Gameplay Fictions

I’ve got this concept in mind that I’d like to get out on “paper,” to see if it’s actually worth anything. The concept is “gameplay fiction,” and it covers contra-factual assumptions that a game makes to make the rules smoother. It is derived from the concept of “legal fictions,” assumptions that a legal system may make to make things run more smoothly. For instance, in Anglo-Saxon law, only persons may sue or be sued. But you would want to be able to sue a corporation, and a corporation might be interested in suing you! For this reason, corporations are regarded as persons in American and British law. That legal fiction is actually being used to defeat campaign contribution laws in the States: as persons have freedom of speech, and corporations are persons, you cannot inhibit their ability to take part in public debate.
Similarly, a game might construct gameplay fictions to make the game run better. Most games seem in some way to be simulations of something. Gameplay fictions occur when the system fudges the simulation.

Now, I know that all games are fictions in one way or another, and so the word may be a little odd to use. But if games, in some sense, are simulations of, say, a fantasy world, speculative future societies or entrepreneurship , then gameplay fictions are what happens when the game does something that does not correspond to the simulation.

The example that made me think of this is from the action rpg, Diablo III. From the beginning, a major part of Diablo has been the amassing of items – better and better, so you might defeat more vicious opponents.
But, particularly in Diablo II, there was a little bit of a flaw in this part of the game: whereas some classes – Barbarians and Amazons particularly – based the damage they dealt very directly on the weapons they carried, others – like the Sorceress and the Necromancer – relied far more on spells and summoned allies. This meant that it was far less obvious for them which weapon was the best for them, and the gear mattered less than the skills. Also, this was a system that encouraged sinking as many skill points as possible into a few skills.

In Diablo III, this is changed. Skill points are gone, first of all. Secondly, the gameplay fiction: all damage is based on the damage of your weapon. In other words, when my Witch Doctor throws a jar of biting spiders at her foe, summons Zombie Dogs to fight them or sends a malicious haunting spirit to harm them, how much my opponent is damaged is a product of the knife I’m carrying at that moment. In terms of in-game fiction, this makes little sense – the damage of a wizard’s fireball should depend on his mastery of arcane forces, not of the kind of sharpened metal he is carrying. It does make loads of sense in regards to the game architecture, however, making classes far more equal in their dependence on, and benefit from, loot.
Another example is the attack roll in the nWoD. In oWoD, you had one roll to hit, and then a damage roll. In the new version, you only have one. In this system, having an imprecise, hard hitting weapon is comparable to having a precise, less damaging one. In other words, a warhammer and a foil are considered to be mechanically very similar weapons.

Gameplay fictions occur in board games too, of course. For instance, in the game Dungeon lords, a troll can be used as an extra imp because they really enjoy working with the imps. You can even put trolls in the magic room (“two imps and a candlelit dinner enter – three imps emerge. It’s magic!”) – because they just love imps sooo much (euch – too much information, Dungeon Lords!).

So, that’s gameplay fiction. Do note that I am not for or against them, per se, and I think they are necessary. But one should consider where the fiction is stretched for one’s players – cause that’s where it’s weak!

So what do you think? Am I on to something? Or is it just silly talk? Can you use this concept for anything?


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