Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Brief Simulationist/Narrativist Manifesto

I'm getting increasingly tired of game designers treating the Simulationist and Narrativist preferences as mere nice-to-haves (or, even worse, as undesirable distractions) compared to Gamist features.

Worldiness matters, dammit. Flinging a bunch of arbitrary, semi-random rules of play out there is fine for some people, but there are others -- and I'm one of them -- for whom that is not good enough. For us, a game where internal consistency is considered a distraction from "real" game design is not much fun. What's the point of just following made-up rules? Conversely, a game in which consistency is respected, in which the objects and activities in that gameworld fit into a coherent physical/sociological/literary model, would make everything that could be done in that game significantly more fun.

For us, consistency and world-depth and an actual story increase our fun. Are we irrelevant? Are our notions of what's fun unworthy of respect? I don't think so, and I'm sick and tired of being being told to go sit in the back of the bus and not get uppity by asking for the gameworld to be designed in such a way that I'm an equal player.

For a massively multiplayer online persistent-world RPG, any lead designer or producer who seriously says anything like, "It's a game, not a simulation" should have his project taken away from him and given to someone who's not so eager to unnecessarily shun paying customers.

It's time for game designers to start treating Simulationist and Narrativist interests as equal to Gamist preferences. All of these styles (and probably some of the Experientialist mindset as well although there's plenty of action in MMORPGs already) need to be consciously considered when designing content for a mass-market MMORPG. Excluding Simulationist and Narrativist features means excluding logical and emotional consistency in the game world. It means a lack of, yes, "immersiveness." Any designers who think that's either desirable or necessary in a game intended for broad consumption have no business being given responsibility for designing such a game.

In short, "gameplay" does not only mean catering solely to hardcore Gamist interests. What Simulationists and Narrativists (and Experientialists) enjoy doing for structured fun are equally valid forms of play.

Until their interests are taken seriously by designing actual content for them, they won't play these MMORPG things for long. And publishers will fail to make as much money as they otherwise could.

Why should any of us settle for that?

End manifesto.

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