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All I needed to know (about games and game design) I learned from Dungeons & Dragons
by Lewis Pulsipher on 08/25/14 08:02:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

The video is in two parts (each 8-9 minutes long).

The following is the text of the slides.  Of course, if you comment based only on reading this text, you're not talking about what I said, only about a kind of table of contents.


All I needed to know (about games and game design) I learned from Dungeons & Dragons
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
Pulsiphergames.com
Courses.PulsipherGames.Com

With thanks to . . .
Robert Fulghum’s little poem “All I really needed to know I learned in kindergarten.” It has inspired people since the late ‘80s.


First the list, then I’ll explain further
Keep in mind this applies to video games as well as tabletop.  As many have written (especially when Gary Gygax died in 2008) D&D is a massive influence on video gaming

The List
You don't need high-level technology to make an "immersive" game
For human/psychological games (as opposed to computer-mediated challenge games), players enjoy the journey, not the destination.
Some people like to be told stories, others like to make their own.

The objective is to make the players THINK their characters are going to die, not to kill them.
We all like to improve.
User generated content enriches a game immensely.  (Adventures, monsters, classes, etc.)
It's more fun with more than one person.
Cooperation is required for survival.
Think before you leap.
Get organized!
Don't run headlong where you've never been.
Keep track of the stuff you’ve got; otherwise you may forget something that could save your butt.
Always have a viable “Plan B”.
Always have a way out.
Don’t depend on luck!
R.I.P. Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson.

You don't need high-level technology to make an "immersive" game
“Techno-fetishism” sometimes dominates the ranks of AAA list game creators
The idea that you have to use technology to make the appearance of a game highly “realistic” in order to let the player feel like he’s really there
This is partly because video game creators for so many years consisted of programmers who became game makers
In D&D we could feel like we were really there, at times, with nothing but a simple board and 2 dimensional pieces (though miniature figures might help)

It’s the game, not the technology
Nor is the “latest” version of the game necessary.  I still think first edition AD&D is the most playable and enjoyable version of the game
Similarly, in life, we don’t need the latest technology to thoroughly enjoy ourselves.
Why spend 20 minutes striving to use/acquire the latest technology when doing the job the old way takes 10?

For human/psychological games (as opposed to computer-mediated challenge games), players enjoy the journey, not the destination.
When people play single-player video games, their objective is to meet all the challenges, to “beat the game”, and then to stop playing!
In D&D there is no destination, just a journey that continues until the campaign ends or the player quits
Low and behold, life is the same way.  It’s not “he who has the most toys when he dies wins”, it’s “he who enjoyed life the most wins”.  When you’re dead, that’s all.

Some people want to be told stories, others like to make their own
D&D is very flexible.  Some referees like to tell stories through the game, what I call “leading people by the nose”
Others like to set up a situation, perhaps with a specific objective, and let the players work out what to do, to make their own story.
After all, if you try to predict what the players will do, you’ll often be wrong
In life, I prefer to make my own story, not depend on other people to decide how I ought to think and behave, what I should strive for.


The objective is to make the players THINK their characters are going to die, not to kill them
So many bad D&D referees get hung up on “holding up the side”, as the British would say, in making sure that the badguys make a really good showing, that they forget the point
The point is not that the badguys do really well, it’s that they do well enough to give the players a scare, and then lose!

We all like to improve
D&D was the first major game to include experience levels and “continuous improvement”
It was also one of the first to include lots of interesting individual loot.  All this lets the player’s character improve himself, and that’s a major objective in many, many video games.
I’m old enough to get senior discounts, but that doesn’t stop me from learning and trying to get better at what I do

User generated content enriches a game immensely - adventures, monsters, classes, etc.)
D&D is the perfect non-electronic medium for user-generated content: monsters, magic items, scenarios/adventures, even character classes
As company-generated video-game content becomes more and more expensive in the 21st century, studios need to find more ways to enable users to modify the games and increase everyone’s enjoyment

It's more fun with more than one person
Traditional video games have been one-person affairs, playing with/against a computer, for decades
Now we’re changing that, to where more than one person is involved, and all but the most solitary or anti-social are going to learn that games were originally social affairs, and video games are now joining that tradition

Cooperation is required for survival
In the real world, of course, one person on their own in a dangerous situation is often a dead person.  The same is true in D&D.

Think before you leap
So many poor players seem to have their brains turned off.  Nowadays some video games don’t give you time to think, but many do – use it
The same applies to design, of course


Get organized!
So many adventuring parties fail from sheer lack of organization.  D&D showed how much difference “having your stuff together” made
Which also applies to game design

Don't run headlong where you've never been
Well, duh!  But it was (and is) amazing how many people would “run away” in a direction they’d never been – and regret it


Keep track of the stuff you’ve got; otherwise you may forget something that could save your butt
When things go bad in D&D, it’s time to look at what you’re carrying, at your magic items and spells, to see if there’s something that will help; otherwise you’ll sometimes forget what you’ve got

Always have a viable “Plan B”
Doh! again.  Yet so often players have no decent Plan B.  There are no reloadable saves available in tabletop D&D, so we had to “do things right the first time” (which could itself be a lesson learned)
Good advice for game designers, too

Always have a way out
See previous entries.  The fundamental Plan B is getting away to fight another day.

Don’t depend on luck
When I first saw D&D I said “I hate dice games.”  But I discovered that it wasn’t a dice game, played properly
It is a microcosm of life: do everything you practically can to avoid having to rely on a die roll to save your bacon.  You won’t always be able to, but you can minimize the number of times you have to life-and-death “roll dem bones.”
Iron golem example
Especially important for game designers.  Trial and error (guess and check) is inefficient at best, hopeless at worst


I confess to literary license: D&D didn’t teach me all of these things, as I’d been playing games for many years and was 25 years old before I encountered D&D.  But the game nonetheless well illustrates these points.

An earlier text version is at:
http://gamecareerguide.com/features/775/all_i_really_needed_to_know_about_.php


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