Maybe people suffer because of each other; maybe we're so defined by our interactions with society and technology, suffering is inherent and pervasive to being human. Maybe every honest coder and graphic designer who woke up on their office floor this morning did so because it's just the way things are. When you've been idling (or working) in hell for long enough, it can certainly seem like there's no other way. The game industry has locked itself in a room, splitting cups of ramen for what seems like an eternity of crunch time agony. The door is unlocked, but we stay in because of fear, held back by the call of the collective, suspended in a grim consensus.
And why not? It's a comfortable room, after all. We've got our plush couch, our new NVIDIA powered graphics card, our tidy assumptions about lineated goal-orientation, spatial level design, an uncross-able gulf between game and story which nevertheless keeps sending memetic hurricanes our way. The truth is, play is older than both games and stories, and despite its parsing fuzziness, end-game agency constraints and a rather contrived narrative set-up of a bickering couple with irreconcilable differences, Façade has a very real joy of play, fleshed out in free social expression. Façade's social dilemma has an exit, an exit found through play.
Unlike Sartre's deterministic expository text, Mateas and Stern have shown us, hard coded in algorithmic form, there is hope, provided we're inventive enough to mediate our differences. Likewise, there is hope for the game industry; Façade has shown us the door, all we have to do is walk through it. If you take my words seriously, running to that door with dewy optimism, there
is a chance you may find it locked by some technical glitch. The way out of the ludic box might not come intuitively, and the hard problems of interactive drama may seem ill addressed by the above text. I humbly offer the blueprint for the key.
The theory of game design is heavily limited, as seen in practice. This is largely because any "theory of game design" has until recently been confined to fuzzy definitions inside the intuitive drives of individual developers. Many unnecessary assumptions are embedded in the minds of practicing designers. We've assumed games are games and that's all there is to it, players equate challenge with an interesting experience, and there is no market for titles without concrete objectives. In contrast to "ludic" is another Latin term, paidia, standing at the other end of the spectrum. What we commonly described as games is ludic play, structured by rules and inherently goal-oriented. Paidic play is unstructured and opened ended, it is the primal learning activity that predates games and culture. The Sims, a highly paidic title, has done very well critically and commercially, though few other commercial titles have explored the market demand for paidia.
According to Game Designer Raph Koster's understanding, "Paidia just means 'very big rulesets.'" The implication of this is any paidic title is going to have very high content demands and production costs. This assumption ignores the very Zen-like notion that complex results can result from simple rules, and the best paidic play is fostered by the confluence of a few robust mechanics. In Façade's case, these mechanics are the two characters and the drama management AI, which mediates the player input. From these, a very real - if constrained - freedom results. In their bold attempt to support paidia in a dramatic context, Mateas and Stern have moved away from the discipline of game designers and toward the discipline of interactive storytellers.