Been getting ready for the Game Developers Conference this year again. As is the standard, our Captain Cleaver will be doing a large number of speaking appointments and some of our oceanmasters will be working the conference as Conference Associates in disturbingly bright t-shirts. I'm not looking forward to waking up at dawn each day for a week, but everything else about volunteering is terribly exciting.
This year, the conference will be even bigger than years previous, and we have expanded into the Moscone South hall, meaning that the conference now takes up all three of the Moscone conference buildings in downtown San Francisco.
While looking through the schedule of sessions and roundtables, one title that jumped out at me was a talk entitled Treat Me like a Lover, which is a lighthearted encouragement to game designers to think of prospective players as people they have to woo. According to the little blurb summarizing the talk's material, "pretending the player is a prospective lover will improve your design." (Apparently spam companies are really into this talk too, judging from the amount of John Thomas enlargement e-mail that I get at my puzzlepirates.com e-mail address.)
I mean this in the nicest possible way, but I really, really don't think of Puzzle Pirates players as prospective lovers. I'm sure that they're more comfortable with me that way, too.
Allegorically of course, this talk makes sense in that you want the game you design to be responsive, approachable, and pleasantly surprising. Still, the image of romance makes me think of monogamy, and one thing I do not think any game has any right to expect from most of its players is for them to never play any other games.
Raph Koster wrote an interesting blog post about this a few months ago, wondering why games aren't designed more like the "third place"- that is, a community gathering place outside of work and home. Instead, most games seem to be designed to draw in customers and keep them there as long as possible with complicated hooks and quests. Indeed, one might think of some games as shopping malls with entry fees, selling power ups and other game items at every turn for profit in addition to trying to keep the customer inside as long as possible.
Do U.S. game designers lack experience with a third space from which to draw inspiration? Is Puzzle Pirates any different than the casino or mall experience, with its convoluted passages and array of colors and lights? Can the third place be something we establish online with new social and "player created content" type games?
I'm confused, but I'm starting to wonder if I should go to this talk to see what it's about.