Floor marks. Actors are quite familiar with those discrete crosses made with gaffer tape on the stage floor. They tell them where they have to stand, at precise moments of their scene.
But they also tell them less obvious things. That the whole scene has been designed, is predetermined; that the lighting has been painstakingly measured, and the projectors or the softboxes carefully aligned. They tell them that most of the work has already been done, and that as for the actors, well, all they have left to do is to complete the picture, by standing exactly there. Right on the tape. Not an inch off their mark, or the arrangement no longer works, and the effect is ruined.
Mandatory objectives marking a board game leave me with the same impressions as floor marks. No need to question anything; everything has been calculated. Just relax and enjoy the ride. The game, its story arch, its solution are all set and ready; all you have to do, you, the player, is follow these prescribed steps, reach such location or such level at such moment.
Just stand there, and everything will work.
A finish line is fine—without it there is no game. But I rarely enjoy having to run towards a finish line within the confines of a predefined lane. Because constantly planning, tracking and correcting my position, my course, is the most pleasurable aspect of any game for me.
By giving me a precise trajectory to follow, you take the game away from me.
Understandably, story-driven games, as well as some tactical wargames, are often made out of objectives. In most of those games, players are visitors; they’re characters used by the predefined plot(s), to various degrees. Sometimes even only cogs. The story, the all-powerful script, sits above them, and they’re there to serve it.
Such games make me feel as if I’m less of a player, of a driver, and more of a passenger.
What I find the most absorbing in a game is the challenge of evaluating, of correctly reading the situations it presents me with. Or the patterns hidden in its rules. I like to be confronted with seemingly obscure, opaque situations, and to have to try and make my way through them, by placing my own floor marks. By defining my own objectives.
Then I get to make mistakes. And I start over. But then I’m learning. I can get better.
Indeed I realize that I am getting quite fond of games that let the players set their own victory conditions during the course of the game. Now those are the best. They close the loop.
No narrow story line to obey, no arbitrary timing to meet. No staging. Just a raw game put in front of us with no other clue than its rules.
Just the inexhaustible pleasure of formulating hypotheses, and of spending the rest of the game testing them.
This is where the whole game lies for me.
My best chance at immersion, as they say.
Being told what my objectives are, what is supposed to matter to me during a game or a scenario I’m about to play, simply sucks all substance out of the game. Leaving behind a mere exercise, a puzzle.
At best, a chess problem.
At worst, a point-to-point drawing. Painting by numbers.