Last week I introduced a new game to some non-gamer friends. I showed them how to play and then sat back as they experimented for themselves, stepping in only to clarify misunderstandings about the rules and discuss strategy around the different moves.
They loved it. They can’t wait for next week when we’ll be able to play the game again. One of them had previously worked with young offenders (young people who have been in trouble with the police) – she commented that they’d have loved this game and she wished she could have played it with them, since it would suit their competitive instincts.
The game was chess (the clue is in the picture). And what my friends most loved was that it was perfectly balanced, utterly and ruthlessly fair, and that they could already start to think about strategies even as new players in their first ever game. You finish a game of chess and discuss it, and already you are thinking about what you could do better next time.
This reaction was surprising to me. The reason the topic came up was that we discovered an old chess set that someone had donated to the university and since none of them knew how to play, I offered to teach. But I never really think of chess as being fun, I have too many associations with being beaten by much younger kids at school and besides which, surely computer games are more entertaining. Aren’t they? Right?
Reading Dusty Monk’s post about a vision of the future of MMOs (I linked to it yesterday) made me wonder if there’s any juice left in the genre for people who like slow paced thoughtful balanced games with depth and strategy, or whether we’ll end up going back to square one on the chessboard and leave the genre to the guys who want to play shmups with space marines. (Incidentally, I was never big on MMOs for the slow paced strategy, I liked exploring virtual worlds and building virtual communities and societies, but if it has to get gamey, why can’t it include gamey bits that I like?)