About these prompts for your game-design journal entries.

Your journal entries need not spring directly from these prompts. They can grow out of problems that you are facing, questions you’ve been asked, issues you want to address. But I’ll post additional prompts every week that you can draw from, too.

While I cannot foresee exactly how you might make use of these, as a general rule, one prompt could be explored through at least a blog entry or two. Importantly: These prompts are meant to elicit reflection in your game-designer self. They are not merely questions to be answered. If you have other material to discuss in your journal posts, you are welcome to ignore these prompts altogether.

PROMPT: Competition

How does competition figure into your prototype?
Beyond pitting players against each other according to the game’s theme, does your prototype make use of mechanics to encourage meaningful competition in-game?

Example: MONOPOLY

Think, for example, of how players are forced to relate to one another in that classic board game. In a far less-engaging version of the game, players would simply move around the board, buying more and more property, until there was no more property to buy anymore.

That could work! But at a cost: It would make the game less interesting because the competition was less personal. In a traditional game of Monopoly, players buy properties not just to collect “rent,” but to collect rent from other players. That antagonism becomes one of the highlights of the game for many players: Think of the pleasure you may take in collecting every last dime from your annoying brother — and then forgiving your sister’s debt altogether — just to troll him. As a result, obviously, your annoying brother will now be looking to put you out of business altogether, no matter the cost…

By allowing players to “inhabit” the competition that the game promotes, they are more likely to invest themselves personally. This is sometimes called the “metagame” — which isn’t an altogether correct term, but it is good enough for now: Good games foster playful engagement with the game’s mechanics, which can lead in turn to deeper, more interesting outcomes.

Suggestions:

In introductory game design, it is common to encourage players to make choices that may have a meaningful impact on their performance. That’s a great start.

But consider kicking it up a notch: Give players the opportunity to make decisions that do harm to their opponent, or otherwise prevent their opponent from succeeding. When those choices are arbitrary — when a player unnecessarily tackles a forward after she’s passed the ball; when a gamer picks up all the loot in the room, in spite of the fact that he doesn’t need any of it; even (in Monopoly) when I intentionally take the little race car token, forcing my brother to choose between the thimble token or the old shoe token (he detests them both!) — these opportunities can invest players more deeply in the competition that drives your game’s outcome.

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