N’Gai Croal wrote an article about two games he’s been addicted to lately. We say that so blithely. “Addicted”.
He goes into detail about his addictions, how they make him feel, and even sez, “I felt that old, cloying grip of obsession” overtaking him again.
There is something really important here.
I felt it in…my youth. I was consumed by the wonder of Ultima 3 & 4. I’d basically think of nothing else, from the time I woke up ’til I fell asleep at night. I played at home, and at school I was still playing in my head. It was profoundly consuming, and profoundly fun.
I experienced Wonder.
I found it again when programming the Commodore 64. Sometimes it felt like I could shake the pillars of Heaven, if only I could find the right Peek() or Poke().
And in the last decade, I’ve been having a hard time finding that wonder again. Many friends have listened patiently to me whine about this, but I don’t seek pity. Richard Bartle, in his big book, simply sez that we think too deeply about games, and thus can never be players again.
I’m sure that many will say Pshaw and Balderdash to that, but for whatever reason, I’ve only gotten echos of my wonder lately. These echos come from Systems Games (tycoon games, Civ4, etc.), and my analysis of their fun is that Systems Games are most fun when you are not building a system, but tweaking it to perform optimally. And that analysis feels like a leg.
Ever hear that old parable about blind men and an elephant? Since none of them can touch the whole thing, they all mis-identify the beast in different ways. None of them put it all together, not least because they don’t compare notes. That’s why it feels like a leg. I’m sure I’m not seeing the big picture.
Koster’s Theory of Fun For Game Design seems to be part of the whole, and Xeo Design’s whitepaper does too. I keep trying to bash all these parts together in my mind, but so far no perfect pachyderm presents itself.
Is it possible that wonder is a sub-set or super-set of learning (Koster’s thang)? Is it learning taken to the next level? Well, I’m not sure you can have wonder without mystery (can you?) And is wonder a mixture of mystery and excitement FOR that mystery? Is THIS wonder?