No math in games, thanks

More heresies for the win!

I was reading Chris doing experiments on a hypothetic skill based game and wondering what is the point. I really cannot understand what’s the goal, what he is trying to do.

Why the players should be fed with something like: change = ( rating2 ) / MAX(rating)2 * -1 + 1

What the hell is that? What does it represent? What it is trying to tell me?

Math has never been all that eloquent to me but I suppose I’m not alone. Before coming to the mmorpgs I’ve played and read many pen&paper rulesets, from the simplest ones, to the most complicated and rich. I always liked more those more detailed but in ANY case they were complicated on the mathematical level. They were only complicated in the mechanics and choices available. The purpose was always clear and they were still able to simulate and describe nearly ALL the situations you could imagine.

I believe that the difference between a computer game and a pen&paper one is about the target. The pen&paper games were always supposed to be managed by a human brain and be DIRECTLY FUN. Why we needed “rules” in the first place? To simulate situations, to define a structure within the game could be played. You could do completely without any rule (the most rabid roleplay experience) but we moved progressively to simulate situations and create “games”. Defined situations. Where the control of the character is not totally yours.

Considering that those rules were the fabric of the game and that they were directly managed by a game master and the players, those rules were always planned to be easily usable. Directly defined WITHIN the game space. They were symbolic and mathematically “light”. There could have been tables of reference to use for the critical rolls but no game ever required you to use a calculator and write down formulas to come up with the result five minutes later.

But why computer games need to be different? Why the need to complicate the mechanics to the point of making them “unreadable”?

The brain is a symbolic structure, it is not a mathematical structure. When we close our eyes and dream we dream of symbols, not of numbers. The numbers say nothing to us and for the great majority of the players MATH IS NOT FUN.

Even if the computer games need to be translated into math to work, this doesn’t mean that this level has to be fed to the players. Again, there was nothing that the classic pen&paper rulesets weren’t able to simulate. So why not keeping a simple approach? Why not design games that are intended TO BE USED BY A HUMAN BRAIN?

These are games. The rules are the game we play and those rules must be transparent and readable. The math doesn’t add anything valuable to a roleplaying game because these games are about symbolic structures, myths, culture. They aren’t mathematical puzzle games. That’s not the level that I believe the players appreciate. We want to be heroes and adventurers, not mad scientists. We want to roleplay, evocate myths. “Wish impossible things”.

If I’ll ever design a game my goal will be to create a ruleset that is symbolic heavy and mathematically light. Something that could be easily translated to a pen&paper game and played right away. Complex mathematical functions and formulas should be banished from the ruleset and everything should be transparent.

The whole ruleset should be planned to be used by a human brain quickly and reliably in all its parts.

Design something should be as closing the eyes and “portray” a situation. “Design” as dreaming. Design as the very first practice of “roleplay”. Like imagining a movie. Simulating a reality. Evocating symbols. Summoning experiences.

Yes, game design has its own language. But this language should be always shared with the players. There must be an underlying competence in the use of the same language.

When I close my eyes I don’t see mathematical formulas. The math is “cold”, it is not able to communicate. It is not able to create emotions. Game designer and players need to share the same language.

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