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Building a Game/Campaign is like Building a Computer
Posted By John Arcadian On March 20, 2009 @ 2:20 am In GMing Advice | 15 Comments
Maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve been knee deep in computers for the last few weeks, but the more I look at the silicon and wires, the more I make comparisons to creating a game. Every structure inside of a computer has a purpose in providing the experience to the end user. So too does every structure in a game. So let’s see how my thinking computes.
Motherboard = Social Contract
In a computer, the primary structure that defines what the system can become comes form the motherboard. It controls all of the connections between the various pieces, what the operating speeds can be achieved and what types of extras can be added in.
The Social Contract functions in a similar way. By providing the framework of the game, it makes certain things possible. If the GM says she wants to run a dungeon crawl, the structure of the game is set and other factors (such as Rules System, types of dice or the kind of characters expected) can be appropriately plugged in.
Operating System = Rules System
The operating system of a computer provides the general framework for how a computer will process information. The sorts of things the computer will be capable of, or the additional programs it will be able to run are dependant on the OS.
The rules system provides the general framework for what the game is capable of. D&D 4e will work very well for running dungeon crawls and tactical combat, and will also be the majority of what people play. White Wolf’s World of Darkness will work very well for running deep story games within a provided framework. Gurps will be incredibly complex, but with knowledgeable people you’ll be able to do anything with it.
So . . .
D&D = Windows
W.o.D. = Mac
Gurps = Linux
Hard Drive = Books/Prep Work/GM’s Notes
Storage space. Where everything in the computer is placed. The hard drive gives information to the CPU to process and output to the user.
All the things that the GM preps or uses are like the hard drive. The various rulebooks, splatbooks, house rules and other prepared materials are where the information is stored until it gets used in the game. It is always there, waiting to be accessed or modified and put back until the next time it is called.
CPU/Video/Sound = GM
The Central Processing Unit takes every piece of information and well . . . processes it. It controls what goes where, interprets instructions from programs and provides the information out to the end user, in conjunction with other components like the video card and sound card.
The Game Master fulfills all these functions. Taking information from the rules, the plethora of books and notes and turning it into something that the players can, and want, to work with is all in the GM’s capable hands.
Calculations = Dice/System Mechanics
All computers are made to compute, to work with calculations and process information. There are many ways to do this in a computer architecture. Floating Point Numbers, integers, binary numbers, hexadecimal numbers, etc. are all different factors of the calculations that a computer does.
The system mechanics, be it rolling d20, multiple d6, wagering dice, drawing cards, etc. function like the calculations of a computer. They help the Game Master process all of the information and determine what kinds of results can be derived and processed.
Memory (ram) = Anything on “screen” or in use at the current time
R.A.M. (Random Access Memory) is the temporary storage of a computer. It is the information that is currently being used. The amount of R.A.M. available to the machine controls how much can be worked with at one time.
In a game, anything that is in use at the current time could be considered part of the R.A.M. If an NPC is engaged in conversation or combat with the players, it is in R.A.M, so is the landscape or area around it, any other NPCs in the area, any rules that are governing the interaction between the NPCs and yes, the characters themselves.
Keyboard/Mouse = Characters
When a user manipulates a keyboard or mouse (or other such controller) it has an affect on the system. The CPU interprets the instructions and modifies processes and instructions that are part of the O.S. and programs.
The player’s characters, more than anything, are the players input into the game; just like the keyboard and mouse are the user’s input into the computer. Through the character’s actions, the game is affected and other components (like the GMs Notes or the scene that is on “screen” at the time) are modified.
Users = Players
A computer user interacts with the computer. A player interacts with the game. Each serve as the defining purpose. Without users, computers wouldn’t do much. Without players, games wouldn’t be played.
Attached Components = All the wonderful and glorious ways that the game can be changed
Another component of a computer is all of the additional things that can be added onto it. Extra functions that can be added in through component cards, programs that can be run or installed from removable media, upgrades to key system components and extra information that can be accessed over networks, etc. And this is the moral of the story:
Like computers, games can be changed in innumerable ways. Once the game is in your hands, anything can be modified about it. The Game Master can overwrite programs and documents on the hard drive. Players can use their inputs to change how the system functions, through the CPU/GM. The O.S. can be wiped clean and you can start playing with a different gaming system. The Social Contract has jumpers that can be changed to determine how it operates.
These analogies aren’t always perfect, but any new way of thinking about the way we structure our games helps us to deconstruct them, and make them work for us, just a little bit better. So, how’s the computer analogy work for you? What would you change about it?
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