Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why I "don't play"

Many people find it strange that I don't play lots of different games. This is partly a matter of time (I only have time to play my own new designs), partly a matter of interest (I don't like to play games "against" other people), partly a matter of point of view (I like to play my favorite games, and have no interest in *playing* "new" games, though I spend lots of time watching people play them.

TIME: This is my avocation, not my job (which is teaching). I try to make at least one new game a month. Each of those games must be playtested solo ("alpha test") by one person, me. On average I probably play each one that is halfway successful about four times. That's the equivalent, in multi-player games, of playing the game about 16 times. How many of you play any given game that many times?

INTEREST: I more or less quit playing games against other people when I was 25. (So I played D&D, which is not against other people, it's a cooperative game.)

POINT OF VIEW: In a sense, my favorite "game" is the "game" of designing games. For me, the interesting and meaningful challenges, in Sid's phrase, are to make games that interest a variety of people. I have had only a few favorite games over the years, and I prefer to play the really good ones rather than the "new" ones--I have no interest in what seems at times to be the "cult of the new".

I don't like to play when my games are playtested by other people. I don't play as well as I ought, because I'm trying to see how the design as a whole is going, and I don't see how well the game is doing if I'm distracted by playing it. It's widely known to those who study multi-tasking that when you multi-task, you don't do any of the tasks as well as you would if you concentrated on it. Further, the designer playing in his own game skews results, as players tend either to think "he's the designer, let's gang up on him" or "he's the designer, I don't mind if he wins" and acquiesce to this. (In fact, a designer isn't likely to be the best player, or necessarily even an especially good player, but not everyone realizes that.)

Why don't I play my games after they're published/"done"? Because I'm not designing games for me to play, I'm designing games that other people will enjoy playing. If I were just going to play a game "for me", I'd play first edition D&D. And I've never tried to design a role-playing game, because I'm satisfied with D&D--with options/house rules/character classes/monsters that I've devised, of course . . .


Anonymous said...


It is great to see someone who shares my view point on playing vs. designing. I posted on BGG about how I don't play games designed by other designers any more as I find it distracting from designing my own games. Of course I took it on the chin from a number of users, but who really has time between a real job (I work in the mental health field) and trying to work on your own games? I'm like you, I try to pull together at least one game a month. I design then play alone then play with my roommates, then redesign and play along again and so on and so forth. In addition to this, I'm starting a publishing company, because I don't want to hand over something I created to a game company. I'm glad I'm not the only one!!

Lewis Pulsipher said...

There are many folks on BGG who just cannot believe that anyone can understand a game without playing it. (I learn more from watching than from playing.) Yet I've seen many people actually play a game, and more or less completely misunderstand it (Britannia is an example).

So I'm not surprised to hear they beat you up on BGG.

Anonymous said...

I really identify with your comments, especially about how designers are not necessarily the best players of their own games! I rarely if ever play my own games once they have been published.

By the way, thanks for some great work over the years!