These two stories appeared in my feed reader back to back!
The first covers tips on how to create interesting decisions for players (with information transparency), playing off the highly quoted “a good game is a series of interesting choices” (or a series of difficult decisions, etc.).
The More You Know: Making Decisions Interesting in Games by Jon Shafer on Gamasutra
By contrast, we have an analysis of Pocket Planes and how its banality and uninteresting choices cause personal reflection. Wow.
A Series of Uninteresting Decisions by Ryan Kuo on Kill Screen
After thinking about this on the bus, I wonder if this dyad of articles points to the fact that meaning from games can come from either within the game or outside of the game. With the Civ games (that Jon Shafer worked on) having lots of info and difficult decisions means that meaning is derived from understanding what that info means and recognizing patterns in the algorithms of the game. With Pocket Planes, it sounds like the choices about what actions to take are pretty nonexistent; understanding the game rules comes pretty quickly. The player is then left with the choice to just chuck it and move onto another game or find meaning in his or her understanding of the game in relation to some other thing outside of the game. In the case of Ryan Kuo, he found meaning when he examined the relationship between the game and himself/his actions (not meaning inherent in the game rules).
These kinds of understandings don’t always naturally happen… I think particular players are equipped to derive these types of meanings. And now that I think about it, I think both can be scaffolded. The question to a game designer is which kind of meaning making does he or she want with the game and how will that be scaffolded, not just designed in the rules?