A more in-depth look into the concepts related to game aspect of the project. Going from more general things in the beginning to more project-specific ideas later.
To really be engaging and work as a game, the system has to be designed with this game aspect in mind from the beginning. Using rules for engaging gameplay when trying to sketch out the details for how the simulation itself is going to work is really important. Indeed it is recognized as one of the core ideas behind this project.
How should we define a game?
What is a game really? How do we understand this word, and what it carries with it? Let’s try to think about this for a minute before we try to define necessary steps for creating a playable and enjoyable simulation-game. We will try to describe the game in general - as a phenomenon, although it is biased towards more modern kind - computation based games (go figure).
General purpose definition of a game we often use is the one focusing on the play-ability. Here this basically means that the game is an interactive system allowing the player to supply some input and receive an appropriate output, where the output is to some extent changed based on player’s input.
Taken the input-output feature we could say that, for example, shell of your operating system is a game, or that this website is a game. Why are we not inclined call those things games?
Ability to influence the output
The player needs to have some power over the output through he’s input. And it seems that there is a point where we consider the amount of power over the output to be too small, or too insignificant in terms of what there is to do and what we want to do, or in terms of presented complexity and presented situational believability.
We don’t usually consider a website like this one to be a game. There is the input-output feature, we can click some buttons to reveal more text, but still there is “not that much to do” here. It’s not engaging enough, partly because of the lack of complexity - not that many pages. But what about the shell? It has so many options, and the underlaying mechanisms are so complex!
Imagination is a huge part of games in general, whether we’re talking about creating games or absorbing them.
Players want to experience things they’re not used to be experiencing normally. This can be applied to most of human activities, really, whether we’re talking about pure intellectual or more physical activities. Things we want to experience can vary based on our interests of course. That’s why there is such a wide range of interactive experiences we create today, anywhere from bloody shooters, logic puzzles to city-builders and global systems simulations.
Basically - what are the stakes?
This is an interesting thing to consider when we talk about games and engaging interactive systems. We could say that our lives are basically games, according to the elements laid out above. But we don’t tend to think about them this way.
This could have to do with the fact that stakes are way off when talking about the game outputs having effect on our real lives. We tend to associate the game with something that is not harmful to us, usually anyway.
Games often allow us to experience things from a safe distance. This is an important feature of a game as defined for our needs here, even though it’s not really a universal property.
Gamification of a simulation
For our simulation to be a playable game we need to fulfill at least some of the features specified above. It’s best to focus on the biggest first, following down towards the more nuanced ones.
Player’s influence on the simulation
The player needs to be able to influence the output of the simulation with his input.
Simulation design with the principles of “agents performing actions” functionality implemented, allows for relatively easy overriding of some agents’ output for actual human-player actions.
Player’s takeout from the simulation
This is an additional point, regarding the input-output feature. Basically we can make the output itself more immersive, driving the engagement even higher. By making the output more meaningful and relatable, as well as sharable, we increase the will of the player to influence it at runtime with his input in ways that will steer it towards what he considers interesting.
We consider this to be easier for this project, because it deals with simulation of real-world systems. This inevitably leads to people finding some aspects of the simulation, and indeed the game, more relatable and engaging.
Imagining new outcomes
We all have ideas about how the world works. We are often bound to our personal experience of the world, and thus are often prone to make assumptions about things. It’s just how our biological brains are - there are limitations to our cognitive ability. This is best observed when tasked with predicting outcomes of bigger systems, where there is simply too much information needed to acquire to start giving plausible predictions and good explanations for them.
We are hardwired to think about the future all the time, it seems. It comes naturally. It is a thing we like to do. Harnessing this future-thinking propensity is a great thing for increasing engagement when it comes to gamification.
This idea comes rather naturally here for this project, as we’re already dealing with a simulation engine for simulating systems into the future, providing possible future outcomes.
Destroy countless worlds from the comfort of your home
Doesn’t matter what you want to try out, you can do it. You won’t put yourself at risk, you won’t put others at risk. And we’re not only talking about physical harm here - it includes more things, like for example trying out things that are not exactly politically or socially correct in player’s context.
You can try out your personal favorites when it comes to economic management of resources, or your political fetishes or whatever. Assuming there is any value to the simulation crafted (read: the output is rather closer to the true behavior of the systems they are mirroring than to the random noise), then there is probably value to playing this game and testing different ideas.
Project-specific design elements
(to be expanded)