Single Player Competition: Strategy Games You Can Live In (my Indiecade ’17 Talk)

Hi everyone! As you may know, I did a talk at Indiecade ’17 last month. It went really well, so I thought I’d piece together a lot of that talk into a podcast episode to share with you guys. It’s about the special problem of avoiding toxicity, violence, and hostile feelings in strategy games, and how single player games are part of that solution.

I was originally going to put together a video version of it as well, but I don’t think I’ll have time to do that because I’ve really gotta get back to Push the Lane. Expect some streams of that soon.

If you’d like, you can follow along somewhat and/or check out this PDF of the slideshow. Not all slides worked with the audio, so for the podcast I had to delete some sections, so beware that it might be a little bit confusing.

In other news, there should be some big exciting site announcements for coming really soon.

As always, you can support this show by visiting my Patreon page. Thanks as always to supports like Aaron Oman and Jean-Marc Nielly.

  • Brett

    Cool talk Keith! What game is in the header picture?

  • It’s Agricola! You’re like a board game master but you haven’t played Agricola?!

  • Brett

    I have! The board in the one I’ve played didn’t look like that 🙂

  • Isaac Shalev

    I enjoyed your episode, but I disagreed with your point regarding examples of non-toxic boardgames. You rightly mentioned that Puerto Rice is particularly troubling for its representation of colonialism, and that Pandemic envisions a kind of apocalypse. But your other example, Agricola, shouldn’t get a free pass either. It’s not about a happy little farm, it’s about the subsistence lifestyle of medieval peasants that was enforce upon that as part of an oppressive economic and governance system that arrogated to a handful of people supreme authority over life and lands.

    Anything you make is trapped in its context. Five Tribes, a game which featured slave cards that were appropriate to its period, faced some backlash. The cards were renamed Fakirs, and the outrage subsided. That struck me as bizarre. Five Tribes, set in the world of the Arabian Nights, glamorizes a sexist, patriarchal, and oligarchic world. But only when it includes slave cards it crosses a line? (Ironically, Fakirs, Muslim ascetics, were largely male-only roles). Removing the slaves while retaining the implications of the rest of the setting feels to me like putting lipstick on a pig.

    Your overall point about the issues of free information and common verbs is well-taken. In tabletop game design, designers seek to match settings to rules in order to earn back some of the common language. If a game is set in a farm, you’d expect to see actions like planting and harvesting, and if your game is about running a television network, you’d expect to sign stars, book ads, and schedule shows. It’s challenging enough to marry settings (or theme, as its referred to in the space) and mechanisms. To then also express opinions or articulate a vision about the broader world in a cohesive fashion is the work of a master.

  • Phil

    I’d disagree with some of your views on violence in games, though all luck to you making non-violent games. There’s multiple roles for violence in games for children. I don’t think games teach violence as much as they channel it. Even babies deal with things they don’t like by hitting them, I don’t think it’s games causing it but the millions of years of evolution behind them. On one hand violent games are an outlet for venting feelings of frustration they have from real life, and perhaps we could develop games that teach healthy habits of dealing with their feelings of anger and frustration. The game doesn’t have to be bloody; just watching explosions might actually be cathartic. It can also be used as a kind of bait to catch interest; I remember when I was a kid first getting into sim city because you could set Godzilla onto the town. After a while I preferred to keep the town as I had got everything working. Crushing buildings with monsters literally gave me an interest in city design. 🙂

  • From what I understand, the “venting” theory has been somewhat debunked, or at least challenged.

    It may be that crushing buildings with monsters gave you an interest in city design, and yet it’s still bad. It may be that humans have done this stuff for millions of years, and yet it’s still bad. It may be what babies do, and yet it’s still bad.