Structured v. Emergent
Posted by Nathan P. on September 2, 2005
This ties into the larger discussion of Craftsmanship that was all over the blogs some months ago.
The first step, from my own experience and from reading many posts in the Indie Design forum at the Forge, in Forge-style design is to create mechanics that directely support whatever behaviour you want to happen, especially in terms of reward cycle. For example, in Timestream, I want access to the cool stuff (time travel Aspects and temporal manipulation Techniques) to be contingent on pursuing a characters goals – so, the only time you get Aspects/Techniques is when you mechanically acheive a Goal.
This is all well and good and workable, but it seems…clunky. Kind of transparent, as in “the designer obviously wants me to do X”. Now, part of truly great game design, true craftsmanship, is supporting behavior through the emergent properties of the rules. This is where PTA and DitV, among others, shine, especially PTA. I haven’t yet seen the updated second edition, but PTA’s core mechanics are very spare and basic. But they have the emergent property of getting people to hook into each others creativity and excitement in an organized and focused manner. And thats awesome.
Incidentally, much of the criticism I’ve read of PTA (again, 1st edition) in particular stems from this issue. You read it, and you go “oh, so you compare some dice to determine the outcome of the conflict, and you can give people dice if you like what they do. Whats the big deal?” And its defenders go “you have to play it to see what the big deal is” – because, when you get right down to it, thats where the big deal is. It’s emergent.
So, my ambition with Carry is to create an emergent dynamic that’s not really spelled out in the rules. And I think that that’s going to be far more difficult to design that anything else I’ve done thus far.
Slightly related rhetorical question: I wonder how much of general geekdom and fanboyarry stems from not actually playing, and subsequently mistaking written mechanics for the sum total of the game?