Putting playing back into games.

One aspect of LARP design that I have been working more and more with is the concept of simulation mechanics design verses toyetic design in regards to games.  For those unfamiliar with the terms, super simplified it is the difference between looking at a character sheet and saying ‘I can unlock this door because I have the unlock skill’ and saying ‘I can unlock this door because I broke the physical puzzle you had on the lock’.

Each design has its own advantages and disadvantages. For some people, character sheets and skills/abilities exist so that they are capable of doing things that they themselves are not capable of doing. For other players a character sheet is sort of a yoke that holds a person back from actually getting their hands into a project and “really doing” what their character is doing.

Defendius Labyrinth Maze Lock. Available via Think Geek (click on image for sale site). Sadly, all of the locks have the same answer so this lock will slow down IC rogues one time only.  

Defendius Labyrinth Maze Lock. Available via Think Geek (click on image for sale site). Sadly, all of the locks have the same answer so this lock will slow down IC rogues one time only.  

Each side of this coin has advantages and disadvantages from a game organizer level. As much as I would love to have lock looking puzzles for every single lock we put into play, the fact is that the resource and time investment of such a small part of gaming is not equitable.  In addition, once a player has defeated a mechanical puzzle once, chances are good that it will provide no challenge the next time they encounter the puzzle.

I once played a LARP where locks, as the example, were handled by putting a slide puzzle inside a box. If you wanted to unlock something, you needed to undo the puzzle without looking at it. The problem was that they only had 20 puzzles, and once you physically saw the puzzles in logistics and knew how to open them, they no longer served as a challenge. It was a great idea, but, the game did away with puzzle locks after 6 months due to the fact that they had lost half a dozen of the puzzles and the rest offered no challenge to the players.

Just using skills has horrible immersion breaking opportunity and less of a sense of achievement as their downfalls. Without a physical challenge (a challenge that is material, not the final stage of Double Dare) the individual has less of a sense of achievement. The person using a skill without doing anything physical feels less of a sense of achievement. Going back to our puzzle example, a player feels a sense of achievement when they outwit a mechanical puzzle. If a player looks at a lock, touches it, and says ‘It’s unlocked’ there is much less of a sense of achievement. In addition, physically seeing someone struggle to pick a lock verses seeing someone take out their character sheet is a major difference in immersion and WYSIWYG game design.

Lastly, players fall on opposite sides of the toyetic vs simulation mechanic sides of the argument. Some players love to physically defeat puzzles while others become frustrated because ‘their character would be able to do this’.

While there isn’t a great solution to this debate, the best answer I have been able to come up with is to provide both. To have specific scenarios where a player with a skill set can engage in a physical and mechanical portion of a ‘mini-game’ to achieve the desired effect (mix actual potions in a chemical puzzle, physical puzzles for locks, etc) or have a on sheet cost that is higher, but, players can opt out of the mini game if they truly want.