I know, this might seem like a strange statement coming from a game designer who owns a game company. I also admit that it really is not completely true, but I think it’s much more true than people generally think. Also, you might be thinking, wtf is Eric talking about.
Here is what I’m talking about. When you look at a fun/successful game event, where you and everyone else has fun, what percentage of the success or failure of the event was due to the games you played? Or, in related terms, if you have a game club/group who all get together and play a particular game, how much does that central game actually matter in the success and fun that club has as a group?
I actually think it’s relatively little actually, and the success is made up of so many other factors, that the game is just kind of the excuse to get those other factors all in one place. For the most part, those factors are people, and the mood and personalities they bring with them. If you’re filling your game table/group with “that guy” I don’t think that you will ever have fun, no matter what game you decide to break out. Conversely, if you have a great group of people, all coming together in a good mood, it would be hard to have a bad gaming experience.
Think about what the game actually provides to the event or club.
1) Rules complexity
Basically, rules CAN get in the way of having fun, or can cause a lot of conflict that will keep a club from running smoothly. These are things that can get in the way of a good time. But honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “those rules were so cleanly written, just reading through them or explaining them really made the evening fun”
The setting for the game can create a great mood for people, and often the gaming experience is enhanced by a compelling setting or storyline, etc… However, the setting more often than not is what people enjoy on their own, and what attracts them to the game in the first place, and fill their reading/imagination time. Ultimately it generally has relatively little effect on people when they are playing the game itself.
3) Limitations on players who can participate at once
This is another one that can get in the way more than anything. If you have a gathering of 2 people and only have 3+ player games, or vice versa. Basically a game can simply not fit, but this in no way really makes an event, the game can just be not appropriate for the event.
4) A challenge to overcome
The last, and probably most important thing a game does is present for all the players a challenge, which they either overcome cooperatively, or competitively depending on the game. It basically gives them something to do! The common challenge is kind of what makes game nights, or game clubs tick. However, the challenge is something that basically all games offer in some form or another.
So what does the game really bring? I guess it brings a context to an event or club, and other than that, you just want to find a game that does as much as it can to stay out of the way, since things like complexity or player limitations only really get in the way. The game provides a reason to get together, and a reason to interact with friends, or to meet new people. And those are all great things, but it’s not what causes people to actually have fun.
What causes people to actually have fun, is actually the people who they now have a context to interact with. Games are in many ways just the excuse to get together, and have meaningful interactions with other people over an extended period of time. As long as the game isn’t getting in the way, causing disputes, or excluding people, it’s doing it’s job doing nothing more than that. In fact, games that fail are ones that tend to want to “get in the way” more, and force specific types of interactions, or force an unnatural focus on what the rules say to do. Similarly, people who focus too intently on the game itself, ignoring the fact they could be having fun with other people, are missing the point a little bit.
So why are there SO many games and why do we like to play so many different one? If they don’t matter, shouldn’t we be fine with just a few?
Well, yes and no. I do think there are way more games than there needs to be, but hey, we live in an competitive world, so this is how it happens. But we also need many games specifically because they provide different criteria (setting and number of players), and a variety of challenge. The variety lets the people have a different set of motivations and reasons to interact.
Ok, so I admit it, games DO matter, but just not nearly as much as I tend to see people think they matter. But when I see friends break up over disagreements over games…or entire game groups basically disband because they don’t like something that happened with their game, I think people are missing the point.
The point is that the game did provide a context, but that isn’t what made thinks work. It’s the people! Enjoy the people! Don’t focus so much on the game, just let it do it’s job in the background.