Thesis Blog

Finding a Theoretical Framework

Ticket to Ride by Alan R. Moon


One of the tasks that I was faced with while starting to write a rough draft for my thesis was to establish a theoretical framework to base my work on.  This was a bit challenging for me, but I understand the importance of this steps because it gives me a foundation to build the rest of my thesis on.  Researching and writing the outline for the thesis seemed more straightforward, but determining what my theoretical framework forced me to narrow down my research in order to focus on selected theories and points of view that I would base my research on.

Early on in my graduate studies, I was drawn to generative artwork, both traditional and digital.  I wrote a blog post about the generative artists that inspired me.  I realize that generative artwork is not apart of modern board game design, but after researching different game design theories, I can across emergent game design, and for the player, emergent gameplay can be a generative experience while playing games with others.

I started to ask why is emergent game design so prevalent in modern board game design.  The biggest reason why is because it provides a great experience for the player.  In games where the player has agency and can make choices within a ruleset, a player can experience emergent gameplay. This is especially true in multiplayer games that involve strategy, which is what modern board games do.

Then I came across the problem with emergent game design in board games can lead to, complexity.  In other words, complexity that can make it difficult for a new player to get through in order to experience the emergent gameplay.  “Emergence rises out of complexity” as it’s defined by Steven Johnson, so it’s not a bad thing for a board game to be complex but it can be a negative experience for a new player.  This is where digital versions of board games comes in.  Digital board games can provide a user-friendly environment to learn the game in. This provides a low-barrier of entry for the player to learn complex games and when the player feel competent at the game they can venture out and play the physical game with others and experience the emergent gameplay as it was designed.

Here is an excerpt from my framework:

In Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, Steven Johnson says that “emergence rises out of complexity”(1). Modern table-top board and card games are designed to layer a series of simple rules when combined form complex systems that enable emergent gameplay.

Jesper Juul states that “emergence is the primordial game structure, where a game is specified as a small number of rules that combine and yield large numbers of game variations, which the players then design strategies for dealing with. This is found in card and board games and in most action and all strategy games.”(2)

Table-top game designers design complexity into their game to provide the players with as many options as possible to enable emergent gameplay. Warren Spector says that we should “Embrace this idea that the most interesting games are those that let players devise personally-meaningful goals, formulate and execute plans to achieve their goals.”(3)

These complex systems found in board games can be complicated for a new player to learn by themselves using analog documentation. If a player is not able to achieve a level of understanding of these complex systems, they will not be able to experience the emergent gameplay that the game designer intended.

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