Water, flour, butter, milk, starch, shortening, sugar, theobroma oil, yeast, gluten, gelatin, casein, whey protein, glycerol, lecithin, oleic acid, stearic acid, ascorbic acid.
Makes you hungry?
Most probably not. But these are the ingredients of the delicious Napoleon pasty.
Of course, this way of describing it doesn’t tantalize us because it is not about us, the consumers, the pastry eaters. It doesn’t use our language, doesn’t consider our point of view, nor does it respond to or even care about our expectations.
And that’s why dishes are not described in this way in restaurant menus.
What’s missing to bridge the gap between chemistry and cooking? Between a recipe’s ingredients or directions, and an actual meal?
It’s very easy, and unfortunately all too common, for the rules to a game to look just like this pastry description.
Recently, I was preparing for an upcoming game night by reading the rules to the historical game we’d decided to play, and which is not in my collection. The game turned out to be a simple and fun little card game. Its detailed rule set told me absolutely everything about it… except that it was a simple and fun little card game.
Reading this confusing jumble of procedures and intertwined steps and sub-steps, conditions and exceptions—all of them clear and precise but without any overview—left me with this one certainty: we would be dealing with an almost unplayable game, of mind-boggling complexity.
So much so that it took me a while, once seated at the table, to acknowledge that the game was actually extremely simple.
The experience of playing a game is not as easy to represent as that of eating a pastry. Showing the components of the game, elements of its theme, or even the players, is not enough. The rule set has to bear the brunt of the essential responsibility of giving us some insight into how the game plays. But then, people who write the rules are so imbued with their game’s general idea, it has become so obvious to them, that they sometimes fail to notice that it is missing from the rules.
The problem, when you don’t provide a game’s overview in your rules, is not that the newcomers will have to play without one—that would hardly be possible—, but rather that they will try to play according to one they’ve made up on their own, on the fly, using the only available elements. And then the result is likely to convey your game’s main idea just as well as the ingredient list above conveys that of a custard puff pastry; a mere recipe for frustration and resistance.
The rule set must be both a recipe and a menu, since the player is both a cook and a diner.