An economy of precognition

I was intrigued by Marc’s comment on my post the other day about a game that would let you see into the future (or at least into the future of the game world). His underlying question was very reasonable – what kind of a game would that be?

It seems to me that the essence of any game is to provide a good succession of challenges. Ideally those challenges should be progressive – the game teaches its player a certain way of thinking and problem solving, and subsequent levels of the game build upon what the player has learned on earlier levels.

Any interesting challenge implies some sort of economy – I might have a certain number of fire missiles and health points to fight the marauding zombie invaders, or a certain amount of time to figure out where to shoot to create the space-connecting holes in Portal. In any “game of the future”, the economy would necessarily be about information. Yes, I can see into the future, but it’s going to cost me. And seeing farther into the future is going to cost me more.

It’s easy to design a computer game world in which the game itself contains a magic oracle that possesses knowledge as to what monster will come through the next door, which vial leading to the sacred chamber contains the potion of death, and which contains the power of healing, etc. The question is how to deploy such oracles in a way that makes for an interesting game.

I don’t think there is a single game here, but rather a genre of games that build upon the same essential deal: As a player I get the power of second sight into things that have not yet happened, but I need to pay for that power. Perhaps I’ll need to pay with health points, perhaps by giving up one of my magic scrolls. It doesn’t really matter – the important thing is that I need to learn how to choose, how to manage an economy of precognition.

Of course in a well designed game this economy is designed carefully. The player is taught to recognize certain patterns, to become sensitive to the ways that events are most likely to unfold. The seasoned player becomes good at predicting the future, and thereby becomes able to take on more subtle and sophisticated challenges.

What we’re talking about here is really meta-design: How to think about the patterns of design for such a game. And that is itself a kind of game. One that seems like fun. Anybody want to play?