20 Oct

Characterization in non-narrative games

Pathfinder Card Game: Valeros the fighter

Characterization
: the act of describing the character or qualities of someone or something
: the way a writer makes a person in a story, book, play, movie, or television show seem like a real person

– Merriam-Webster dictionary

Pathfinder Card Game: Valeros the fighterCharacterization is a writing term (well, a narrative creation term). Characterization is what sets fictional people apart from each other. Sherlock Holmes is tall and eccentric, Dr. Watson is short and down to earth. Brer Rabbit is fast, Brer Turtle is slow. Zombies like brains, Superman doesn’t like kryptonite.

Characterization, together with plotting and world building, is a central aspect of narrative fiction and narrative non-fiction. It exists in games and the stronger the narrative aspect of a game the more characterization it generally has. Pathfinder the RPG has more characterization than Pathfinder the board game which has more characterization than Mr. Jack the board game which has more characterization than No Thanks!. But what happens if a game has no narrative structure?

Here’s the interesting thing: you can still use characterization in non-narrative games, but it must then work on game mechanics rather than theme. Read More

16 Sep

The Proof is in the Details – How Theme Supports Mechanics

Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga - shipsThe writer John Gardner, in his now quite classical work on writing titled “The Art of Fiction” talks about details as being the “proof” that makes a reader believe in what the writer is telling him.

That’s the whole “show don’t tell” thing – if the writer tells the reader “the guy was lonely and didn’t like it” it’s not very convincing. But let the guy look around his empty apartment, flick channels on the TV, stare at his breakfast table set for one and sigh and we believe, we feel that he’s in a slump.

The same goes for games. When the theme supports the mechanics we believe in the game, we’re sucked into it, engulfed in the world and enjoy our play. But if they diverge, if they clash with one another or with our gaming styles, then our minds are jarred out of the game and leave the table disappointed. Read More