wrote:
TerrorBull Games wrote:
BagelManB wrote:
Then again, you are no different, saying you strongly with his rule that "Games are about real life". Maybe the games you like are, but certainly they don't have to be.


Fair point. You're quite right, they don't have to be. I should expand what I believe in and say that games *should* be about real life *if* they are to have cultural or social benefit.


What do you mean by "cultural or social benefit"?


That's a hard question to answer. If we treat games (not "play", but games) as media, then it's safe to say that just like any media there is a scale from "high brow" to "pop". Of course,this scale is both subjective and contentious but nevertheless it exists for all artistic endeavours: play, film, books, poetry, you name it.

Nothing wrong with the pop end, but it tends to be shallow and transient and have limited lasting social impact or cultural benefit (sometimes none if it's really empty and trashy - I'm looking at you, Miss Congeniality 2).

So, very broadly speaking, that's what I mean. A game can be anything, but a meaningful game, by definition needs to be relevant.


So how exactly do games have lasting social impact or cultural benefit?
 
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Rob Doupe
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red black wrote:
I heard somewhere (maybe a podcast) that Reiner doesn't play other people's games. I don't know how Reiner can argue there are 5 rules for all board game designs. He must have been talking only about his own approach even if he doesn't want to admit it.


I think you'd be surprised how many game designers don't play their own games once they're published, let alone other designers' games.
 
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BagelManB wrote:
TerrorBull Games wrote:
BagelManB wrote:
TerrorBull Games wrote:
I should expand what I believe in and say that games *should* be about real life *if* they are to have cultural or social benefit.


What do you mean by "cultural or social benefit"?


That's a hard question to answer. If we treat games (not "play", but games) as media, then it's safe to say that just like any media there is a scale from "high brow" to "pop". Of course,this scale is both subjective and contentious but nevertheless it exists for all artistic endeavours: play, film, books, poetry, you name it.

Nothing wrong with the pop end, but it tends to be shallow and transient and have limited lasting social impact or cultural benefit (sometimes none if it's really empty and trashy - I'm looking at you, Miss Congeniality 2).

So, very broadly speaking, that's what I mean. A game can be anything, but a meaningful game, by definition needs to be relevant.


So how exactly do games have lasting social impact or cultural benefit?


It seems that (most) games need to reflect the culture into which they're published in order to resonate with audiences.

The Game of Life was based on The Checkered Game of Life, a then-despondent Milton Bradley's first design, in which suicide was a space upon which you could land. That obviously would not play in 1960s America.

Talking with some parents with young children, I understand that newer versions of Candy Land have toned it down on the sweets a little bit; I also seem to remember one of them mentioning they did away with the peanut-based character due to the rise in allergies. Candy Land was originally designed by a nurse to entertain children with polio and take their mind off the pain. (I personally think that explains a lot about the game, since it's main design goal was "more fun than polio", but I digress...)

The polarization around here sometimes about Euros vs. AT "Thematic" games has in some ways reminded me of what I've seen in youth sports in recent years. You've started to see rec leagues where they don't even keep score (no player elimination, indirect conflict), and on the other side you see people hiring personal trainers for their 11 year olds (direct conflict, winner-take-all). It's not a perfect analogy, but it does seem like the rise of Settlers et al. caused somewhat of a backlash in people who like games but prefer the other style, as I assume one caused the other in youth sports.

To more directly answer the question, I think it's difficult for games to be highbrow because they also have to be fun. Even in video games, where they have the benefit of cutscenes and NPCs to help tell a story (which, let's face it, flavor text on cards rarely, if ever, lives up to that), it's challenging; I loved the story in BioShock but didn't finish playing because I thought the gameplay was totally dull. I can't see a board game like Train ever lining the shelves at Wal-Mart. I do think, though, that games can be used to a limited degree as a cultural barometer.

And some games can make subtle statements; Arctic Scavengers is about global warming, Monopoly has some very interesting things to say about capitalism...I'm sure there are better examples, but that's just off the top of my head.
 
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VolcanoLotus wrote:
BagelManB wrote:
TerrorBull Games wrote:
BagelManB wrote:
TerrorBull Games wrote:
I should expand what I believe in and say that games *should* be about real life *if* they are to have cultural or social benefit.


What do you mean by "cultural or social benefit"?


That's a hard question to answer. If we treat games (not "play", but games) as media, then it's safe to say that just like any media there is a scale from "high brow" to "pop". Of course,this scale is both subjective and contentious but nevertheless it exists for all artistic endeavours: play, film, books, poetry, you name it.

Nothing wrong with the pop end, but it tends to be shallow and transient and have limited lasting social impact or cultural benefit (sometimes none if it's really empty and trashy - I'm looking at you, Miss Congeniality 2).

So, very broadly speaking, that's what I mean. A game can be anything, but a meaningful game, by definition needs to be relevant.


So how exactly do games have lasting social impact or cultural benefit?


It seems that (most) games need to reflect the culture into which they're published in order to resonate with audiences.

The Game of Life was based on The Checkered Game of Life, a then-despondent Milton Bradley's first design, in which suicide was a space upon which you could land. That obviously would not play in 1960s America.

Talking with some parents with young children, I understand that newer versions of Candy Land have toned it down on the sweets a little bit; I also seem to remember one of them mentioning they did away with the peanut-based character due to the rise in allergies. Candy Land was originally designed by a nurse to entertain children with polio and take their mind off the pain. (I personally think that explains a lot about the game, since it's main design goal was "more fun than polio", but I digress...)

