Wednesday, November 19, 2008
These Games are Experience Grenades
Games like Superstruct and The Lost Sport and World Without Oil and Reverse Scavenger Hunts and Tombstone Hold 'Em and SF0 missions and The Go Game are "experience grenades".
That's a new term. I throughly Google-checked it.
Experience grenades: You play them, and that's like pulling the pin on the grenade. Nothing has to happen right away. Nothing has to change or be solved right away. Then, you wait. It's later -- an hour later, a day later, a week later, a month later... it goes off in your head, like the delayed explosion of a grenade.
You realize: You've learned something. Your cognitive patterns are different. Your view of the possibilities in the world around you has changed. Your sense of your own potential is changed. You're ready for something you didn't even know was coming. You understand something intuitively that seems alien or confusing to others
The thing is: This doesn't necessary happen DURING the game. During the game, you might not believe the game is working. in the best case scenario, you might think you're JUST having fun. Worse, the game might seem silly. You don't trust the design, it seems to be asking things of you that you don't naturally want to do. Or it might seem abstract -- what's the practical takeaway? IOr even worse, it might seem wonky or arbitrary or broken from your POV.
But it's working. If you're playing, the pin has been pulled. If you're really participating and immersed in the game, the work is happening in your brain. It just is. I've seen it again and again. The experience happens now, the payoff comes later.
Sometimes I know what the payoff will be, sometimes I just trust that a good game will produce something interesting. And the best thing that can happen in a game community is for players to trust that something interesting will happen, and to play as if it's an experience grenade, rather than instant satisfaction.
That's a strange thing to say about a game -- something we play to produce in-the-moment fun. But some games are fun later. They just are. Like trying adventures you have that you hate at the moment but looking back they are the adventures of your life, the stories you cherish, the bonds you made and the way you discovered who you could be.
Yes, that's a different kind of fun, a different kind of payoff. But games can be that, and it feels different in the moment than immediate and obvious fun (like Rock Band or pinatas).
I see a new class of trusted game designers who are like personal trainers. The trainer tells you to do something, and you do it -- even if it HURTS! Even if it isn't fun in the moment! And the benefits come later. Not necessarily during. You trust the trainer's process and you do it to be a better person and a happier person in the long run.
There are a few designers that I trust like this. Simon Johnson, who made the Comfort of Strangers and Hip Sync. The SF0 designers. Kati London at AreaCode. If they make it, I know I can show up and play it and I will have an experience that explodes later in my mind and stays with me. I trust them and don't care what they want me to do. I know they have a design process that works and that they're tring to make people happier and more aware of the possibilities in the world around them. And I am trying to be that kind of trusted designer myself to as many people as possible.
So I thank people who show up to play my games and trust the process. People who played Superstruct -- I know that experience grenade will be going off literally for months and years to come. We've already celebrate how much we've achieved during the game - -but the real effects will unfold for years. That's just how they work. That's just how they're designed.
Someday I hope game designers really are seen as trusted personal trainers, and that we have the chance to take people through proven processes that pay off in the long run. More gamesight, a surprising social safety net and support system, a more engaging environment, a higher quality of life.