Game design is a series of universal theories that can be applied to any facet of play, yet most people think the disparity between video games and tabletop games is too large to broach. Rather than seeing these concepts as a dividing line, let's take a look at some concepts often speculated to be solely digital and bring them into the tabletop environment.
Games are often declared as methods for escapism, relinquishing reality in the aspects of gaining fantasy. However, this notion excludes an entirely different type of experience, where the player leaves their reality to operate within another setting, a representational reality. In that concept is Simulation, a procedural representation of reality in a fictional setting.
Warren Robinett, designer and programmer best known for the Atari 2600 game Adventure, is particularly fascinated with the concept of simulation as a play experience. In his book Inventing The Adventure Game, he defines simulation as the following:
“A video game is an imaginary world: its inhabitants are nonexistent creatures that nevertheless the eye can see, and the hand can move. It is imaginary in the sense that there is no solid reality behind the picture. A bouncing ball may be faithfully simulated, but that moving blip of light has no real mass or elasticity.
In that sentiment, Robinett proposes that games, particularly video games in his example, are not real life; they are simply a metaphor for what real life can represent, based on simulation. In Robinett’s definition, as a game is simply a metaphor, it would call that all games are a simulation, regardless of physics or laws of the universe, and simulated entirely based on the rules-as-written by the code that presents the game in its form.
Eric Addinall, Henry Ellington, and Fred Percival further define the concept of a simulation in their collaborative work A Handbook of Game Design, with the following definition:
“A simulation can be defined as ‘an operating representation of central features of reality’. This definition again identifies two central features that must both exist before an exercise can reasonably be described as a simulation. First, it must represent an actual situation of some sort—either a situation drawn directly from real life, or an imaginary situation that conceivably could be drawn from real life (invasion by extraterrestrial beings, for example).
It is important, the definition above adapted from the definition of these authors, that simulation changes from “representing reality” to “representing central features of reality”, allowing the game itself to move away from what would be considered “real events” and allowing creative freedom, simply representing a reality rather than adhering towards a reality. In that, the authors agree with Robinett, that a game is a metaphor for reality, concepts that could be considered real events, rather than a straight simulation of reality itself.
By identifying that a simulation must constitute an on-going process, a simulation then requires something to differentiate itself from that of a series of moving pictures to become a simulation to the user rather than a viewer of content. In this example, the on-going process is “play”, and the ludic experience derived from that state of play.
The largest divide between “simulationist play” and other forms of play, when discussing tabletop, would be the concept that simluationist play directly represents reality in the rules that the type of play inhabits. This is the difference between recovering hit-points through drinking a potion, and disinfecting a wound before applying stitching or cauterization to seal it. However, I do not believe these two experiences necessitate mutual exclusivity.
While it is easily stated that there are games that can be considered far more “simulation” for the aspect of appealing to a certain kind of play, it is important to note that not all simulation must mean laws as applied to reality, but simply a representation of that reality. When designing a game to have “real effect” or “real consequence”, consider that a simulation is as concrete as necessary to deliver the experience. Degrees of exaggerated suspension of belief are necessary to establish either experience.
Essentially, a simulation is as much of a simulation as the designer would like it to be at the inception of the design; however, due to the procedural nature of games themselves, simulation has the ability to adapt itself to more fantastic situations.
Do you prefer simulation games, either on the tabletop or in video games? Is there a satisfaction from ruthlessly realizing real concepts in fantasy settings? Do you have zero interest in simulation? Let us know in the comment section!
Enjoy our content? Have something to add? Join the forums and let us know! We also have positions available for contributors and writers. Inquire within to become a StrMod contributor today!