Ronin Round Table: Seeing the World Through Game Design Glasses

There are times when it would be easier to not see the world from the point of view of a gamer and game-designer. Why? Because once you make the language and process of narrative game design a significant part of your vocabulary, it can be difficult to see things without those "game design glasses" on.

You read the latest Wild Cards book (like I did with Fort Freak recently) and spend time thinking about how some of the characters’ powers would work in game terms—at least partially because you wrote part of a Wild Cards sourcebook and will soon be working on more. You watch an episode of A Game of Thrones or True Blood, or go to see Amazing Spider-Man in the theater and start deconstructing action sequences or dialog in your head thinking: How would this break down into round-by-round action mapping? Is this an example of an interaction system or some kind of dramatic system of complications and rewards?

(I’ll note it’s particularly prominent when friends and loved ones glance at you in the middle of these sorts of things and say, "You’re building a game around this in your head right now, aren’t you?" Completely bagged, there’s nothing to do but own up to it, and then consider the meta-game complications of thinking about being caught thinking about thinking about gaming…)

Now, it’s possible to turn this tendency into something useful (I almost wrote "use this power for good"…comics have been a bad influence): A prime example is my superhero animated series deconstructions on my blog on I started breaking down episodes of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and just recently started doing the same for the Justice League series because I was doing much of the "work" pretty much regardless every time I watched an episode of the series! If my brain was going to go through all of the work, I figured I might as well make notes and share them.

On the other hand, you can run into some conflicts between "gamer’s mind" and other aspects of life. For example, I’m a neo-pagan, and a great many RPGs and related pop-culture entertainment takes…well, let’s be generous and say "artistic liberties" when it comes to mythology and a lot of the ancient world cultures modern paganism draws upon. I’ve had gamer-pagan friends (and yes, we’ve used the term "multi-classed" here, too) discuss the appropriateness of one aspect fueling the other, something I plan to discuss further in my seminar "Pagans & Polyhedrals" at GenCon next month (Friday at 4 PM—mark your calendars!)

On a more prosaic level, it can be difficult sometimes to simply turn off the part of your brain that analyzes everything from a gaming perspective to simply enjoy a comic book, TV show, novel, film, etc. Just like editors often have to learn (or re-learn) how to read simply for pleasure, I have to practice a shift between work and play mindsets. It gets even blurrier when there’s a mix of work- and play-time, like my gaming group playtesting D&D Next: just a fun game of D&D with friends on the one hand, paying attention to details of design and careful note-taking on the other. It’s one of the reasons why I sometimes prefer to play games I’m not professionally involved with in any way, just to take a "breather" and establish a bit more distance between work-mind and play-mind.

Speaking of which, time for me to go and make dinner, one of the activities I don’t actually view through the game design glasses. Wonder if that’s one of the reasons why so many of the Ronins are foodies…