Today’s post is about theme – but not what you might expect. I want to talk about using your own life experiences to shape the story of your game. There’s an old saying in the writing world: “Write what you know.” The same is true for game design. People will be able to not only get a piece of yourself when they play the game, but the game will also be better for it. And even better if that piece of yourself is something you’re passionate about.
While it’s great to play with popular themes in the realms of fantasy and sci fi, there’s something genuine about taking something from the real world and creating a fun game experience from that. All too often in games does the theme feel like a mere ‘skin’ or window dressing. But if you take something very dear to you and important to your own life outside of the world of tabletop games, then you have an opportunity to create something truly special.
There are a few examples of this, from Stonemaier Games’s Viticulture (a worker placement game about winemaking), to Grater Than Games’s Brew Crafters (a worker placement game about craft beer), to Valley Games’s Container (an economic/set collection game about container ships), to Inside the Box’s Molecular and Greater Than Games’s Compounded (both games about chemistry). In all of these games, the theme is something real that permeates the entire game experience. The theme is effective because it’s likely important to the game’s designer.
Games have the opportunity to take us to fantastic and otherworldly places; but they can also teach us about our own world and lives. There’s magic in the mundane. Don’t be afraid to put aside the zombie apocalypses and magic spells, and tap into the real.
Until next time, gang. Keep it plucky,