Arguably, the main reason to play a boardgame is human interactions. Be them with other real people or intrinsically within the mind of the solo player (a struggle between the mediating ego and your self-critical super-ego). Without humans involved, boardgames disintegrate into lifeless bits of plastic and round cardboard circles. Much in the same way: physical challenges aren’t fun, but the feeling of triumph when you conquer a 20 mile run can be hugely rewarding. The magic ingredient is “people” – As soon as there are other players involved in the game you are playing (outside of a single player game) social interaction becomes both inescapable and potent. Raph Koster’s book “a theory of fun”, has superb information here. Some of the key social forms that can be displayed in a game are:
- Schadenfreude, “Hah! I won and you lost, this means you are inferior to me.” A drunken, gloating feeling you get when a rival fails at something – a put down.
- Fieor, “YEAH!” *fist pump*. The expression of triumph when you have achieved a significant task. This is can be thought of as expressing to others that you are involved with success and as such, valuable.
- Naches, “You’ve done well young padawan…” The feeling you get when someone you mentor succeeds. This is a clear feedback mechanism for continuing the tutor / learner relationship within your social frame.
- Kvell, “You didn’t really have a chance, I was taught by the world champion.” The emotion you feel when bragging about someone you mentor. Signalling that you are valued in your socialframe and ear marked for special treatment.
- Belongingness, “You’re like me!” said to be one of the most basic psychological needs, the tendency of humans to be part of a group. I hope you enjoyed the free lemonade at our cursor disco – you are one of us now.
- Out-group Derogation, “You’re not on my side.” Where an out-group (eg: “The opponents”) is perceived as being threatening to your own kind. Also known as “No I don’t believe anything you say because I think you are a Werewolf”
We can see that Schadenfreude and Fieor will be easily on display on any table top, but how can Naches get involved? Gateway games perhaps? Family games? And perhaps we could find Kvell in a high level competitive CCG game? Perhaps the traditional “rules lawyers” gamer type: the ones that don’t let anyone else see the rule book and casually forget to tell people those crucial special-case rules, perhaps they exhibit constructs displaying Kvell. In a full competitive game, Belongingness would creep up in a ‘King-maker’ situation; where a single player (although not a winner herself) would be able to choose the winner. Simply put: she will choose who is most firmly in her own group.
The constant manoeuvring for social status that we all engage in day to day life is itself a cognitive exercise and as such: a game. Playing in a neutral and player-created gamespace these social rules can be both polarised and subverted. It is people that play your game, and it is the people that you want to tempt, exhilarate and entertain (however you game sees fit to do that) with your game. There is often far more going on in a players head than just the rules.