5/25/2020

Object of the Game

This one's a bit basic, but if we're going to get where we're headed with the Lexicon, we'll need it. I'll keep it quickish.

Every game has an object, or objective. If you're playing Chess, the object of the game is to put the opponent's king in checkmate. If you're playing Scrabble, the object of the game is to have the most points at the end. If you're playing Tic-Tac-toe, the object is to get three of your symbol (X or O) in a row, and so on.

The object of Chess, Scrabble, and Tic-Tac-Toe is the same, every time you play. That's a foundational or fixed object. In The Beginning, it was a given that a game's object was fixed, coded right into the game as a whole.

Then along came variants. Two Chess players could agree to play a Chess variant in which the object is to capture both of the opponent's Knights, for example, or variants where the object changes every 12th turn, or uncountable others. They're still playing Chess, but it's a different sort of Chess, which acknowledges the core version as the core version while exploring deviation from it (and some variants don't change the objective, but objectives are what we're here for today).

Tabletop wargames explored a variant on the variant: the scenario. Games with scenarios don't necessarily have a default, fixed object. Instead, the scenario frequently defines the object for each instance of the game. In a very important sense, each scenario in a game of Squad Leader (for instance) is a different game using the same core of rules, but with its own object, its own set of game-pieces (the units allotted each side) and its own game board (Squad Leader comes with several modular boards, miniatures games can be played on hand-crafted terrain and so on). So, instead of a foundational objective, we have one or more scenario objectives.

Variants and scenarios are in many ways a spectrum of the same thing. The most important difference is the concept of a default game (including one or more foundational objectives): if you play Chess without selecting a variant, you can still play Chess. But you can't play most wargames without first selecting, creating, or generating a scenario. In Squad Leader, the part that stays the same across scenarios is the system of rules and procedures. The combination of scenario system makes for a game you can play.

The traditional RPG sprouted from wargaming roots, so it's scenario-based, too, with a system of rules, mechanics and procedures which don't become a playable game until the Game Master selects, creates, or generates a scenario with one or more scenario objectives (sometimes with a lot of input from the Players), and until each Player selects, creates, or generates characters (sometimes with a lot of input from the GM or other Players).

But, RPGs bring a new set of wrinkles to the Object of the Game, since Player Characters can pursue their own objectives both individually and as a group, and both within the scope of a scenario and over the course of many. Importantly, these character objectives, group objectives, and campaign objectives can be entirely divorced from (or even contradict) the scenario objectives provided by an adventure, or the foundational objectives baked into the system. They can also change and evolve from the inside, interacting, combining, growing and dying in unexpected ways, because of the central importance of characters.

Which brings us to the lexical point. Tactical Infinity is key to the whole shebang around here, and objectives are the standards against which tactics are measured. Without objectives, Tactical Infinity would cease to be tactical. It would just be plain old Infinity, the kind that the universe leaves laying around for anyone to find. Meh.

Every game has at least one Object. RPGs tend to have several, in shifting and evolving number and arranged in shifting and evolving priority weight, where the objectives and priority weight vary from object to object and from character to character, all within the same game. That's magic, of a kind, and it'll be awfully important, as we continue with the Lexicon.