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September 3, 2007 / jadettman

Freakonomics and Gaming

Recently, I read Freakonomics. If you’ve been in a bookstore sometime in the last year you’ve probably seen a copy. If you haven’t, get out more.

Freakonomics is a book about economics and how one economist uses economic theory to explore everyday topics. Overall, it is reasonably interesting and I would recommend it if you are, like me, interested in damn near everything.

Relating this to gaming: After I finished reading Freakonomics, I got to thinking about information asymmetry which is one of the book’s topics.

In a ‘traditional’ roleplaying game like D&D or Vampire informational asymmetry between the GM and the players exists and is the primary means that the GM uses to reveal the game world. By slowly dispensing information about the game world the players are ‘immersed’ in a journey of exploration.

In Amber, a somewhat non-traditional RPG, informational asymmetry is at the very core of the game. The Courts know more than Amber, Dworkin and Oberon know more than the Elders, the Elders know more than the PCs, and the PCs know more than the everymen of the universe. Add to this setting asymmetry the diceless nature of the game’s system, the systems wide-open nature, and the essential information asymmetry between the GM and the players, and I begin to wonder less about why some gamers find the game unappealing.

I find it more interesting just thinking about it.

Getting back to the topic at hand, though, it seems to me that some games in the ‘indie new wave’ such as Primetime Adventures, Capes, and Universalis are specifically designed to level the informational playing field and reduce asymmetry. In the case of Capes and Universalis this is accomplished by removing a GM from the equation entirely and encouraging improvisational group play over prepared play. If no one goes into a game prepared, then there is no information to be asymmetrical. In Primetime Adventures, this is accomplished by bringing the players into the GM’s circle of authority and creating a fully collaborative game environment.

Is this good or bad?

I don’t know. Certainly, it’s different and I’m not against that.

(Nope, no real conclusion to this one. Just jotting some thoughts down for further contemplation later.)

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