World Systems Underrepresented in Games

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This topic is a mission to uncover unknown unknowns in the game genre space.

Probably? primarily research oriented, this could be executed in two phases: 1) mapping systems in the world, 2) comparing this map to games that are made.

For the purposes of argument, we could call a system underrepresented if it does not have a ‘hit’ game made from it (say a game found on major indeces, such as metacritic or boardgamegeek, with above 4/5 stars in rating).

The intent of this would be to provide inspiration for future areas of game development, and possibly to theorize as to why certain systems become heavily represented and others not at all. A converse of this topic would be to chart which systems have very heavy representation as a comparative analysis to finding the “blank spots” on the map.

A sub point of the first objective (mapping systems in the world) would be to create a hierarchy of world systems to organize systems into larger groups. This would allow further granularity in measuring underrepresented genres if, for instance, bees are underrepresented but insects broadly are not, or insects are broadly underrepresented but animal systems are not.

A variation on the world system map would be to categorize systems by the emotions that they evoke, and establish a genre lens based on emotion — but this is probably too large to be a subtopic.

How can we match existing game models & systems to specific kinds of learning?

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It’s long been part of the broader game design conversation that “fun is learning”, and that what we do as game designers is create smooth, usable, graceful progressions through a learning and discovery process — but I’ve yet to see a discussion of what organic systems and structures (even conventions) that have grown out of games (for example tech trees, leveling systems, first time user experience, resource management) can be best leveraged toward learning whether in or outside of a game.

We are heading into a time when the fields of learning and game design are beginning to converge and interact in ways they’ve never interacted before, from a standpoint of mutual respect and idea-sharing. How can we create a feedback loop into this system where game design informs learning design, and where learning design leads to the creation of better games? It starts with a shared vocabulary, and an understanding of what systems create what kinds of emotional and cognitive experiences. These “cookbook” approaches have been discussed inside and outside of Horseshoe before (“Multiplayer Game Atoms”, “Psychology for Game Designers”, “Solving Big Problems”…), but this topic would aim to create a list of major game structures and discuss their specific cognitive relationship to learning processes possibly as defined by the work of Piaget, Vygotsky, and more modern theorists and structures (systems thinking, persistence, affective impact, social norms).

The flip side of the feedback loop is that by understanding what it is that is fulfilling about learning, what the learning state looks like, what is happening on a microscopic level inside a person’s thinking when they learn, we can create more compelling introductory systems, smoother progressions, and stickier elder loops. First time user experience remains a persistent problem in most games, and some of the answers could well exist inside the heads of teachers and education scientists. It seems likely that even in thinking of the “first time user experience” as a universal thing, we might well discover that a diverse approach toward a first time user experienceĀ depending upon the kind of learning desired is what is most effective.