Friday, April 15, 2011

Why There Aren't More Good Mormon Games, Part 1

11:23 AM by Mike ·
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Sticking with the current topic of why there aren't good LDS themed games available, today we've got a guest post by Mark Hansen. You can learn a little more about Mark from his blog: Mo' Boy Blog (here) and find out about the game he is designing, Chapter & Verse (here).

Show us what you've got Mark!


What IS a Good Mormon Game?

One of the first issues that comes into my mind is simply to ask what we're really talking about.  I mean, how can we ask about good Mormon games if we're not really sure what a good Mormon Game is?

I'd like to break the definition into three main areas.  First of all, a great Mormon game would have a good theme, that's recognizably LDS.  The concept of the game would be clear.  Second, a good Mormon game would be relevant to the Gospel in some way.  Third, the game's mechanics would have to be fun, clear, and simple.  Let's look at these concepts one at a time.

Theme

This is somewhat controversial, but I think that for a game to be called a "Mormon Game", it needs to look and feel Mormon.  It should be set in a Mormon scriptural or cultural setting, have Mormon iconography in the graphics, and generally be "about" something LDS.  That doesn't mean that it has to be serious.  It can be very light and entertaining, like "Split the Ward"

I've seen a number of games designed by church members that are just good, healthy family games.  I love playing them.  But, I don't consider them to be "Mormon Games".

Gospel Relevance

To carry on with that theme, I like it when a Mormon game relates to the gospel in some way.  The essence of gaming is learning.  That doesn't mean it has to be heavy-handed preaching, but if the game play basically breaks down to a game of numbers that happens to have gospel characters printed on the cards, then the game, at its core, is not really a "Mormon game".  It's just a game, that happens to look Mormon.

So, games that remind me of Gospel concepts while I'm playing really interest me.  If a game mechanic rewards me for making a game choice that is in line with the Gospel, that's great!  I know that I often overthink things, but I wonder about Mormon games where the rules actively reward a player who "digs a pit for his neighbor".  This makes it challenging to make a competitive game.  While there are currently some exciting things being done with cooperative games, there is still a common expectation to have a "winner".  And that's not really a bad thing.  I do feel, however, that competition needs to be handled carefully.  What does it teach when the Gadianton or the Babylonian player wins the game?

Mechanics & Game Play

This is where it gets very difficult.  This is the part where all of those lofty ideals have to get translated into practical rules and game mechanics that make it easy to learn, quick to play, fun, and challening all at once.  The rules have to make it effective to pay attention to the gospel principles involved, without beating them over your head in a preachy way.  

The game must be abstract enough to be easy to grasp and play, and yet concrete enough to fit into the theme and engage the players' imaginations.

The game mechanics must be tested over and over again, and people must push extreme strategies in the testing process to make sure parts of the game aren't broken.

I would want the game to be original, not a rebranded version of an old, non-mormon game.  Let's get creative and explore some new territory.

Now, honestly, I can't think of a single Mormon game (including the ones that I've designed) that meet all of these criteria perfectly.  I don't think it exists.  I'm not sure that it can exist.  There are probably other game designers in the church that disagree with me, and think that these ideals are not what we should be shooting for and that such a game shouldn't exist.  I'm cool with that.  I do think that these are ideals that we can work toward.

In the meantime, we can still create great games that help us all to celebrate our "Mormon-ness", and have a great time doing it all together!
Mark Hansen

2 comments:

Nathan said...
April 22, 2011 at 3:06 PM

Mark brings up some good points.

Area #3 ("Mechanics and Game Play") is vital for any game. It's gotta be a good balance of strategy and luck, with clear rules, and at least a bit of novelty to it.

Area #1 ("Theme") is what defines something as a Mormon game. However, I would add a clarification that while it should be about something LDS, it does not have to be uniquely LDS. For example, the Feast or Famine game would probably go over quite well with a Protestant audience because it's built around a Bible story. The Bible is definitely an LDS theme, but not a uniquely LDS theme.

Finally, while area #1 defines something as a Mormon game, I think area #2 ("Gospel Relevance") defines something as a worthwhile Mormon game. That's why it was my favorite point. A game might be fun to play (#3) and have an LDS theme (#1), but if it neglects to reinforce (or even undermines) core gospel principles, it leaves me wondering if the whole endeavor is even worth it. For example, if there is a deliciously fun hack-and-slash video game with a Nephite theme, it could beenjoyable, skillfully made, and even award-worthy ... but it would encourage the very bloodthirst that the Book of Mormon warns against. The same goes for a game whose artwork depicts immodestly dressed women.

If it encourages deception, rooting for the bad guy, selfishness, double crossing, violence, or making light of very sacred themes, it defeats the purpose of the whole genre. I'm glad Mark mentioned that as a core idea. Of course, it's hard to make a game that doesn't stray at all into one of those areas (like competitiveness), but we should at least try to minimize or counteract those worldly tendencies.

Hungry Blood Goddess said...
August 14, 2011 at 6:02 PM

You know, I've got some thoughts there. I'm going into Game Art & Design, and I really think that the potential for good and for things to sell well might be understated.

If good designers get together, say, and make and adventure game about Nephi, and use something like the UDK engine, then not only would this game be graphically appealing, but enjoyable without beating people over the head. (After all, Adventure games are based on stories, and while you could make an action-adventure game with more physical challenges, it doesn't have to be based on killing people.)

There are so many good types of games out there that people can learn from. As a future designer, I would love to be able to make an adventure Nephi game or something of the sort, though I don't have the knowledge for that kind of programming.

I am sad to see that there aren't more designers out there, this being that you hear so many people complain about not being able to find good movies, or books, or wholesome things, yet, I don't see these things to counter it.

There has to be ways to make good games that teach the gospel but are engaging and fun as well and appeal to the general audience. At least, that is my opinion...we will see how it goes.

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