Friday, November 17, 2006

Lesson: Rewards

Rewards are generally considered to be what we get out of playing RPGs. At first, it seems surprising that this is a hotly debated topic. But ultimately it hinges on how and why we value RPGs as we play them, another divided topic. As such rewards can be viewed in many different ways, based on how we reduce the broad set of things during play to just the set of rewards.

Some require rewards to be overt, tied to reward mechanics. Often these are resources distributed or created during play as tokens of achievement or as specific instances of authority or importance. Classically this includes any type of points that are awarded, but goes much further.

Another view of rewards is that which reinforces the social contract of play. This aligns with cycles of reward, where the behaviors described under the social contract enacted through a system (in the social sense) provide specific reinforcement of that contract, usually by producing events and behaviors which the players value. What the players value also varies from group to group.

Other views of rewards are possible. It has been suggested, that confining play to a specific pattern of rewards ignores the most basic reward of play, that of play as its own reward. This is very relevant for groups focused on experience heavy play.

In any case, rewards are one of the hard questions in RPG theory. What things in play could not serve as rewards? What things must always serve as rewards, if play is to be rewarding? Are there other ways to describe the rewards of play? What does that form of reward say about the play it describes most naturally?

Related Lessons: Social Contracts, Resolution - System, Resource, Group

1 comment:

Mitch said...

The social contract stuff notwithstanding, I think it's simpler than all that.

People play games because of rewards, yes. The things that people consider "rewarding" vary. I consider seeing more story a reward, so I favor games with lots of story like Xenosaga over ".hack" (first edition) or the recent Final Fantasy 12, which has a higher combat:story ratio than other final fantasys.

Some people can get turned on by the mechanical awarding of Gold/Gill/cash, but to me, game money is just an abstraction.

So a successful game needs to have multiple forms of reward. Symbolic--gold/gil/points, growth--exp/HP, or discovery--storyline. If it hits all these, then it should easily meet the needs of the people who play it.