CB: One of the problems most tabletop RPGs have in that regard is the amount of reading expected from the players in order to absorb the background. Because if that's needed to play, that's a real barrier. [That's] one of the great things about the Star Wars RPG ... The advantage there is the player is coming to that already knowing the background. I think it was a really elegant piece of RPG design because the core mechanics were well suited to the style of narrative the Star Wars name supports - to the extent that I never bought the rulebook. I have the two-page handout, and that was sufficient to play the game. The concept was so tight that you only needed a basic framework to get it going, because players already knew the mythology. I think that some of the most successful tabletop roleplaying games piggyback on backgrounds the player's already have.
More than One Way to Play
PD: Let's talk about different types of play. Chris wrote a book called 21st Century Game Design...
CB: I'm actually only a co-author.
PD: Right, right, and when we talk about different kinds of autuerism, I'll mention your humility. (Group laughs) You were building off of Nicole Lazzaro's different kinds of play types. There's "Hard Fun," the adrenaline rush Santiago mentioned, and this is where the industry has been focused primarily; there's "Easy Fun," which is like Katamari and Fireball and Cloud; "Serious Fun," like DDR and management simulations; and then there's "People Fun," which she cited primarily as being in social aspects of MMOGs. I'm thinking this wraps back around as a way of looking at social challenge and interactive storytelling.
CB: Um, no.
PD: Alright, whatchya got?
GC: Interactive storytelling, drama games; what you're doing is interacting with artificial people. I can get involved in the actions of a character in a novel and I may be able to get involved in other characters in a drama game, but that's not the same thing as interacting with a real person and will never replace it ... up until we have true AI and the machine is legitimately a person.
JC: I come from China, and originally worked at a MMOG company. I spent a lot of time designing MMOG social structures, and when I think about it I was trying to come up with a new genre of MMOG - though I don't want to get in detail - but the more I look into it, the more I see that an MMOG actually reflects what a real social structure actually is. It's a max: How do you create a social structure that meets everybody's needs and makes them all happy?
GC: Nobody wants to be a peasant.
JC: Yeah, as the game becomes bigger, it becomes closer in structure to what the real world is. Maybe we can eventually find out how to solve real social problems through [MMOGs].
CB: I think academics are very interested in the massively multiplayer area for that reason. They're toy environments for exploring social issues that you don't have the capacity to explore in the real world. Because how do you get 100,000 people and put them in a new country and measure what they do?
GC: Testing politics is probably going to be difficult, testing economics is the most difficult. I used to play A Tale in the Desert ... and this is a game where some of the tasks really require dozens or hundreds of people. If you want to do some of the cooler stuff in the game, you have to join one of the mega-guilds, which are designed so the people who join new are treated as slaves and given tasks like baking a thousand bricks. People do it willingly because they want to be a part of the effort. There is some opportunity for experimental social structures in games.