Good event design (game, seminar or workshop) looks at all those pieces-parts somehow related to the issue at hand. For a complex problem, this could become a dizzying array of factors. Turning to the objective, we can exclude those factors beyond the scale and scope of the event. Of the ones remaining, we ask, “So what? Why is that particular factor, in light of the objective, important? How are the factors connected?” Factors that do not have significant implications for or weak linkages to the objective are further eliminated or notionalized. Finally we ask of the remaining factors, “Which factors do we want participants to discuss or make decisions about?” and “Which contribute to the participants' decisions, but are outside of what we want them to directly deal with?”
This approach weaves a web of interconnected elements which can be explicitly shown to be relevant to the issue and objective. Like dew drops clinging to a spider web, the outermost part of the web holds those notionalized or abstracted factors which often become "givens" or background information. In the next inward portion of the web cling those elements which will influence or be influenced by our participants’ actions; this is the realm of the white cell or moderator, injects, models and sims, assessment, "higher authority", etc. At the center of the web are the participants and all those elements at the core of the activity. These elements will have the highest level of detail, but be fewer in number than those factors in the rest of the web.
The web works for a variety of reasons; along with being able to show the connection to the objective, it keeps all the factors in a delicate balance. The factors of the greatest importance resident in the smallest central portion of web, while those of lesser importance are located out in the broader areas of the web’s periphery. Like the spider, our participants are able then to concentrate on the convergence of elements at the center of our investigation, vice crawling over the entire web wasting precious time jumping from factor to factor.
Once constructed, the web is stable. If new factors are to now be added to the web, they must be carefully analyzed to see if and where they connect. If sufficient connections cannot be found, the new factor should be allowed to fall away. Forcing any factor into the web without sufficient understanding of it role risks tangling the entire structure and leaving the chances of a successful game, seminar or workshop in tatters. The smart spider scurries away at this point!
An article on the front of the Providence Journal http://www.projo.com/news/content/38_studios_visit_07-15-10_U7J6AC7_v30.1914af9.html reports that former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s video game company 38 Studios is considering a move to RI. Currently based in Maynard, MA, the company employs “a team of artists, engineers, technicians, musicians and storytellers” who are working on the company’s soon to be released massive multi-player online game, or MMOG, code named Copernicus. The creative team includes fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, comic book and toy creator Todd McFarlane, best known for Spawn, and game designer Ken Rolston.
Says Salvatore of Copernicus, “This is a world that’s believable, it’s gorgeous, it makes sense. It’s full of beauty and danger and adventure.”
This gaming world is a fantasy world, which the team at 38 Studios must create from scratch. For 38 Studio’s game to be a financial success, they must create a gaming world which is so compelling that subscribers are willing to “pay to play.” This is the ultimate constructive design process – the blank canvas. For anything to be in this world, it must be added to the game.
Professional war games, on the other hand, are often designed from the deconstructive (or distillation/abstraction) process. Given that we already have a ‘real’ world with environment, orders of battle, culture, societies, etc., we are often faced with the challenge of what to remove in order to accommodate limitations of time, space and resources while still meeting our educational or research based gaming objectives.
The need to construct a compelling world, therefore, can be overlooked in the professional game design process. Yet it is no less important to the success of the professional game. While players may not pay a subscription fee, for many war game participants it still costs in terms of travel budgets and perhaps more importantly time away from primary duties.
I once had a game sponsor say that he didn’t particularly care about engaging the players, because “they come and play because they’re told to.” True in the case of military officers, but the quality of play will be greatly diminished if the players’ level of engagement simply consists of showing up, and are more worried about moving up their flight home than what is going on in the game.
In the end, our professional games are no more or less ‘real’ than fantasy games – a game is a game. I know of fantasy gamers who were more genuinely distraught over the death of a single online character than players of “serious” war games were over the loss of hundreds of soldiers and civilians. In the latter case a certain level of engagement was clearly missing.
Your players are the heart of your game. No players, no heart, no game. Creating an engaging world for those players, both the real physical environment they inhabit during the game, and the artificial environment in which they play, is crucial to getting the results you’re hoping for.