11 May 2006

Playing Games

As We wait for The Fecal-Faced Fools to finally reach the beginning point again...

The Jenius has been a game fanatic since the age of 3, when He was first introduced to playing cards. Going through the usual staples of middle-class Americana, He played Chutes 'n' Ladders, Operation, Monopoly (still one of My favorites), Scrabble (another big favorite), chess (ditto), Yahtzee, Sorry, Trouble, Easy Money and a host of other games...including The Game of Life, the only game aside from Bingo that The Jenius will not play under any circumstance.

Played poker in college, for several hundred dollars a night. This was waaay before the current poker craze. Also learned to play bridge, but with every other player pushing 50, 60 or even 70 while I tried to nudge 20, that wasn't much fun.

Then I discovered simulations and more complex games, such as role playing systems and "alternate" game systems. The sheer variety was quite appealing to Me and that's when I began to delve into game design and game theory.

Cutting this short: I realized that what makes a game interesting is clarity, balance and end result. Doesn't really matter what the topic is or what the game mechanics are, if the game has these three characteristics, it will be a good game.

--Clarity: Nothing kills a game more than ambiguity in the rules, the fuzziness that comes from not knowing exactly where you are within the game or how a situation needs to be handled. Uncertainty in developing a winning strategy is a good thing; uncertainty in rules leads to arguments.

--Balance: Refers to how the game is played within its structure and what options are available to the players. Games with good balance allow for a variety of strategies and the use of judgement; bad games feel like forced marches through poison ivy.

--End result: If winning or losing the game doesn't seem like a worthy goal, the game stinks. That's exactly the problem with The Game of Life: you drove around, multiplying like a demented rabbit, acquiring stupid stuff until you retired to Happy Homes or somesuch imbecilic place. On the other hand, some video games nowadays want you to kill everybody so you can become a crime lord. That's just as stupid as Happy Huts, Homes or whatever.

This entire buildup is to explain My comment, oft-repeated for years, that "Politics is a game where nobody wins." Based on My definition of what a good game is, politics is obviously a loser.

--Clarity?: Puh-lease. There are swampy sewers under New Orleans that are clearer than ANY political system currently operating in the world.

--Balance?: No game can ever be balanced if the players are allowed to cheat. Politics is so bad that players are encouraged to cheat, expected to cheat and those who aren't cheating openly should be targeted for criminal investigations because they're damn sure cheating in the shadows.

--End result?: Sadly, politics is that odd game where the spectators care more for the end result than the players. And when players don't care about the game, they can only care about what they get out of it. Tell Me if that doesn't perfectly describe what We see in politics every freaking day.

Should politics be considered a game? Maybe, maybe not. But if We are to clear up the whole mess, We can start by considering it as such and clarifying the rules, establishing the basis for a more balanced set of players and develop the idea that the end result of playing politics is extremely important.

And note: of these three general approaches, only the last one is truly viable. We can do it by making damn sure The Fools are under Our constant, careful and conscientious scrutiny.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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