The polarization around here sometimes about Euros vs. AT "Thematic" games has in some ways reminded me of what I've seen in youth sports in recent years. You've started to see rec leagues where they don't even keep score (no player elimination, indirect conflict), and on the other side you see people hiring personal trainers for their 11 year olds (direct conflict, winner-take-all). It's not a perfect analogy, but it does seem like the rise of Settlers et al. caused somewhat of a backlash in people who like games but prefer the other style, as I assume one caused the other in youth sports.

To more directly answer the question, I think it's difficult for games to be highbrow because they also have to be fun. Even in video games, where they have the benefit of cutscenes and NPCs to help tell a story (which, let's face it, flavor text on cards rarely, if ever, lives up to that), it's challenging; I loved the story in BioShock but didn't finish playing because I thought the gameplay was totally dull. I can't see a board game like Train ever lining the shelves at Wal-Mart. I do think, though, that games can be used to a limited degree as a cultural barometer.

And some games can make subtle statements; Arctic Scavengers is about global warming, Monopoly has some very interesting things to say about capitalism...I'm sure there are better examples, but that's just off the top of my head.


Um...so again, how do games have lasting social impact or cultural benefit? Maybe an example?
 
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I was mostly agreeing with you. They don't, at least not in the sense that people walk out of, I don't know, Dead Man Walking upset about the death penalty. I do think it's possible some of them influence people's attitudes somewhat. I wrote a satirical review of the Game of Life that semi-seriously questioned whether the game helps indoctrinate children. I know the Maoists tried to stamp out Go, but that seemed to be more about the game's association with Confucius than the game itself.

Basically, I wouldn't phrase it as social impact/cultural benefit because I don't think that's literally true, but I do think some games are more "real" than others.
 
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VolcanoLotus wrote:
I was mostly agreeing with you. They don't, at least not in the sense that people walk out of, I don't know, Dead Man Walking upset about the death penalty. I do think it's possible some of them influence people's attitudes somewhat. I wrote a satirical review of the Game of Life that semi-seriously questioned whether the game helps indoctrinate children. I know the Maoists tried to stamp out Go, but that seemed to be more about the game's association with Confucius than the game itself.

Basically, I wouldn't phrase it as social impact/cultural benefit because I don't think that's literally true, but I do think some games are more "real" than others.


I don't know how you can agree with me, I'm not sure I've taken a position to agree with! I'm just trying to figure out what you're trying to say.

From what I can tell, you've said two different things, and they don't particularly complement each other.

1. Games must be about the real world to have social impact/cultural benefit.

2. Games don't have social impact/cultural benefit.
 
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BagelManB wrote:

Um...so again, how do games have lasting social impact or cultural benefit? Maybe an example?


Forgive the egotism of my reply, but the example obviously at the forefront of my mind would be War on Terror. Just the existence of a board game with this name already tells you quite a lot about the social, political and cultural environment around 2006 when it came out, before you even delve into the content of the game or how it's played. Additionally, we have received countless reports of the game literally changing how people think towards aspects of the real 'war on terror' and it is now in the permanent collection of several museums and galleries, including the Imperial War Museum and the Bodleian Library. I'd argue that (whether deserved or not is another question!) qualifies for having a "lasting social impact and cultural benefit". And clearly at least a handful of museum curators agree.

So I disagree strongly with VolcanoLotus in this mini-discussion that games cannot be "high brow" because they need to entertain. You may as well claim the same about film. Two things in this assertion are wrong:
1) Entertainment excludes "high brow" themes
2) Games must be entertaining

There are several games that are deliberately unsettling and explore the darker aspects of play. I've just been reading about Nordic Larp, for example, which is frequently destructive and entertaining only in a post-experience kind of sense.

So, to attempt to answer your question in a succinct fashion: games achieve lasting cultural meaning in the same way that other artistic media do: by being relevant, by saying something new or different, or by speaking a truth that - while not necessarily new - is not often heard, or is expressed in a new way. And ultimately by provoking thought and challenging accepted ideas. Games are very well suited to doing all of these things (sometimes better than static media like film), we just need a shift of attitude from across the spectrum - designers, retailers, customers - to be more open to it.

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If you're trying to assess the social/cultural impact of something, it's usually not a good idea to engage with its surface meaning too much. It's silly to read very much into the existence of a game that teaches us about global warming, for instance. While Ulysses did a fair job of demonstrating the plight of turn-of-the-century Dublin's sexually-repressed cuckolded Jewish men to the world, that's really not what most people have come away from it with.

Most of the lasting cultural impact that games have had is that they've helped us refine our conception of what a game can be. Games that, by our current standards, aren't very good - The Checkered Game of Life, Candy Land, Monopoly - were all successful enough that people played them, and started developing an understanding of what a game is. Without that, we wouldn't have had people thinking, "Well, that was fun, but it could be better."

This isn't a very satisfying answer for people who want to make games out to be more significant than they are. (Generally speaking, anyone who uses the phrase "cultural impact" is likely to be trying to make something out to be more significant than it is.) But it's important to realize that games are culture. The social impact of games is that people play them. As games evolve, the experience of people who are playing games changes.

To go back to Ulysses, apart from the long-forgotten obscenity trial, the lasting impact that the novel has had is in the way that people who have read it have been changed by it. People who don't write novels have had their experience of what a novel and its language can do broadened, and people who do write novels have had their conceptions of what their work could possibly encompass altered. Art changes the world, but most of what it changes about the world is what we expect from art, and what artists expect from themselves.

Games are no different. The cultural impact of Dominion is that it shows how deck-building could be something you could organize a game around and - crucially - that the result would be something that tons of people would play obsessively. So we get Thunderstone and Ascension and Eminent Domain, but more to the point we also get hundreds of thousands of people who are familiar and comfortable with the idea that building a deck is something that you can have fun doing. Putting an idea into the heads of large numbers of people and getting that idea to be part of their working set of ideas: that's culture.
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