Saturday, January 05, 2013
Triptych 1 (well, kinda): Familiarity, Killing Time, Fail Fast
Here are three items that are fairly long, but not long enough for blog posts in themselves:
The famous piano composer Frederic Chopin wrote a piano waltz that takes two minutes to play on average. In English is called the "Minute Waltz", a name likely added by a publisher, as often happened in the time and especially to Chopin's works ("Revolutionary", "Military", etc.). In 40 years of listening to classical music I have only once heard an announcer or seen a writer understand the name correctly. Most take it to be minute as in 60 seconds, and then remark that there's no way anyone can play the waltz in just 60 seconds. Only once have I heard somebody call it minute (my-nute, rhymes with cute) as in very very small. But that's the proper intention, and then the name makes sense. It *is* a very small waltz, though not 60 seconds small.
(Having looked it up for the first time, I can say it's Waltz in D flat major, Op. 64, No. 1. In Wikipedia, "Minute Waltz" gets you there.)
What's the point for game design?
People tend to misunderstand in favor of what they're familiar with, even if it doesn't make sense. "Minute" as in "very small" is an uncommon word, "minute" as in "60 seconds" very common. So as you make a game, especially if you're writing rules for it as in tabletop games, you need to look at how someone could misunderstand what you've written, or understand it in another way. In other words, they won't necessarily understand it the way you do. This may be why few rulebooks are written in a jocular fashion, because jokes are easily misunderstood in writing. (If I were writing a set of rules, I might not use "jocular" for fear that some readers would not understand it, though in this case I deliberately use "jokes" in the same sentence to help make the meaning clear.) This is no different than the problems any writer has, but they can be more significant in a ruleset.
Keep in mind also that people can misunderstand game mechanics in favor of what they're familiar with, even if they can read the rules correctly. Something as simple as an auction can be conducted in many ways - taking turns bidding, secret bidding, and so forth - but most Americans are familiar only with auctions where everyone is free to raise the bid at any time. If (as is likely) the auction in your game is different, you have to make sure you describe it exactly, and may even explicitly say how it differs from the standard American auction.
Killing Time, Video Games and Sports
Video games are a way to kill/waste time, for a lot of people. Sports are the same except they're not virtual, they're based on real-world performance. But both are, from a productive/real-world terms view, a waste of time and money. You can spend vast amounts of time on both.
I speak as one who at one time played a lot of video games - because I was unhappy with what was happening in my job, in part - and who has wasted many hours watching football (Panthers), college basketball (Duke), ice hockey (Hurricanes), and lately international soccer (Arsenal, USA).
My experience of video game students is that few are sports fans. I wonder if few rabid sports fans are people who play lots and lots of video games (in terms of hours) - and vice versa.
"Too much" information
While I was at Duke University, with its very fine library, I found lots of interesting, though very dry, scholarly books about myths and legends.
One of them attempted to identify all the plots/story lines in all the myths and legends of the entire world. So there was a section for dragons and in all the things that could happen that involved dragons. There was a section for kidnapping and all that could come from that. It was several volumes long. As I recall, this being about 40 years ago, the details were very spare, in outline form.
Yet I did not find the books to be of much use for creating RPG adventures. Maybe there was *too much*? This came to mind recently when I discovered a website that offers a template for the monomyth, the Hero's Journey that is behind so many stories, of 2,000 stages, for $200. http://www.clickok.co.uk/index4.html Once again I question whether something that has 2,000 stages can really be helpful. It is a case of too much.
It reminds me of Arnold Toynbee's theories of history. There were so many exceptions that at some point it seemed more a list of exceptions to justify the main theory, than an actual theory. In this case, the website author, Kal Bashir, says "Without exception, every successful story takes archetypes through a New World or New State, which involves particular process and has certain functions." "One of the least understood aspects of successful storytelling is the very high degree of rigid structure involved, especially in Hollywood screenwriting and bestselling fiction novels (the Harry Potter books are a perfect example)." I doubt this immensely, especially when I see the word "rigid". I wonder if a journey with up to 2000 stages is just a way to try to impose the Hero's Journey on something that isn't really the Hero's Journey.
But anyone interested can check out the lengthy presentation including videos.