Welcome to the second edition of Unique Game Mechanics! If you haven’t read my post on psychographic profiles or need a refresher from the Part 1, allow me to give a quick summary.
Psychographic profiles are a more precise way of looking at groups then demographics. In terms of games and game development, psychographic profiles can be used to help game designers determine who they should design their game for and who will buy their game. This may seem like common sense, but when creating games that involve unusual or lesser used mechanics it is important to consider “Who will actually buy this thing?” One such mechanic that we don’t see much of in games (at least compared to others) is humor.
With this mechanic, the player must create something that is funny or amusing to do well at the game. Sometimes there will be restrictions on what they can do to be amusing, like in Cards Against Humanity where you can only use the cards you’ve been dealt or in charades where the player is limited by what they are supposed to depict. Other games like the VR game Comedy Night give players more freedom, with the only restraint being keeping to the relevant topic of the chat room (and the player has can choose what room they join). Someone who would enjoy this type of mechanic could be an adult individual who aspires to be a comedian or entertainer, but so far has only watched other performers online. They want to try performing for an audience of their own, but there are no comedy clubs or similar venues in their area. By playing Comedy Night, this person can hop on anytime and find people who want to watch standup and will give them feedback. In addition to performing, the person in question can also use Comedy Night to watch other amateur comedians and learn from them.
Author’s Note: This piece was originally part of an assignment for a class. Therefore the length is longer then what I normally post. I hope you enjoy it nonetheless!
Demographics vs. Psychographic Profiles
Demographics are dying. Or at the very least they are becoming less useful. In days gone by saying that something was designed with the 18-35 year old white male in mind would be enough to guarantee that market would buy it. However, as one of my classes recently pointed out, the average 18-35 year old white male can belong to any number of unique subcultures. What appeals to a 27 year old anime enthusiast will probably not be enjoyed as much (or at all) by a 18 year old sports fanatic. Thankfully, there is an alternative to demographics: psychographic profiles. Unlike demographics, psychographic profiles reveal the opinions, interests, and lifestyles of the groups studied. That said, not everyone in the group will perfectly fit within a psychographic profile, and it is important to interview members to confirm the profile is relevant. For game designers this allows them to tailor games to be appealing to many in that group, and thereby increasing the likely hood of commercial success. In addition to this, sometimes a “splash effect” will occur where people from an unrelated psychographic profile will also find enjoyment in the product.
Example of a Psychographic Profile
Jon is a 70 year old office worker with a college degree. Most of his weekday is spent at the office reviewing documents on his computer and in print form. He rarely takes breaks and when he does they are usually just a few minutes long. During these breaks Jon likes to do things that reduce anxiety, like squeezing a stress ball or organizing his desk. In general Jon prefers logic over creativity. Jon would much prefer trying to solve a crossword puzzle then going to an art museum. That said Jon enjoys some Sci-Fi and fantasy. He has found memories of going to see the original Star Wars trilogy in theaters, but isn’t a fan of the newer movies.
When not at the office Jon is often still working either from home or on the road. In the evening while at home Jon likes to watch the news and old movies. He’ll watch anything on TCM, but won’t catch the deeper concepts or themes in more complex movies. Jon engages in passive and sedate hobbies like bird watching, coin collection, and stamp collection. He’s tried Sudoku, but got frustrated when he couldn’t figure out some of the answers. Sometimes if Jon’s young-adult kids are home he will play games with them like Backgammon, Scrabble, or Apples to Apples (his kids tried to get him to play Cards Against Humanity, but Jon was not a fan of the vulgarity). Jon often will give his kids advice or let them win as he is pretty easy going and not competitive. When he is alone Jon enjoys reading murder mystery novels. He likes to try and figure out who the murder is before the book does.
Jon has a smartphone, but it’s not the newest model. He doesn’t like to use it unless he has to because he’s concerned about the battery life. In general, he vaguely understands technology, but doesn’t fully comprehend it. Besides the TV at home, the piece of technology Jon interacts with the most is his computer. He knows how to navigate the internet, but doesn’t fully understand the difference between browsers (he still uses Internet Explorer). Currently he’s working on getting better at using Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Word so that he doesn’t have to print documents out to mark them for editing.
