All Work and No Play: A Paradox

What is the fictions we tell ourselves? We presume we know the world at our age, while we presume that our misunderstandings of the world is attributed to our age. We are mature enough to know the world, and mature enough to know that we don’t know the world. It’s an enriching yet heavy time because that acceptance that we know nothing still, gives us a unique opportunity to experience and accept all that is new, like complex sponges with poor sleeping habits.

It also poses a curse, the early stages of a sickness that plagues youthfulness: the knowing. The knowing of what exists but shouldn’t, what can exist but never will, and what will eventually not exist anymore. As we grow, we forfeit our naiveté for the sake of order. Don’t get me wrong, order is important. It keeps the lights on and the monsters out, but at our age, we are fortunate enough to be in between a livable order and chaos. A livable meld between adulthood and youth.

So why talk of youth and adulthood and change and all that? Because youth has a power that can’t be forgotten: PLAY.

As a child, like any child, the world was my oyster. Its presume shallowness was masked by imagination — imagination that built worlds and stories that are forgotten as fast as they are formed. That’s because the goal in these daydreams as kids, isn’t any end product; it’s the fun of it all that matters. It’s immaterial. Liken to a dream, it simultaneously is an experience we perceive, and an experience we create — in a synergic feedback loop.

So the creating the experience, not the experience itself, ends up being the play.

When presented with the task to make a game, the idea of building an experience — a journey not the destination type of experience — was not even close to the immediate thought as a design team. We had dabbled with concepts of identity, binary thinking, controversiality, societal disadvantages, etc. What didn’t admit, however, until it was game-making time, was that we really wanted to make a game. An experience. Not some monetary statement. So at the eleventh hour we pivoted and married entirely to a playful experience.

Our initial ideas were spectating a neighbor’s home (procedural generated, branching story), clothing swapping (clothes being another accessory of identity, and people project identities on other people with those accessories), and developing a human/mermaid/fish society (each species has its own advantages/disadvantages, competing for geography or working together to build society). Our last idea being the closest to our final product.

After running through idea after idea through the Litmus test, we’d realized what we really wanted from the get-go: to make something fun. “Fun” to us was ironically enough, making something. We still maintained our values of change & agency, and carried them onto what would eventually be VillageCraft.

The game plays as follow:

Players start in an undeveloped landscape that’s randomly generated. The landscape is made up of earth, water, and lava. Each material makes up a tile on the 8x8 grid and each tile material has its own purpose: Earth being buildable and traversable land, water being traversable but not buildable land, and lava being neither.

The goal of the game, as a collective team (no competition), is to develop your village. You develop the village each turn by gathering resources, traveling the land, and building varied types of structures.

You as a player can travel across the board tile by tile (granted via a number rolled from an 8-sided die). You can’t travel across water unless you build a bridge, and you can never travel through lava. The more you build, however, the harder it is to traverse through the space, as the buildings take up more geography than the vacant and untamed space at the start of the game.

Throughout the game, however, randomness and chaos have the chance to hurt your team’s progress to building your village, via challenge cards (that can potentially benefit the players as well) that introduce natural disasters among other acts of god.

The conclusion of the game comes from successfully developing your village with all possible buildings the players can build. But in my opinion, the end goal is where you as a player are left satisfied with what you’ve built.

Our game concepts had gone through the gauntlet. Initially, we played with having a digital game, as well as physical performance art, but we landed on designing a tabletop board game..

It’s, in my opinion, a perfect board game equivalent to Minecraft. One that doesn’t simply utilize game assets, but nourishes its player agency and desire for building as well as exploration. Even better in that it lacks need for internet when playing and collaborating with friends.

The realized appeal with such a genre of game was that it was creating an algorithm, a self sustaining world that while we as designers put together the algorithm, the algorithm and the future players would sustain.

On the day leading to game completion, I was with my family on a trip to Big Bear — a final trip for us. Our the family mini-lodge we had spent many trips in, was being sold. That didn’t stop me from finishing what we started as developers, however. As the day dripped away into a golden sunset, I had the explosion of nature piercing my eyes, as we made a game set on taming the wild.

That’s what growing up is really — a taming of our more wild, yet liberated sides. Order and chaos. And with that, we forfeit our ability to play as free as we could as kids. That’s the irony and paradox of VillageCraft, in that it’s a game where you play with the ability to build a more civilized, orderly, & uniformed environment. As you develop further and further, you are given more things to worry about and be responsible for, and more constraints that limit one’s own agency.

So the question remains: Do you build on your society but live in contrivity? Or do you leave it untamed and be free?

Media artist that likes to play with making things