How Do You Change a Game’s Aesthetic?

All games, at least ones deemed successful, are enjoyable to play. The most common way games achieve this is by having an aesthetic (defined by Hunicke et al. as “the desirable emotional responses evoked in the player” [2]) that falls somewhere under the broad umbrella of fun. This near universal aesthetic of games has caused me to have the opposite of fun this past week.

As part of an upcoming class assignment, I have been tasked with changing the aesthetic of an existing board game. My originally idea for this assignment was a variation on Cards Against Humanity, mainly because it’s the closet thing to a mainstream board game I own. In original CAH players compete to make the most hilarious and/or offensive card combination, but in my version they would work together to make the most wholesome combination. However, upon reflection and consultation with the course’s professor, I realized that this would not be enough to change the game’s original aesthetic. After rereading Hunicke et al.’s “MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research” I concluded that CAH might not be the best game for this assignment. This is because CAH’s mechanics (i.e. the cards and their hilarious statements) are designed to be funny. For example, the CAH card that reads “David Bowie flying in on a tiger made of lightening” is amusing regardless of what context its used in. If I wanted to change CAH’s aesthetic I would most likely have to change the cards themselves. Since the assignment called for changing a game’s aesthetic and not it’s mechanics, I went back to the drawing board.

This setback led me to ponder upon the thoughts expressed at the beginning of this post. If the majority of mainstream boardgames make the player feel like they are having fun, how can I change that? The answer came to me while reading “Personality and Play Styles: A Unified Model” by Bart Stewart. In his article Stewart attempts to categorize the different types of gamers and their playstyles. While personally I felt Stewart’s approach to categorizing play styles too rigid and limiting, it did illustrate a fundamental truth: we don’t all find the same things fun. This made me realize that although I might not be able to change a game’s aesthetic on a macro scale, it can be achieved on a micro scale. Take for example a game where players compete to make the most eloquent sentences. The fun of the game would come from players using their intellect and speaking skills in competition. Now consider a second version of the game where the sentences players make are what an animal would say if they could talk. In addition to this, players must guess what animal each of them is representing. Both versions of the game are fun, but not all people would find both fun. Hopefully by playing (pun intended) with how a game entertains its participants I will be able to successfully alter its aesthetic while still keeping things fun.

Sources

Dillon, Josh et al. Cards Against Humanity. Chicago, IL: Cards Against Humanity LLC, 2011. Card Game.

Hunicke, Robin Et al. “MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research.” Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, 2004. https://www.aaai.org/Papers/Workshops/2004/WS-04-04/WS04-04-001.pdf

Stewart, Bart. “Personality and Play Styles: A Unified Model.” Gamasutra, 1 Sept. 2011, https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/134842/personality_and_play_styles_a_.php.

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