Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why There Aren't More Good Mormon Games, Part 2

10:16 PM by Mike · 1 comments
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Here is the second part to Mark Hansen's discussion of why we don't have good LDS-themed games.
 
Mormon gaming suffers from some of the same ailments that plague other LDS oriented arts, like music, literature, visual arts, and even performing arts.  These are:

A Small and Mostly Unaware Audience
Most of the world is not Mormon.  Yet.  I know, I know, we're working on that.  Still, we haven't gotten there as of this writing.  

Of that small part of the world that is Mormon, the percentage that speaks english (the language that most of our stuff is currently published in) is steadily shrinking.  Of the English speaking Mormons, how many of them are aware that Mormon games even currently exist?  And, of that percentage, how many can and actually want to buy one and play it?

I'm convinced that this audience is gradually becoming more and more sophisticated in their gaming tastes, because more and more of them are buying more and more intriguing games.  Eurogames, for example (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German-style_board_game), once only for a more intense gamer crowd, are becoming more and more mainstream in America. That means that LDS games have to step up to the plate as well, and (pun intended) compete.

Relatively Few Game Publishers in the LDS World
Since the audience is inherently small, Mormon publishers are cautious in entry.  There are, however notable examples when they've kicked in:  "Feast or Famine", "Warriors of the Promised Land", "Hagoth".

Games can be more expensive to produce than books, and don't usually sell as well, so it's a bigger risk for a publisher to invest in one.  And, since fewer publishers handle games, they don't seem to be as confident marketing them as well.

Game Designing Ain't Easy
Even though there are a handful of LDS artists, writers, and musicians that are pros, I don't know of anyone who makes a full-time living designing games for the LDS market.  And the time it can take to hatch an idea and take it through multiple cycles of prototyping and playtesting can sometimes stretch into years.  All done as a labor of creative love, before the publisher even hears an intial pitch.

In spite of all this, I am ever optimistic.  I've seen good games be concieved, prototyped, tested, and published.  It can be done, and it is being done!

Mark Hansen

Friday, April 15, 2011

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

11:23 AM by Mike · 2 comments
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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

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Game Design Experiment, Part 1

4:00 PM by Mike · 0 comments
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The recent post on the BYU Universe (here) site got me to thinking (even more than usual) about creating better LDS themed games. I also think it would be great to get a bunch of people involved in such an effort. So, to that end I propose that we try a little experiment.

It would be a lot of fun to give everyone a chance to have say and input in the process of going from an idea to an actual, finished game. Besides, in my experience, especially with game design, having different perspectives and ideas really helps produce a better end product. I'm not exactly sure how it's all going to work yet, but I am excited to at least attempt to put something together and see what happens. So, this is how we'll start the experiment: the theme or setting for the game. For example, the game could involve the Nephites fighting the Lamanites in an effort to recover the cities they lost (think the time of Captain Moroni), or trying to get all your families home taught each month could be the name of the game. Whatever you think would make an enjoyable game.

So, if you'd like to put in your 2-cents just fill in the box below with your idea. Any and all ideas will be displayed on the Game Design Experiment page (here). Alternatively, you could post a comment here and let us know what you think. After we've got several ideas submitted, then perhaps we can have a vote on what everyone thinks would be the best option.

Let's brainstorm it up!!

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