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BarefootPhilospher

Is social status of game character important to players?

6 posts in this topic

hey guys,

I made a post sometime ago seeking feedback about whether politics and games are an appropriate mix. Though it didn't provoke the dialogue which I thought it would, it did provide some food for thought.

In context of my game idea, I would like to develop a game which explores the economic and political changes which transpired in the 17th century. Most games and furthermore the vast majority of historical and fantasy novels largely only portray the lived experience of the middle and upper classes. Does this testify to a conservative outlook of game designers and book authors or does are they deliberately catering to the demand voiced by players and readers?

I am asking, because in my game I would like to place the player in the perspective of the common man, to provide a grassroots viewpoint on the dramatic social and political changes that swept Europe in this period. No longer would historic events be mere academic factoids regurgitated in history books or in the class room, but would be vividly, but would meaningfully affect the player. They will be faced with the concerns and dilemmas which confronted , which are shaped by the dramatic changes occuring around them. The focus won't be on social advancement in contrast to similar games, instead due to misfortune the player may find his social stature deteriorating. There was a fine line between financial security and destitution and penury. It was this poverty which drove many to become highwaymen or pirates, because thanks to economic injustice there weren't many other options. It will give a little more nuance to the causes which drove men and women to the more unsavory vocations. Will players be put off by such a dramatic departure from the more typical formula which allows player opportunities to pursue ever advancing progression in wealth, prestige, and status?

The game which mine will most resemble, would be the economics simulation, the Guild 2.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Guild_2#Real-time_economics

I haven't played the game myself, but from what I've read its an economics simulator, set in the Middle Ages. The player is given the choice of four classes scholar, rogue, patron, or craftsperson, all of which have their particular attributes, though from the Worthplaying review, all apart from the rogue have virtually the same game mechanics and goals.

http://worthplaying.com/article/2006/12/3/reviews/38183/


In my game the player will begin as a humble peasant in a remote village in England, where he tends strips of land within his village's open field system, while his family grazes a few sheep, pigs, cows and fowl on the Lord's waste in exchange for a days worth of labor on his estate. As part of his labors the farmer will plant his crop and reap it upon harvest time. I will model the game's open field system upon real world historical processes and institutions and will strive for utmost authenticity. A major feature of the game will be attempts to mitigate the "Tragedy of the Commons" which is a phenomenon where there is a risk that an individual with access to the commons will jeopardize its integrity while he pursues his own self interest.
He will have to engage with the local lord of the manor, negotiate and resolve disputes at the court leet, manage his household finances, whilst scripted events unfold which can be whimsical, entertaining, and even life altering for the player character.
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[quote name='BarefootPhilosopher' timestamp='1349174230' post='4986017']
Will players be put off by such a dramatic departure from the more typical formula which allows player opportunities to pursue ever advancing progression in wealth, prestige, and status?
[/quote]
Does it matter ? Simulations are not really games, but a simulation could be played as a game.

If you play a game, you want to archieve something. Simulations don't define a goal, but the player himself can define some goals to challenge himself.

The question therefore is, is your simulation attractive enough to be played ? Well, simulations are a niche (well, are the Sims still a simulation ?) , so don't expect to be the next big hit, but simulations are definitly attracting people.

A trick is, to make an open end game (aka sandbox), defining some goals and leave the game open. This way you have a game motivation with an open end, where the player is able to challenge himself. I.e. getting the biggest farm, trying to survive as outlaw, trying to cheat the goverment etc.
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[quote name='BarefootPhilosopher' timestamp='1349174230' post='4986017']
In my game the player will begin as a humble peasant in a remote village in England, where he tends strips of land within his village's open field system, while his family grazes a few sheep, pigs, cows and fowl on the Lord's waste in exchange for a days worth of labor on his estate. As part of his labors the farmer will plant his crop and reap it upon harvest time. I will model the game's open field system upon real world historical processes and institutions and will strive for utmost authenticity. A major feature of the game will be attempts to mitigate the "Tragedy of the Commons" which is a phenomenon where there is a risk that an individual with access to the commons will jeopardize its integrity while he pursues his own self interest.
He will have to engage with the local lord of the manor, negotiate and resolve disputes at the court leet, manage his household finances, whilst scripted events unfold which can be whimsical, entertaining, and even life altering for the player character.
[/quote]

Realistic simulation usually is not much fun. People want some progress - simply keeping the status quo is not enough unless you have some brilliant game mechanic.

The reason why people mostly play upper and middle classes is that it allows variety while preserving some realism. The life of ordinary peasant was too monotonous to be interesting for most players. In theory you could make it more interesting with interpersonal relations, but even at that case upper classes who had more personal freedom would be more relatable.
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[quote name='Ashaman73' timestamp='1349176085' post='4986020']
Does it matter ? Simulations are not really games, but a simulation could be played as a game.

If you play a game, you want to archieve something. Simulations don't define a goal, but the player himself can define some goals to challenge himself.

The question therefore is, is your simulation attractive enough to be played ? Well, simulations are a niche (well, are the Sims still a simulation ?) , so don't expect to be the next big hit, but simulations are definitly attracting people.

[/quote]

Well, the economic simulation will be a core aspect of the game, but it won't [i]just [/i]be an economics simulation. An economic simulation is a game genre where economics is a defining feature. Whilst it can't be considered a block buster seller, there are many highly regarded games in the genre. The the Guild 2, Anno and Patrician series of games, the Tycoon series of games, Port Royale, Commander: Conquest of the Americas, etc. I think my game will fulfill all the conditions which define a game, clear, well defined rules, meaningful choices for players to make, and compelling goals. I didn't describe the game in detail because I intended only providing context to the question I asked. I think it is important because as you yourself say its a niche genre and I won't be able to afford alienating a potential player base. It will be a labor of love, but I also want people to play it and maybe earn enough revenue from it to at least pay some of its development costs.

