Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Theme, Mechanics, & Immersion

I just sent off the submission of The Armor of God to both Covenant Communications and Cedar Fort. I'll be waiting patiently to see what, if any, response I get from them.

Last night I read a pretty interesting article from The Games Journal about Theme, Mechanics, and Immersion of games (here). It really made me think about what I've got going in my games. All of my pondering was focused on Peril in the Promised Land as this is my favorite of the few games I'm designing/creating right now. Personally, Peril in the Promised Land has a great theme. I mean, who doesn't want to take the lead of an army of Nephite soldiers as they go into battle against the Lamanites under the Title of Liberty, seeking to recover their lost cities and freedoms!? It's the very popular good vs. evil theme. As Andrew Hardin points out the theme should do 2 things: 1) it creates an immediate sense of immersion and 2) makes game play easier. I've been working on making game play easier. I've cut rules, making things less complex and simpler to understand and follow. I've tried to get the rules to "connect" more to the theme, kind of making the rules seem logical in the given context of the theme.

The theme of Peril in the Promised Land also gets players immersed both mentally and emotionally, as discussed in the article. Firstly, players are mentally engaged in protecting themselves from the Lamanites, while at the same time they are trying to figure out how to go about recovering the cities that have been lost to the Lamanites. There are a number of possible strategies a player could choose. Options seem to be a good thing to keep players engaged and immersed as well. The emotional side comes in, which I think is very individual or person specific. This probably hits home more with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as they are familiar with the Book of Mormon and the struggles between the Nephites and Lamanites throughout the book. Emotionally players can feel the tension that is caused by Lamanite actions and the need for your army to not only succeed, but to survive in the process.

Thinking about these things makes me wonder: Is it the theme that really attracts someone to a game in the first place? For me, a lot of times I think it is more the mechanics of the game that draw me in. For example, I enjoy Heroscape, but I first became interested when I saw it in the store and found that you could change the terrain, design it however you choose. I also wanted to play Settlers of Catan because of the hex-shaped board pieces that you set up at the beginning of play. Shadows Over Camelot appealed to me because of the cooperative nature of the game play. Maybe my question is way off. But, there are probably people who pick up a game because of it's theme. In the case of Peril in the Promised Land, I would want people to pick it up because of theme, but also because of mechanic. I want to attract people who think playing as Nephite generals in a war with the Lamanites would be fun, but also those who think playing a game where players cooperate against the game (the Lamanites) would be fun. In the end I think it is about theme and mechanics to begin with. That has to draw people into picking up the game in first place. After that, I think the author is right, it's all about immersion. Those themes and mechanics need to really immerse the players in game or the attraction of the theme or mechanic will be lost rather quickly.


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