Friday, October 01, 2010

Individual customization

Customization seems to be very attractive to young people who play video games. Perhaps they feel more of a need to express their individuality than someone of my generation (baby boomer) might feel.

Does this desire for customization spill over into the ranks of tabletop game players? And if so, how can we accommodate the desire? Role-playing games can do it, of course, through multiple classes, character attribute numbers, feats, skills, and the like; but how do we do it in board or card games?

Last Night I was talking to college age gamers about creating characters in Paranoia and other role-playing games. Evidently it takes a long time to generate a Paranoia character. And I said that's a barrier to entry, if someone takes a long time to create the character they're less likely to play. Well, they don't see it that way. They talk about character generation in someone's variant of Harn to where you could actually die during character generation. And apparently character generation in normal Harn can take an hour or more. So there's lots of lots of dice rolling to generate things from tables.

Now I remember back in the early days of D&D, we would sometimes do strange things like "roll a sword"--roll on the magic sword tables and see what we came up with. It was a fun way to do something with D&D when we couldn't play. But this hours long character generation, and the possibility of ending up with something that's pretty junky, I just don't get. I guess it's a generational thing. I note that in fourth edition D&D there is a character generation method that doesn't use dice, and no dice-generated character is allowed in the official RPGA events. (By the way, as far as I know I was one of the first people, if not the first, to have a no-dice character generation method published.)

Getting back to the board and card games, it is impractical to have a long customization built into a game because then the game will take too long. About as close as I come is having cards to represent a variety of different characters or groups that can be played in some of my card games. And of course in historical game, in effect which side you play (if the game is asymmetric) provides a small modicum of customization.

(Another day, further thoughts)

Why is customization so important to young video game players? I read two video game magazines regularly, plus a lot on the Web, and I have had many video game design students. The importance of customization is often mentioned by all of these sources. This can range from the purely cosmetic (customization of appearance) to functional (customizing weapons, or merely having lots of weapons to choose from).

I can understand functional customization because it may give you an advantage in the game. I don't understand cosmetic customization. That may be because I'm not visually oriented, or because I'm a veteran gamer and veterans tend to pay attention to what lets them succeed in the game, not what it looks like.

But why the interest in cosmetic customization? Have young people become oppressed by the sameness of modern civilization? Do they feel so helpless in real life that they need a means of self-expression in their games? Is this desire to "look different" related to the constant monitoring that seems to be the norm for kids nowadays (helicopter parents)? Is it just an expression of something else?

I have no idea.

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