What is Your Game About?

Depending on who you ask, or who is asking this questions, you will receive a myriad of answers.

“It’s about the orcs fighting back.”

“It’s about zombies and chainsaws.”

“It’s about isolation in the frozen north.”

“It’s about trains on the surface of the moon.”

“It’s about pigmy skeletons on the island of forever.”

The list goes on.

Generally, I answer this question.

“Well. It’s complicated.”

My games are usually about many different thing, none of them ubiquitous or even definable. My new project with Caias Ward comes to mind. Sure, my games share a few things in common, but no two are for everyone. I figured out a long time ago that when people hear, “it’s about dealing with loss and coming to terms with what you can’t control” they usually want to leave as soon as they can. “Freak.”

“It’s about perception and whether or not you can trust what you see or believe.”

“It’s about isolation and detachment.”

“It’s about judgement, guile, and fear.”

“It’s about nationalism and the lies we tell ourselves about community.”

The list goes on.

Cognitive bias is so strong in the gaming community that unless it opens with some kind of plot, people can’t fathom what your game is about. Certainly there’s an equipment list? Monsters to kill? Treasure? Adventure of some kind?

No? Okay. So what do I do in your game?

Maybe this is a better question. It certainly cuts through the bullshit exterior of the game that could be anything.

“Straightjacket is about being in a insane asylum and you’re a patient trying to escape. You play cards, frantically trying to escape your bonds, rarely with your own best interest in mind.” I suppose that’s a better answer than, “it’s a goofy beer and pretzel game where you get points for playing cards.”

Terminology is an important facet when talking about what you’re making or playing. So if you’re making a game about pirates, it might be important to say, “an adventure game about pirates” as opposed to “it’s about being a pirate in a prison during his last days before the gallows.” Those are two very different games.

But both are about pirates.

Players in games often do this too. “We’re in a campaign now where the dragons have come back to reclaim the world.”

Okay. Great. But are you fighting the dragons? Are they just a replacement for gods? What’s the theme? Tone? Is your GM just drunk on bad anime? “We’re in a campaign where the dragons have returned, slaying the god kings of the seven cities of man. Four have fallen already and we’re trying to save the last three, though we suspect we can only save two. The game is really dark and reminds me of kafka, the way the GM gives us visions of the world from the point of view of the dragons, sometimes. I would compare it to Lynch’s vision of Dune, without the bad color and hair.”

Next time you think about asking/answering these kinds of question, consider what point of view you are already starting at and if all you want is the veneer of zombies or the inner crunch of the undead’s torment.

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