99% Invisible – podcast reaction

I only rarely listen to podcasts. But my wife is a fiend for them.

She referred me to the 189th episode of 99% invisible – The Landlord Game. Folks familiar with the history of Monopoly will know that title refers to the game as it existed before Parker Brothers got their hands on it.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the podcast (it’s short), but had one thing I really wanted to react to. In the podcast, one of my favorite game designer “personalities”, Eric Zimmerman, is quoted as saying something along the lines of “People love Monopoly even though it breaks all these game design best practices.” (Definitely paraphrased, I can’t be bothered to go back and listen for the exact quote.)

I have two reactions to this.

First, it’s really important to note (especially so for this podcast, which comes at the topic of game design from the perspective of design in general) that Game Design is an especially new discipline. There are very few people working in it, and even fewer academics studying it. So “best practices” at this point are fairly arbitrary and more hypothetical than theoretical. (This might just be my opinion, but it’s one I’d defend.)

Secondly, more to the exact point Zimmerman was making, I think most game design principals that Monopoly goes against — and here’s a couple of my favorites: 1. Roll and move feels less like playing a game and more like the game is playing you. And 2. Player elimination just leaves people not playing your game. — …are probably only principals of game design because there has been a backlash by game designers against the popularity of Monopoly. Put another way, I think a lot of game designers get their start by thinking “Wow, you know, Monopoly really sucks, but here’s how I would fix it…”