In Part 1, I discussed the cultural and messaging problems involved with portraying the glorification of violence. In this part, I’ll be discussing the mechanical ruleset issues that tend to arise as a result of working with violent themes and settings.
I do not advocate “starting with theme” – you should certainly not start a game design out by saying something like “Three heroic warriors travel into the Grundendo Forest to find the Enchanted Obelisk and destroy the evil villain Sorcerer Johns.” This is not a game design concept, and I think most designers understand that. You’re not only failing to communicate any mechanical, rule-based idea, but you’re also restricting your ability to develop rules by the metaphor. Essentially, it’s working backwards: theme is the metaphor we apply to our rules to help communicate them. Starting a game design with a theme is like starting a novel with painting the cover artwork.
With that said, it’s useful to at least use small, loose bits of theme, especially during a game’s earliest design phases. If you’re like most designers, you probably start with a “genre” of some kind or a specific game – perhaps something like, “it’s like Advance Wars, but _____”, or it’s a “Rogue-like, but _____”. With that as your “base”, you work out from there. If you’re a good designer, you probably do a lot of problem solving, which involves a lot of dramatic changes to those systems, but you still have that original genre or game as a base. Continue reading →