Dissertation Blog #7
Citation of the Day
Koster, Raph. Theory of Fun for Game Design. O'Reilly Media, Inc, 2013.
This book defines a good game as "one that teaches everything it has to offer before the player stops playing." (Chapter 3) "Games aren’t stories. Games aren’t about beauty or delight. Games aren’t about jockeying for social status. They stand, in their own right, as something incredibly valuable. Fun is about learning in a context where there is no pressure from consequence, and that is why games matter." (Chapter 5)
In Koster's view, every game is destined to become boring, automated, cheated, and exploited. The designer's responsibility, therefore, is to know what the game is about and to ensure the game teaches that thing. (Chapter 7) His book is a call to action to recognize the uniquely educational nature of games and use it to it's fullest potential: "Games have the capability to sit on the shelf next to all other communications media. They are capable of art. They are capable of portraying the human condition. They are teaching tools. They carry socially redeeming content....We have to go into the systems design process, the ludeme-building process, aware that games have this potential and this capability. We have to consider ourselves as artists, as teachers, as people with a powerful tool that can be taken up." (Chapter 12)
Koster bids the field of game design to move beyond game systems that promote short-term, destructive strategies and instead create games that teach players to think in useful ways. "Historically, we’re not likely to need or want the scorched-earth victory….Can we create games that instead offer us greater insight into how the modern world works?" (Chapter 4)
Design and Mechanics
In many games, there are natural resources to consume and land to develop. The point of many strategy games is usually to consume these resources and develop this land faster than your enemies. As much as I love Age of Empires, for example, it is essentially a game about scouring the Earth of all its minerals and lifeforms and turning them into soldiers and war machines. This is the "scorched-earth victory" that Koster referred to -- many rounds of real time strategy games conclude once a player has simply mined, cut, slaughtered, or burned down anything on the map they do not own.
Field of Cures belongs to a different genre and a different mindset of game. There are natural resources in the form of wild plants that grow in regions around the world. The land of these regions can be developed with factories that multiply the gains the player receives after discovering a plant-derived medicine -- but building a factory somewhere means that land will no longer produce wild plants.
What I want my game to demonstrate is that natural biodiversity is itself a natural resource. The point of Field of Cures is that any plant species could become more or less valuable depending on the needs of the moment, which means a field full of dozens of different wild species cannot be replaced by a monoculture farm. In Age of Empires, various objects are collapsed into a single "food" resource: berry bushes, deer, cattle, fish, etc. Field of Cures does the opposite by giving the single object "flower" genetic diversity so that it can be thought of as many different resources at once, whose values are always fluctuating.
One idea I have brainstormed for Field of Cures is a "seed vault" victory condition, in which the player wins by collecting one of every type of plant in the game in order to ensure their DNA can be preserved for posterity. Such efforts are underway in real life all around the world.
Because we are, indeed, scorching our Earth. But there will be no victory from it.