It’s a multi-posting day. Here’s a really good article about what makes games fun:
http://crystaltips.typepad.com/wonderland/2005/03/raphs_keynote.html found via the ever helpful BoingBoing.
Some interesting quotes to ponder:
Fun is the feedback the brain gives while successfully absorbing a pattern.
Games are the cartoon version of real world sophisticated problems.
Games are distillation of cognitive schemata. That’s. What. They. Are. They are prefab chunks – you can run through and practice without actually having to do it. Games are fundamentally forms of cognitive training.
This is all taken from a keynote speech by Raph Koster at a Game Developers Conference (transcribed and blogged at the link above). The speaker is a developer of online games and author of a book called A Theory of Fun for Game Design. While it may not be directly targeted at role-playing games, I think it maight be useful. I linked to the Slashdot review and discussion about this earlier.
When we meet noise, and fail to make a pattern out of it, we get frustrated and quit. There are patterns everywhere. Static snow on TV. My kids have never seen that, by the way, which is pretty scary. Once we see a pattern, we delight in tracing it, and in seeing it reoccur. That’s meaning, all of a sudden. The brain doesn’t learn something the first time it sees it, it takes a while. You have to practice it. When you’re a kid, learning to put on trousers. It takes a really long time! It’s disturbing! It takes MONTHS! And children are way smarter than we are. I’m serious. As we get older it’s harder and harder for us to build patterns. So when we see a pattern that we get, we do it over and over again. We build neural connections. Now this is what I call fun.
There’s a level of complexity that enters into table-top RPGs that computer games can’t really meet (at least not yet). Human GMs can be infinitely more variable. But I take notice anytime someone starts talking about patterns, and I start thinking about how pattern may apply to traditional RPGs.