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.
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".
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!