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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

You don't need a learning curve to have fun

“A scout is a man who likes a change,” wrote Jack Vance at the start of his Planet of Adventure novels.

What’s true for interplanetary scouts in the Gaean Reach applies also to dyed-in-the-wool gamers. Whatever their preferred genre, they like change. They enjoy encountering new situations that test their understanding of the game. Granted, predictability provides a comforting safety net while performing those mental and pollical gymnastics. Sometimes it’s nice to know exactly what you have to do next. But consider those moments when you feel the real exhilaration of gameplay. It’s when you’re facing fresh, unexpected challenges. That’s when you get to extend your limits.

Hardcore gamers are not the mass of humanity, not by any means. We all like to feel a sense of improvement, but for most people heuristic problems are simply stressful. They don’t want to keep testing their understanding. They’re content to test their knowledge.

Think of it this way. A general has to deal with continually changing situations across multiple problem domains, drawing on his or her understanding of psychology, logistics, weapon systems, weather and so on. There’s never a dull moment when you’re Napoleon, especially when you have Ney on the battlefield.

At the other end of the scale, the ordinary soldier has a set of routine tasks and (we’re generalizing of course) all he has to do is perform them with proficiency and alacrity when he’s told to.

More people are suited to be soldiers than to be generals. There are more players than gamers, more consumers than creators, more colonists than scouts.

For the majority of us, familiarity with a place (or a group of characters) is more rewarding than familiarity with a set of rules. No doubt this was true even in prehistoric times. Asked, “How do I get something to eat?” the casual player type would respond by pointing the way to the nearest berry bush. Only the dedicated gamer would explain how to hunt.

Learning curves are only important if you think the player wants to achieve an A-level in your game. There’s no learning curve in Disneyland. Once you’ve worked out how to use the ticket book and how to fold the map, it’s all about turning discovery into familiarity. Goofy’s in the parade and the fireworks are at six o’clock. It’s interactive and it’s fun. That’s all you need to know.

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