Takeaways from Interview with Profile Member
I interviewed my dad, Don, who falls within the previous physiographic profile. Don is a 76 year old lawyer who is working from home due to the pandemic. Although he is no longer working from the office, Don’s free time is still limited. When I interviewed Don, he gave me some feedback on the above psychographic profile. He doesn’t consider himself interested in playing video games, but does enjoy occasionally playing boardgames that require logic and intellect. He does not consider himself a gamer and claims to have no interest in “games.” However, upon pointing out his enjoyment of games like Scrabble and Backgammon, Don conceded that he is not interested in “video games” specifically. Don revealed the theme or topic of a game (e.g. birds, fantasy, etc.) is not that important to him. Instead, based on our discussion during the interview, it is the gameplay mechanics that are of more importance. Gameplay that requires participants to use their brain and logic skills is more appealing to Don then something simple and low-brow. He also abhors violence in video games, believing it contributes to real life violence.
Game Design Implications
A few factors can be eliminated as things someone in this psychographic profile would not like. We can rule out certain platforms that could run the game, such as smartphones, tablets, or consoles. However, tabletop or computer games are options. It is also possible that the game could be marketed less as a traditional video game and more as a logic test, so as to overcome Don’s aversion to video games. Also, a game that features violent or controversial acts should be avoided. The length of the game should not be very long, since profile members do not have a lot of free time. Something that is more logic based would be more appealing then something that allowed for creativity. As for the theme of the game, it could be less important than gameplay to some profile members. That said, a game still needs a theme. In this case the theme could relate to a passive interest, as it connects to something profile members already enjoy, but can only experience briefly in their busy day. A possible game that fits these constraints might be a browser-based puzzle where the final image is related to a passive interest. An additional gameplay mechanic could be added where before the player completes the puzzle they can choose to guess what the image depicts. If they guess right the puzzle will automatically complete itself, but if they guess wrong the pieces will disconnect and the player will have to start over.
Potential Splash Effect Audience
Stacy is a 37 year old firefighter and EMT. Her career choice means that she has to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. In order to be able to do this, she doesn’t like to engage in activities that take a long time or can’t be easily paused. When she was younger Stacy engaged a wide array of fandoms and interests. In college Stacy was a frequent participant of pub trivia, where she enjoyed showing off her knowledge and logic skills. While she is happy working as a firefighter, Stacy occasionally misses being able to use her logic and problem solving skills. To negate this feeling, Stacy likes to play casual games on her smartphone, such as crossword puzzles and hidden objects. When she picks out a game download on her phone, Stacy gravitates towards games that can be saved mid-progress and don’t take more then a few minutes complete.
As this brief example shows, psychographic profiles are a powerful tool for establishing constraints and pinning down specifics for a desired market. I doubt demographics will go extinct anytime soon, but hopefully psychographic profiles will eclipse their use in game design circles.
A classic among young adults and those who enjoy dark humor, Cards Against Humanity is a game that is popular for a number of reasons. In addition to the hilarity of the card combinations, it can be played for hours, there are an immense amount of possibly card combinations, and it can accommodate a handful or a large group of players. These are impressive features, given the simplicity of the objects needed to play and their properties. Here is a table of the objects in CAH and their properties:
Color (white), phrase or word (used to fill in blanks or respond to prompts on black cards)
Color (black), statement with one or more blank spaces or a prompt
How do these simple aspects translate to what was described at the beginning of this post? Based on what is known about game objects and properties this would seem to be a difficult task. Often it is only objects with more complex properties that result in unpredictable and intricate relationships (Fullerton 130), which commonly makes for a more interesting game. Based on this logic, CAH’s limited objects with rudimentary properties should result in game that quickly becomes tedious. However, as I described at the start of this piece and as anyone who has played CAH will tell you, this is far from the case. How CAH achieves this is by using quantity and quality. There are 500 white cards and 100 black cards in the base CAH set, and there are numerous expansion packs that can be bought to add to this. Although there are some cards in the base CAH set that are comedic icons of the series (e.g. “David Bowie riding a tiger made of lightning”, “Firing a rifle into the air while balls deep in a squealing hog”) many of them are rather mundane when not pared with a black card (e.g. “Men”, “Soup that is too hot” “A tiny horse”). While most of the prompts from the black cards are funny, not all of them are obviously hilarious (e.g. “ _ + _ = _”). Because there are so many cards, it is uncommon for players to have cards with related subjects at the same time and even more rare for them to be able to use them to coherently respond to a black card (a rare example being the time my friend had the cards “bisexual” and “the only gay person in a hundred miles”, which she then used to fill in the blanks of “I didn’t realize I was _ until I was_”). As a result of this, even the more boring white cards become funny because they are used alongside subjects that have nothing to do with them. Also, by having so many cards CAH can be played for long sessions and with many people.
