What does it All Mean?

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We long, with good reason, for things to make sense.

I recall my frustration with Fable when, upon finally reaching Snowspire Village, everyone speaks a totally understandable language. Plus, even though they have been out of contact with everyone else for “a long time” it’s no big deal when a foreigner arrives and re-opens the Cullis Gate. And where have they been getting food all this time? And clothes? Why haven’t they all starved to death? It just made no sense at all.

For me, the game world is the most important part of a game. I don’t care so much about the mechanics or the graphics or the story. None of those things matter alone. They only matter as far as they support the world. And, since I really do believe that the world (the real world that is) fundamentally is sensible and knowable, I demand that my game worlds make sense too.

One of the most telling aspects of semantic value (the meaning of things) is how in-game characters react. RPGs tend to be good at this, and perhaps go a bit overboard in telling you, over and over, what a great help you’ve been, or how important it is to everyone that you defeat the Dread PainBringer and his Army of Molten Magma Slugs. With that in mind, it is far worse when something momentous happens, and the characters don’t seem to notice at all. The thousand year old forest just burned down? “Welcome to corneria!” Huh, must not be a big deal after all.

Another major aspect of meaning is mechanical consistency. This means that the world follows a set of unchanging rules. Even if these rules are not familiar, or are complex, they should be demonstrably certain. If the game mechanics apply to the player but no one else, (or vice-versa) it won’t take long before players are asking “Does anyone else see this?” At least bring it up in conversation (NPC reactions again) to demonstrate that, yes, this is unusual. Even Douglas Adam’s Hitch Hiker series comments on the absurdity of events, and that whole universe is built on absurdity. If unusual things happen all the time (with no comment) the validity of the world will unravel.

This doesn’t mean that everything has to match my experiences. In fact, a bit of oddity and mystery is often welcome.I don’t mind if the world isn’t our world, so long as it is true to itself. The Ludic and Semantic value of actions and events within the game should mesh. Otherwise, the player will wonder “What did I just do?” when the game is over. If that.

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