The Soul of Games
In an attempt to come to grips with my own not-always-positive-often-ambiguous relationship with money, I recently talked to financial advisor and super good friend Briana Cavanaugh , who loaned me this most excellent book: The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist. I’ve been reading it almost non-stop for days. It is about much more than money, and has brought into full bloom some thoughts that had been slowly growing in my brain for months, possibly years.
Twist identifies what she calls the “Toxic Myths” of scarcity, myths from our culture about how money works, and how we should relate to it. She says these Toxic Myths are: There’s Not Enough, More is Better, and That’s Just the Way it is. She states that these myths are not only deeply deposited in our consciousness, but they are ultimately destructive to ourselves, those around us, and the planet.
It occurs to me that these cultural myths, and others, are perpetuated in our media as well. Including games. Maybe ESPECIALLY games, because playing games calls on us to practice and perform these myths. We learn best by doing, and games are all about doing.
Specifically though, the Myths identified in this book appear in games over and over and over again. “There’s Not Enough” is a common strategy utilized for gameplay — any game that has any sort of resource management, from Monopoly to Star Craft. “More is Better” appears as a winning condition for most games, a very common gameplay pattern in the form of “collecting” and is a driving force in MMOs and online social games as well. “That’s Just the Way it is” is intertwined with the very definition of a game — i.e. playing by the rules.
This has gotten me to think about how games participate in and further the myths of our culture. But even more, its created in me an obsession for how we might design games to do things differently. Part of The Soul of Money is about how we can re-write these myths, tell a new story, in order to change ourselves and ultimately our world. My game designer brain has been kicked into overdrive considering how one would make compelling games that could re-write these myths. Twist talks in great depth about the concept of Sufficiency, that we all have exactly what we need.
What would a game about sufficiency look like? What would the goal be? Could we let go of “More is Better” as a way to win a game? If we were going to get rid of winning as a concept, how would the game end? Most (maybe all) collaborative board games rely on some scarcity of resource, often time, to create excitement and challenge. Could we have a collaborative game that doesn’t rely on this gameplay pattern of “There’s not Enough” and still have a fun game?
Last quarter I started a card game design that I am still working on that begins to address some of these myths, but its a hard design problem. Thinking about how to design such a game has forced me to really re-think both games and our cultural assumptions. My brain sometimes has felt like its being pulled and pushed around like silly putty.
Do you want a game design challenge? I challenge you to design a game completely in line with your values. If you were going to create this game as a blueprint for how the world should work and present it to someone who had the power to remake the world as you wanted it, what would your game be like?
ps. still working on the site re-design. Bear with me.
This entry was posted on Sunday, March 27th, 2011 at 1:21 pm and is filed under Socially Conscious Games. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.