|Pokeball Art by BionicleGahlok via Deviant Art|
You may have recently read my Nuzlocke Challenge, Day 1 experience. The death total has increased to four since I wrote that piece, and everyone was painful. I still have my most loyal group though, so I take pleasure in knowing my pokémon skills are not complete garbage. Meanwhile, I have also been re-reading Donella Meadow's book Thinking in Systems - which is always an enriching experience. The result is this article about the design of flexible systems.
What I mean by flexibility, in this case, is the way game systems can adapt to player input when input can go so far as creating their very own rules. As I see it, if a game community is able to tweak their experience freely and create their own meaning within the system without fundamentally breaking the system in some way, then that is the sign of an incredibly healthy work.
There are a lot of ways to create a non-rigid system. The two that I think are most significant for user-created experiences are readability and fungibility. Simply put, players need to be able to understand the components of a system and be able to determine their relatively value freely. The easier is to re-appropriate game components the better. I defer to the article itself for examples.
I actually want to point you to a relevant article by Jamie Cheng and Kevin Forbes of Klei that appeared on the PA Report this week: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic rewards in Klei’s latest game: Don’t Starve. Their now abandoned quest system had a negative affect on player behavior. Instead, they came to this conclusion:
"We could no longer simply tell people what to do, but instead, after dozens of playtests and many UI passes, created an interface which gently and neutrally showed them what they could do created an environment where players could enjoy the game exactly as they felt was correct."
This important point here is that creating the space for players to engage with the system in that way is a choice, and a difficult one. Even when players are enjoying a situation of their own design, they still bring their own rules into a thoroughly designed space. Designers can't please everyone, but they can work on making their game systems as flexible and habitable for the ingenuitive players as possible.