So you’re in the middle of a game that you designed and it’s totally flopping. You accidentally made an overly complex way to deconstruct letters and people aren’t getting it, or the chant that you’re trying to start is only making people stare at you. Completely theoretical situations, of course. What do you do to turn the situation around?
I’m interested in how the texts that we’ve read can direct us in these situations. We’ve been given examples where the players have done things that are unexpected– hack into the game narrative, start a protest, solve all the puzzles in a day, but what if instead of them engaging with your game in an unexpected way, the game is just failing to engage them on a very fundamental level? With play testing, with any luck, this should be figured out before the actual game, but what if it’s not, the baseline of your game has already been set and it is NOT going well?
In the middle of the game, the potential for game direction has seriously changed from what it was in the beginning. Using the ideology talked about in the “yes and” text, maybe at the beginning, the game could have created a flow that would’ve naturally directed the players into engagement. However, halfway through, if they’re definitely against everything that’s happening the game designers can’t say, “you’re not feeling that, do this” and force them back into the narrative. Instead, they have to take the resistance that the players are feeling and somehow use that to their advantage. However, it’s difficult because I think the game designers shouldn’t lose face here, they can’t say to the players, “alright, we give up, let’s do this instead”. Part of the excitement in ARGs comes from the power struggle and tension between game designer and player. The moment that the player realizes that they have all the power, it’s no longer fun for them.
The game designers could theoretically, were they thinking on their feet, build some sort of meta narrative, to make it seem like the resistance to the game was what was wanted the whole time, thereby taking what the players were feeling and making that the narrative. That would, of course, be difficult to pull off seamlessly though. What are some other ways to redirect the game and salvage it from disengagement?