Whose game is it, anyway?

I was reading the excellent article (as usual) on the Socratic Design blog when I started to think about design as art and the authority of the artist to define his work. (Yes, this is a high-falutin’ entry today.)

I’m designing Triune as a “serious” game akin to Traveller or WoD games. (As opposed to sillier games like Paranoia.) I also want to challenge players’ mindsets and feelings towards religion. My design shows that: few jokes in the rulebook, serious tone in the introductory adventure, religions are character classes, etc.

Is that right?

As the designer, I have very definite thoughts about how the Triune game experience should reach players. During playtesting, I’ve encouraged that. Again, I think the rules encourage that as well. But one playtest turned into a silly riot full of pratfalls and bad puns. Completely different experience than what I designed. Everyone had fun, which is the point of a game afterall, but should a designer worry about that?

For example, I’m positive the people behind Passion of the Christ wanted viewers to feel sympathy, if not love and guilt, from the viewing experience. Yet the Passion of the Christ Drinking Game kinda changes that. Should a designer try to push the gameplay into providing “his” experience?

I would say yes and no. I’m the designer, so I can try as hard as I can to set a certain experience for players. In fact, I think that’s a requirement! Otherwise, you get bland, boring generic systems that don’t do much for players. However, once the game is purchased, it is no longer my work alone. It becomes part of the players’ work and they have the right to alter the experience as they see fit, even if I think it’s blasphemy.

I think Vampire works best as a serious game; there’s a lot to be taken from the humanity/beast thing going on. But if people want to just focus on combat, or soap-opera romance, or a parody of Twilight, who am I to say that’s wrong?

Whose game is it, anyway? Right now, because it’s unreleased, it’s mine. Once published, it’s ours. Publishing removes my right to Emperor of Gameplay Experience as I surrender to a democracy and diversity of experiences.

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