I definitely enjoy open world sandbox games, but its a challenge enough for huge companies like Bethesda, to provide enough content to populate a virtual world, which gives players a compelling player experience, let alone a one or two man operation like mine. I would like to give players meaningful choices, but not sure if a total sandbox format would be what I will be aiming for. At least initially it will be smaller scale and more focused, with possible room for future expansion. Players will certainly have the ability to make meaningful choices and in fact their choices will have a tangible impact on the game world.
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Hmm, I don't know about popular appeal, but it could be interesting.

Imagine it starts as a subsistence farming game. Then war starts, taxes get tougher and tougher. Your side raid the village of supplies. The enemy invade and kill and plunder. You're homeless and move to a city deeper inside your kingdom. No money, you fall into begging and then crime. You make money, but there's a crackdown on crime, so you leave the city and become a highwayman.

I can see a good narrative. Whether it would be fun... who knows?
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[quote name='Lauris Kaplinski' timestamp='1349211118' post='4986191']
[quote name='BarefootPhilosopher' timestamp='1349174230' post='4986017']

In my game the player will begin as a humble peasant in a remote village in England, where he tends strips of land within his village's open field system, while his family grazes a few sheep, pigs, cows and fowl on the Lord's waste in exchange for a days worth of labor on his estate. As part of his labors the farmer will plant his crop and reap it upon harvest time. I will model the game's open field system upon real world historical processes and institutions and will strive for utmost authenticity. A major feature of the game will be attempts to mitigate the "Tragedy of the Commons" which is a phenomenon where there is a risk that an individual with access to the commons will jeopardize its integrity while he pursues his own self interest.
He will have to engage with the local lord of the manor, negotiate and resolve disputes at the court leet, manage his household finances, whilst scripted events unfold which can be whimsical, entertaining, and even life altering for the player character.
[/quote]

Realistic simulation usually is not much fun. People want some progress - simply keeping the status quo is not enough unless you have some brilliant game mechanic.

The reason why people mostly play upper and middle classes is that it allows variety while preserving some realism. The life of ordinary peasant was too monotonous to be interesting for most players. In theory you could make it more interesting with interpersonal relations, but even at that case upper classes who had more personal freedom would be more relatable.
[/quote]

I didn't mean to imply that were would be no progress or change for the player. Of course most people would find complete stasis really boring and will give up quickly in disgust. What I meant is two things a) there won't be the degree of social mobility that there is in other games (after all it is the 16th/17th Centuries and class boundaries were a lot more rigid back then) and b) its not a primary focus of the game. The game will be able how the player responds and reacts to the social and political changes going on in the game world around them, which are modeled on real world events which happened in history. It is a game and not a simulation so the players experience won't be completely pre-scripted and events will be initiated with a tangible relationship between cause and effect.

I'm at the early stages of my design, so there are alot of refinements I will make to it.

As for your concern about the life of an ordinary peasant's life being to prescribed to be fun. To be clear, there is a clear difference between a serf and a free peasant and the life of a peasant wan't as prescribed as one would imagine. Its understandable that many people have a poor view of the life the lower classes, because popular culture does such a poor job of portraying them, relying on rehashed cliches and popular misconceptions. It stands to reason I guess since the authors of most of our popular culture are either middle class or working class who aspire to be and who turn their back on their own background. Edited by BarefootPhilosopher
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[quote name='jefferytitan' timestamp='1349217271' post='4986217']
Hmm, I don't know about popular appeal, but it could be interesting.

Imagine it starts as a subsistence farming game. Then war starts, taxes get tougher and tougher. Your side raid the village of supplies. The enemy invade and kill and plunder. You're homeless and move to a city deeper inside your kingdom. No money, you fall into begging and then crime. You make money, but there's a crackdown on crime, so you leave the city and become a highwayman.

I can see a good narrative. Whether it would be fun... who knows?
[/quote]

The basic framework of the above scenario is correct, but I plan to connect events such as above with a narrative hooked, linked to real world historic events.

In the game the above scenario would play out like this. Event/ Henry VIII joins the Pope's Holy League in their war against France. Economy/ The king's Treasury is rapidly drained, and since the Kingdom relies primarily upon Continental merchants for its military supplies, gold flows out of the country. A situation which contributes to a gold shortage, which just aggravates already existing economic distress. The King debases the currency in attempt to accommodate demand for money, which only serves to make the cost of imports increase. The nobility are the most affected by rising costs of imports, because they consume higher quantities of luxuries produced overseas and the rising cost of imports must be met with either higher volumes of exports or increased rents on their lands. For some it meant they would gain a better return from enclosing formerly common lands and pasturing flocks of sheep there instead. The wool would then be exported to the Continent to be processed into textiles. This created a dispensible population of former tenant farmers with no livelihood nor home who had no choice but to become wandering vagabonds and often have little choice to engage in criminal activities, especially with the King's dissolution of the monastaries, which otherwise would have offered meager charitable sanctuary.

After the introduction of the Vagabonds law of 1530 You had to apply for a begging license and it was otherwise illegal to beg unless you were a disabled or an elderly person. As for the rest of the population, they were consigned to publicly funded workhouses. Its no wonder so many in the Tudor era resorted to criminality and brigandage to eke out a living. Historical events just give context to whats happening in the game world and is little different from the lore of traditional fantasy games.
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