Essays, wandering thoughts, and ramblings inspired from thoughts of old - all interconnected (somehow) into the life of Ben Bishop
Published on January 21, 2009 By Bishop In Misc

Board games are a fascinating medium and have captured the imaginations and machinations of many people. I have been working on a synthesis of drama (in the Aristotelian sense) to board games and even though it is the rough stage I will share it here. (So please comment me on what you like, or what should be changed. That would be greatly appreciated)

Why do people play games? This question is loaded and can be asked as why do people need to play or be entertained? This intrinsic need is not the need to escape as most entertainment (until recently) are active either physically, mentally, and emotionally, or all three. In Aristotle’s “Poetics” he discusses the 6 elements of drama, now drama is not confined just to the theatrical, but to any medium that reveals the “dramatic soul”. The 6 elements could be compared to a onion where each of the six layers encompass the core (which is the sixth layer itself)

Starting at the outermost layer: Spectacle
This is the appearance of things, what compositional medium was used in the construction of this set or game, was it wood, plastic, etc…? Even a prototype made out of poster board and index cards can look pleasing to the layman! Are the aesthetics of the setting pleasing to the players? No one wants to play a game with sharp edges; it just does not look appeasing and besides it is a hazard. This aspect draws people to the game but the art is not the game itself. If this element is not attractive the players have a harder time reaching the lower levels.

Second in: Music
This is the rhythm of the piece, how fast does each move/scene move? The pace can’t be too fast (rushed) or too slow (lethargic). A game that moves at a good pace (as perceived by the players) will be perceived as fun, how many people tired of Monopoly because the game lasted for hours and hours and only have the game sitting in their closet set aside for random playing but enjoy shorter or faster moving games. This aspect keeps people playing the game time and time again. Again if this aspect is not reached a player cannot reach the deeper levels.

Third, and last of the concrete three: Diction
This is the spoken word, in a play what is said can be a vehicle for the story, character, and action. In a game the diction is the written rules or the law of the game. A game that has the rules clearly written and explained establishes the realm of play. If this realm is not recognized by the players the game cannot be played, or at least not the way it was intended. Young kids will create their own way of playing a game, because they do not understand the boundaries of play (or because they do not read the instructions). I remember playing the game “Score Four” where the first player to get four in a row would win, but the instructions said the first player to achieve 4 four-in-a-rows would win (The correct way to play was much more enjoyable).

Fourth, and start of the abstract three: Thought
This is the moral lesson learned though the entirety of play. This is like Aesop’s fables where each story had a ethical proverb attached to it, but normally the lesson (thought) is hidden and not so easily exposed. What did the players learn though the journey of their game. (I.e. develop pieces, don’t expose critical weak positions, plan ahead, etc…) If a student can write or state a proverb/maxim that applies to the game they just played (and apply it), they have reached this level. This task may take several different times of playing a game to reach.

Fifth: Character
In a game the player is the protagonist; their opponent is their foil and antagonist. Character is defined by what choices a person makes (The actions make the man). It is like Hamlet’s choice to avenge his father, Rick’s decision to stay in Casablanca or leave with Isla or the princess’ decision in “The Lady and the Tiger”. It is that struggle that creates the highest tension while playing. These choices reveal the thought, and are the main struggles of a player. Every choice must have purpose to it, (if the choices are irrational, the game is poorly created and will not enjoy replay value). The player’s must control the game and antagonize over the choices they must make not have the game play them or have tons of insignificant choices.

Sixth and deepest level: Plot
To Aristotle plot is the revelation of the human spirit, or the discovery of the human condition, not just the story itself. A week ago, I went to a game night at a nearby bookstore to take field notes for a class I am taking. I noticed a married couple in the back playing a game, and they seemed to be communicating by their moves alone (they were playing for the love of playing), in contrast some grade school kinds were playing games to achieve a higher intellectual social class (they were playing to prove who knew more). The couple in the back was more fascinating to watch (I wrote my field notes primarily on them), you could see the strategies unfold, plans adapt, and it was like watching two minds dance around a board. “You cam learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation” - Plato


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