this interview with Brian Eno on the BBC World Service (downloadable here) about the process of creating music. Well, in theory that’s what it’s about, but when you’re talking to somebody as interesting as Eno the themes soon grow to encompass evolution, the cosmos, art, and pretty much everything.
When Eno says that his kind of musical composition requires him to think like a gardener rather than an architect, he could be talking about refereeing a roleplaying game or designing videogames. The experience happens in the moment, sand-mandala-like; it isn’t a work of art that you create and then the players come along to admire.
Some designers produce games that look as if they are planted as gardens for the player – fragments scattered around to discover, and so forth – but often that’s just a case of an architect-type designer hiding parts of the edifice and then deriving great amusement at the ergodic stumbling of the player in piecing it all together.
If you’re planting design seeds properly, that process should lead to the possibility that any given player might have an experience that no one else had before. Outcomes must be emergent. That's not at all the same as being obscure. Many a walking sim has only one story for you to find, and the fact that you can come across story elements in any order may make no real difference to the final experience. It’s usually not on the relentless chain of cut-scenes and trigger points of some massive story-driven game that you find emergent possibilities, but in the the crannies of unexpected gameplay devised by a designer, not by a writer.
Sitting somebody down to tell them a story is something that cinema already does very well. Making the person solve a puzzle or succeed at a dice roll before they’re fed the next piece of the story doesn’t make it a game. That’s still the architect’s approach – in fact, an approach that leaves even less in the participant’s control. To make a rewarding story-based game, you have to prepare only the environment and starting conditions, then let the players loose to bring the story out of that. That way it ends up being their story. You’re just the guy or gal who trims the hedges.
If you're interested in Brian Eno's creative process, and lots of other examples of atypical inventiveness creating order out of apparent chaos, check out Tim Harford's book Messy.