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April 09, 2006

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What you called 'seeing the Matrix in the Matrix' reminds me of the metagaming concept that is (was?) used in pen and paper rpg's. In these games, it is not considered a good thing to think about the mechanics of the game while playing.

Seems like it's not good for suspension of disbelief and immersion. But these games are usually not designed for competitive play.

Different kind of games = different kind of fun. I don't think that all games are "about the quest to understand mechanics", but some are. And, as you said, there are many ways to enjoy a game.

The point is, I doubt that it is possible to design a game that is equally fun for all player types (or for all types of fun, if you consider that every player can chose to enjoy each games differently).

To use Jesper Juul's vocabulary, a game with a strong progression element will probably be more enjoyable without metagaming while a game with a strong emergence element may become more enjoyable whit it. Additionally, a player's approach to a game is likely to evolve as he plays it more and more.

I hope I'm not off subject on this, as I have not seen your actual presentation, neither have I read Sirlin's book... but your post sure made me wish I did both.

I gave you the book because I thought you were ready to receive it. ;) I can sense from your lectures that you really do struggle to learn as much as you can and see things from different perspectives, and you don't presume to know everything. Another designer would not have learned nearly as much as you did from that Splinter Cell video.

I have had the fortune seeing and living competitive games more than most people, and I've had the opportunity to peak into more communities than just the one I grew up with. From where I sit, I've been able to see things most other people haven't had the chance to see. I decided to write down what I learned, and I tried to communicate that there's more to the puzzle that even I'm missing, such as how the biochemistry of personality types factors into competitive games. And yes, seeing more than one game community was akin to seeing a magician do his trick twice: the similarities and differences give away how it all works underneath.

On the other hand, I've had the horrible misfortune of working at game companies that were terrible and/or went bankrupt, so I'm openly jealous of your track record, but that's another story.

By handing you my book, I didn't intend to say "I disagree with you" about seeing-the-matrix, but yes I did want to provide the other side of it. As you said, it is the duty of the copmetitive gamer to cut through the pretty graphics, understand the underlying topology of the game, and min/max it to death. If it's well designed, there will still be a game left. If you present only the topology with no "matrix" dressing it up with great presentation, then no one will play it in the first place.

The thing I really wish you DID say at the end of your lecture was "And that is why overly restrictive Terms of Service used by MMO companies like Blizzard and Sony are so bad. They are killing intentionality and exploration when far more relaxed rules would suffice to keep the game going. Ensuring that players play a game the way designers intended is not a big concern; it's player intent that matters and makes a game fun." I oversimplified that, but hopefully you get what I'm saying. Your talk was extremely relevant to MMO design, yet your message will fall on deaf ears there.

I'm rambling now. Thanks for the review!
--Sirlin

"Playing to Win" is a great book. For Sirlin, games aren't just entertainment, they are opportunities for communal exploration of highly complex possibility-spaces, and platforms for serious self-reflection and improvement. The games he is interested in are the kinds of games that people play for decades, for centuries, without exhausting all of their secrets. I'd love to see more mainstream computer and videogames with a commitment to the kind of depth that Sirlin finds in competitive gaming. Maybe if we could prorate roayalties over generations...

You may want to let your readers know that his book is now available for free on his website:

http://www.sirlin.net/ptw

"Playing to Win" is a great book. For Sirlin, games aren't just entertainment, they are opportunities for communal exploration of highly complex possibility-spaces, and platforms for serious self-reflection and improvement. The games he is interested in are the kinds of games that people play for decades, for centuries, without exhausting all of their secrets. I'd love to see more mainstream computer and videogames with a commitment to the kind of depth that Sirlin finds in competitive gaming. Maybe if we could prorate roayalties over generations...

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