Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year, New Directions

(Hope you like the new site layout, it's all a part of converting to Blogger 2. Next stop: Labels, links and all that malarky.) (Also, apologies for having not written a thing method-wise for a while. It's been a very busy and somewhat demoralising time, but I hope to rejuvenate soon.)

Anyway. New Year. New ideas. 01-01-07.

I've recently had an idea for a game. It's called Exit Strategy, and the idea is this: A turn-based strategy game played for one to six players in which each player plays a faction within the Iraqi situation. One player plays the US, one plays the Mahdi Army, one plays the UK, one plays Al Qaida in Iraq and so on.

Each faction has a specific advantage and victory condition, and these victories are based broadly on winning the public opinion war. Players play across a series of regions and also suburbs within Baghdad, and they do with a set of pieces with different movement, attack and defence abilities, some special pieces such as journalists that they play against each other, and there is also some card-based event play. (This is all very rough, but you get the idea).

Now, what does that conjure in your mind? I imagine that it conjures a mix between typical video game satire (cartoony characters and old 80's and 90's in-jokes rehashed) or bravado gaming, as is the current vogue with PC action/war games.

Actually, this game is something serious. This isn't some September 12th-style interactive "artistic point", it is serious entertainment. Rather than the escapist fun epitomised by the retro-chic and innovation-happy fads, this is a game that you want to play again and again because of the strategy gameplay. Some may ask whether it's really gaming's place to do that, given the political sensitivity. Of course it is. Games are fundamentally educational, they teach skill, forethought and imagination.

The 80s saw many specialist boardgames like the 18XX train games, Squad Leader, Republic of Rome, Race to Berlin and others that actively explored history, politics and ideas by rendering them into scenarios of win or lose conditions. Often complicated, usually deep, these games bring some understanding to the table, and many of them are bone-faced serious studies of their subject. Some computer games do likewise, such as Shogun: Total War, or the Civilization games (and arguably The Sims).

The aesthetic of escapism divorces content from context to make all games non-threatening, This results in committee imagination, where the content becomes a series of checkboxes that the developers or publishers think will appeal to markets, demographics or whatever. The real use of imaginative fantasy of any stripe is to teach by providing a mirror on this world. Whether a fantasy is as far flung as Star Wars or as near as Trainspotting, all good fiction is a reflection, and gaming should be no different.

This is something that I've blogged about off and on for nearly three years, trying to convey that reflective imagination is more than something nice to stick in a game, it is in fact THE new direction. By taking sets of rules and mechanics and applying them to something larger, we create something larger than an escapist pass time. Such as Exit Strategy.

This is where I'd like to see gaming going. I want to see Exit Strategy made because of what it can teach people and what they can explore by playing it. It doesn't have to be swish, it doesn't have to be particularly pretty. What it has to be is good and serious and above all fair. Every side must have an opportunity to win.

If we ever plan to make gaming anything other than novelties at the carnival then reflection rather than escapism is the all-important next step. Games teach, people learn from them and that is what we give to the world.

Happy New Year,

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