While studying game design, I sometimes feel like to create a game that is advanced and dynamic each aspect of that game must be intricate and complex. However, as CAH shows, games do not need to be complicated on all levels to be interesting. By getting creative with a game’s resources, including its objects, game designers can create unique and entertaining experiences.
This post is based on Exercise 5.1: Objects and Properties (“Choose a board game you have at home in which you are able to clearly identify the objects and their properties. […] Make a list of all of the objects and their properties in the game you have chosen.”) from Chapter 5 of Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games by Tracy Fullerton (quote taken from pg. 131).
Dillon, Josh et al. Cards Against Humanity. Chicago, IL: Cards Against Humanity LLC, 2011. Card Game.
Fullerton, Tracy. “Chapter 5: Working with System Dynamics” Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. 4th ed., Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2019. PDF.
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” ) 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.
Dillon, Josh et al. Cards Against Humanity. Chicago, IL: Cards Against Humanity LLC, 2011. Card Game.
I have always thought of myself as a gamer with a diverse taste. So when I came across an exercise in Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games that challenged readers to define the types of games they like by objective, it seemed like a chance to test this perception of myself. Before I made a list of the games I like and their objectives, I speculated that there would be some similarities, but the biggest thing that would stand out would the differences between games. The following table shows 10 games I enjoy, a description of their main objectives, and the categories those objectives fall into.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Finish quests, clear dungeons, and explore the open world
Build using resources gathered from exploring the world
Cards Against Humanity
Collect the most black cards by coming up with the funniest card combination
The Sims 4
Simulate life and create buildings
Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures
Complete levels by defeating enemies and solving puzzles
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
Become the most powerful civilization via culture, religion, science, or military
Clear the board by matching tiles
Assassin’s Creed II
Complete levels and missions using stealth and combat
When the ball is hit to you, hit it back at your opponent
Work with a team to correctly answer questions about pop culture
One of the things that struck me when compiling this list was the difficulty in narrowing down objective type. Many of the games have minor objectives or gameplay elements that could be classified as a sperate objective type. For example, in Minecraft there are monsters players can combat (i.e. capture objective), and in Assassin’s Creed II there are side missions involving chasing targets (i.e. chase objective). I also found it difficult for some of the games to pinpoint what objective category they fall into. With tennis I originally thought it fell into the capture objective, but after reviewing Fullerton’s descriptions of objective types I decided it was more in line with forbidden act. This is because the rules of tennis impose physical limitations that players must follow (e.g. don’t go into the opponents area or go over foul lines, hit the ball towards you opponent, etc.), which I felt made it more akin to the examples Fullerton gives for forbidden act objectives (e.g. Twister, Don’t Break the Ice) and her description of them as “involving stamina or flexibility, and sometimes just plain chance.” (Fullerton 71)
Based on the results of this exercise I feel that although the games I choose are diverse in their objectives, as was expected. However, upon reflecting as to why I gravitate towards these games, I found that it was not because of my desire to play a diverse range of games. Instead, I’m drawn to each of these games because of my desire to be creative, explore, and use my intelligence to solve problems. Even when I play a physical activity based game like tennis, my strategy to beat my opponent is to study their body language and moves to find a weak spot I can exploit. I take a similar approach when playing games that are primarily capture based, like Assassin’s Creed II and Skyrim. Another similarity I noticed was that most of the games have more than one type of main objective, as well as minor objectives of various types. My preference for games that are not unanimous in their objective I think reflects a larger trend in gaming, by both players and game designers, towards more dynamic and diverse gameplay by way of multiple different objectives.
This post is based on Exercise 3.4: Objectives (“List ten of your favorite games and name the objective for each. Do you see any similarities in these games? Try to define the type or types of games that appeal to you.”) from Chapter 3 of Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games by Tracy Fullerton (quote taken from pg. 73).
Assassin’s Creed II. Montreal: Ubisoft, 2009. Video Game.
Dillon, Josh et al. Cards Against Humanity. Chicago, IL: Cards Against Humanity LLC, 2011. Card Game.
Fullerton, Tracy. “Chapter 3: Working with Formal Game Elements” Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. 4th ed., Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2019. PDF.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bethesda, MD: Bethesda Game Studios, 2011. Video Game.
Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures. San Francisco, CA: LucasArts, 2008. Video Game.
Mahjong Master. GB Games, 2013. Android App.
Minecraft. Stockholm: Mojang Studios, 2011. Video Game.
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI. New York, NY: 2K Games, 2016. Video Game.
The Sims 4. Redwood City, CA: Electronic Arts, 2014. Video Game.