So lately I’ve been reading Rules of Play and I have a small discussion about something they get into in the chapter Games as Systems of Information.
In it, they summarize a typology of information in games as described by Celia Pearce in The Interactive Book. (Which maybe next I should read that)
- info known to all players
- info known to only one player
- info known to the game only
- randomly generated information
Rules of Play however disagrees with two things. One is that Pearce includes the rules of the game itself as information. Two is the distinction between info known “to the game only” is hard to distinguish from randomly generated information.
I think both of these points of contention are places that computer games allow approaches that would not be possible in board games. And Rules of Play interprets it through the latter without considering what is possible with the former.
In board games, at least one player needs to know the rules of the game in order to play by those rules, but with computer games, the rules can be automatically enforced by the computer. Video game tutorial levels are designed based on the idea that the player does not yet know the rules of the game. In which case, it does make sense to consider the rules of the game as information.
Consider Damian Sommer’s Chesh where the movement capabilities of the pieces are randomly assigned. When starting a game, the player does not yet know how the pieces move. When telling someone the “rules” of chess, you would likely include how each piece moves, right? So it would follow that Chesh is a game where neither player knows the rules, but the game does.
And the use of computers also helps strengthen the difference between info known to the game and info that has not yet been generated. In the electronic board game Stop Thief, the Electronic Crime Scanner doles out clues as to the location of the thief, which the players are attempting to deduce. The clues can’t be completely random, they have to be determined by the thief’s true location, which none of the players will know at first. If we imagine the computer as a “dungeon master” we could re-frame this as information known to only one player. But that has its own problems. They aren’t making strategic decisions to attempt to win the game, they’re only facilitating the game for the other players. So would it make more sense to classify the Electronic Crime Scanner as part of the game, rather than a computer player.