Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Big Game Hunting - Arsenic, Writing and Gaming - It All Equals Immersion

There’s one universal truth when it comes to writing, gaming or designing games. Unless the setting and the elements in the setting are believable, people are going to ask too many questions, ruin their immersion and ultimately dislike what you've done. If you've encountered gamers like me, you’ll know that the first thing they do is jump - from a great height - onto something that’s probably not a plot point and run with it like it was a big juicy bone.

What’s worse is I know that people do it, so I deliberately build my games so that if there happens to be someone interested in doing that, there’s plenty to keep them amused. It’s not exactly the ‘Black Book of Making Sure Your Players are Immersed’ but like many other game designers, I spend my time writing to ensure that the people playing have fun.

Recently, NASA announced that they’d discovered a bacterial life form that could grow in arsenic. Phosphorous is chemically very close in structure to arsenic and it is one of the six ‘building blocks’ of life as we know it: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur. A key part in the chains of DNA and RNA is made up of phosphorous. The most amazing part of all of this is despite the fact that arsenic is poisonous to life forms, that there are actually life forms growing out of it, changing the biological perspective of how the ‘building blocks’ of life can be formed.

No more silicone based life forms for us, oh no.

In writing, gaming and probably design, it’s crucial to understand how things work in your environment. In writing, you don’t need to let people discover it themselves – as the story unfolds you can introduce and explain as much as you need for your readers to gain immersion. In gaming, having ‘rules’ to explain what you’re talking about or aiming at is enough to give people immersion - in the case of anyone designing and setting up a world, as long as you've got rules for it, then anything goes.

But I’ll be honest – had someone wandered in and said, "I’ve evaluated the alien, it seems he’s made of arsenic," my first thought would be, "OMG! Aliens! Acid blood!" and my second thought would be, "Man, even being around him - if he sweats - we’re dead!"

And that leads to – does he have a space suit? Can we bodge one for him? What do we do with him?

And suddenly we’re immersed in the game - the story, and it’s all good.

Next week, D Kai Wilson-Viola will talk about planning an RPG campaign from a writer's perspective.

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