Sunday, November 19, 2023
Monday, November 13, 2023
Long ago, a theorist named Wolfgang Iser writing on the subject of literary anthropology came up with a concept that's very valuable in game design: the distinction between free play and instrumental play. It's how you answer the question "why are you doing the thing you're doing?" during play. When your answer to that question is, "because I felt like it" or "because it's funny" or anything about its intrinsic appeal, then you're engaging in free play. When your answer is "because it's what I should do" or "because it's how you win" or anything about pursuing a goal, then you're engaging in instrumental play.
Picture Bob watching Alice play a video game. Alice is getting really frustrated with a hard challenge, or like, spending hours doing something monotonous and repetitive. Bob asks "why are you still playing that game if you aren't enjoying it? That's such a waste of time when you could be doing something you find fun instead." It's easy to see Bob's point. But if you've ever been an Alice, you probably understand that a person can be motivated to do something unenjoyable if it's in service to a desired outcome. The process might not be fun, but winning is fun. Or leveling up, or unlocking collectibles, or getting every ending, or whatever.
In short: this is why Minecraft has a survival mode and a sandbox mode. Some people genuinely do not understand the appeal of survival and others don't understand the appeal of sandbox.
Let's talk a bit more about this and how it ties into RPGs specifically.