Imagine the social and economic impact of a truly fun roleplaying game that infects players with an ability to resist powerful advertising messages and more consistently make purchasing decisions they feel good about in retrospect. Or one that exposes the extent to which our educational system works in service to corporate america and the economy and not in the interests of the individual.He is partly right, I think - roleplaying games do have a great potential for changing our perception of the world around us. But do they also have a great potential of bringing about social change - that is, can they ever reach a big enough audience to do so? Have we already found the right techniques to make people think and see and reconsider their previous opinions? Does roleplaying have advantages over traditionally authored narratives, in this respect, and if so, what are these advantages? These questions must be asked. I will certainly return to them in later posts.
For now, though, I want to pose a question to every game designer out there.
Are you making entertainment?This is a crucial question. You can either make entertainment, or make something of social importance, but you cannot do both. This is not to say that socially important art cannot be fun or entertaining - what I am saying is rather that if you want to actually achieve something socially relevant, if you want to make art with a message or a meaning, if you want to bring insights to people or have them develop their own, you must akcnowledge that to yourself and make it your most important design goal.
Your game should be entertaining, certainly, or almost nobody will try it out. (I'm thinking of my own Vampires - an interesting manifesto, perhaps, but not even I would play it.) But you must recognise that changing people will always lower the pure entertainment value of your game. Changing is uncomfortable. Thinking outside the box, re-evaluating your values, experiencing that something is wrong with your current behaviour - all of that is uncomfortable and will make the game less 'entertaining'.
So what is your goal? Is it entertainment, fun and having a good time? Or are your goals more lofty than that?
They don't have to be the same for every game, of course. Monsters we Slay is pure entertainment; Shades is low risk social engineering, supposed to be fun all the time; Stalin's Story, my Ronnies entry, will - if I decide to go through with it - be high risk socio-political hands-on experience. It should be fun, yes... but you should also accept that it can go quite horribly wrong and might teach you most about power if it does.
One more thing. This post has an implication, and it is this: the question to ask an aspiring designer is not necessarily "what will make your game more fun than other games"? Nor is the best advice you can give him advice on making the game more fun. It might be, but it need not.