Inhabiting Imaginary Spaces // The Dreaded Subject of Systems

I’m still trying to refine my own ideas and how I talk about play. I don’t want to be didactic, but at the same time, I feel a huge sense of discomfort on how it is often talked about by game designers and theorists. Please don’t take this as some kind of grand overarching theory of play, I’m more just trying to make clear my own feelings on such.

Almost every type of play, or game, primarily focuses on some kind of idea of space. This play-space is often imagined, in which case tools such as illustrations on a board, hand-drawn maps, levels in a videogame; or they can be completely real, as with playing fields, tables or social spaces.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the point of any game is to make being inside that space in some way compelling.

The primal joy of being able to inhabit and exist and move and express within an imagined space is the reason why games of all sorts, and more specifically roleplaying and videogames, are so special to me. I feel that often, far more focus is given to systems that intentionally or unintentionally detract from this, and I think this might be a good rubric for determining my feelings on game design theory.

Does a gameplay system aid or hinder the player in inhabiting the space?

For whose enjoyment does a system exist and what is its intended purpose?

Does a system treat the player as subject or participant?

Hopefully I can use these questions to help talk a bit more constructively about my feelings on game design as opposed to endlessly decrying the core loop as a concept.

October 3, 2021

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