Expanding Experience – Why Games Appeal

Plainly said, I am enamored of simple, elegant design that makes complex realities both accessible and beautiful. I think this concept especially relates to story and games. When I experience life, it is just experience; yet bounded by particular parameters and cast in a limited context, say a short story, song, drawing or verse, experience can become immersive artwork. Others can then enter the experience and find enjoyment, inspiration, and perhaps edification, whether the experience itself is painful, uncomfortable, boisterous, joyous, or even drab and mundane. That is the magic of story-ing our world, and we owe much of our personal growth (expanded experience) to those artists who do it best: musicians, writers, actors, directors, storytellers, game masters, and designers.

I believe games are alluring for exactly this reason. A game is an experience set within certain parameters (the often arbitrary “Rules”), with key aspects boiled down to fitting abstractions. When done well, the game is enjoyable and immersive, and players gain unique access to new experiences. They can vicariously participate in what would otherwise be impossibly inaccessible to them. This expansion of experience is the magic and allure of story, and in some ways, this games may possess this power in even greater portion. It’s for this reason that I am consistently impressed and intoxicated by masterworks such as Sid Meier’s Civilization and it’s derivatives, which offer abundant complex realism within an elegant and simple frame of abstract mechanics and rules. How else can I get a feeling for the ramifications of geography and technology over a few millenia? With expanded experience can come altered viewpoints and can possibly rearrange entire worldviews. Sounds dramatic for a game perhaps, but all I’m saying is it’s possible.

Driven by this allure of expanded experience, I have been passionate about games, since I was young. I seldom play a game without thinking of ways to transpose its enjoyable experience to new heights, formats, or systems. With like-minded comrades, then as now, I sought out, developed, and tested new systems capable of beautifully facilitating exploration of complicated experiences that are otherwise unavailable to me: the New World age of exploration, colonization, tall ships, piracy, and  evolution; the macro-economics of feudalism, industry, magic, and speculative markets; alien evolution and what participating in inter-species olympics might look and feel like.

I understand that some or many games are abstract and storyless, but I guess I’m ignoring those games for now.

Most will agree that story grants vicarious experience and broadens readers’ horizons. I argue that the inherently participatory nature of games, especially story games and role-playing games–where the narrative is crafted by the collaboration of each participant, the story grows organicly through play, and practically anything goes–offer an enormous double portion of the expansive magic of story. The Insatiable in me wants the kind of curiosity and wonder that seeks all opportunities for more of that expansion in my life, instead of getting comfortable with my small, given range of experience, where I feel safer supposedly knowing how things work and what I can expect. The Inexhaustible is out there; the Inexhaustible is right here, an ocean of unknown inside me. How can I turn down opportunities to explore?

This musing is admittedly very vague. Perhaps I’ll do a follow-up post with some details and examples from my experience.

About Adam

Adam is a husband, an explorer of the inexhaustible, and a hunter for unexpected synergies and collaborative potentials. His explorations into RPGs began with DMing D&D, though lately he enjoys mining the potentials of diverse systems, especially Cortex Plus.
This entry was posted in Exploration, Gaming, Story and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Expanding Experience – Why Games Appeal

  1. Hello! Your much appreciated blog made me think of both how to maximize the joy of a game, and how to maximize the existence of games via discovery and invention.

    Mary Poppins, a genius game-maximizer of our time, said it well. “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAP – the job’s a game!”

    Thank you for sharing, Adam!

    • atminn says:

      Thanks Brian. I hadn’t actually been thinking about adding games to activities I’m already doing, but that definitely applies. I used to do that a lot more when I worked as a machine operator on 3rd shift. If imagination alone isn’t sufficient, I’m reminded of the EpicWin app that turns your chores and to-do list into quests, and when you complete items you get XP, loot, and can soon level up and increase your attribute stats. It sounds like a great tool even for adults.

      On Saturday, @dreadgazeebo mentioned trying out a similar tactic for parenting: His son got to ‘level-up’ and learn new moves after completing certain quests (chores). He got the new moves “Superspeed” and “Shapeshift” so he could run in the house and act like an animal 3 times a day. Needless to say, I’m definitely intrigued.

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