A Theory of Fun for Game Design
I just finished reading this excellent book by Raph Koster, and a central theme really resonated with me: that the key part of the medium is being underused. This key part is the mathematical model to which the human brain reduces games, and with which the player interacts. He says:
What does it say about games that the peak emotional moment usually cited actually involves cheating?
By “cheating”, he refers to working outside the game itself, such as in a cutscene.
It appears that a game can most strongly affect a person through the medium of its mechanics. In teaching the player how to find patterns in its system, and subsequently optimal solutions, it can provide him/her with new ways of thinking, new patterns to apply to other situations.
It seems, on the surface, like a strange concept, and one which would make for a more novel game than something more conventional. I suppose most games these days do rely on the dressing of other media (graphics, cutscenes, a tacked-on story) and the addition of more content, to achieve the desired impact on players, and to differentiate themselves from existing games. When a new and innovative mechanic appears, though, the game is generally particularly memorable, and leaves players feeling fulfilled in a more natural and potent way. Recent examples that come to mind are the portals in Portal, and the absolute freedom in construction and destruction of your own world in Minecraft.
As a means of actually educating the player, outside of any explicit words of instruction or portrayals of desirable actions, this seems like a powerful tool with which I can approach my upcoming thesis. The goal of the thesis is to encourage young children to eat more fruits and vegetables through a game, and being able to do this through the gameplay itself forging new pathways in their minds is an alluring prospect. Complementary to this apparent power, of course, is the need to use it responsibly.