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The Analog Edge

I recently commented on a blog by the VERY cool, VERY talented Teale Fristoe - the guy behind Nothing Sacred Games and a member of the League of Gamemakers - and it got me thinking about why I like analog games: dice, paper, pens, cards, and such.

I'm an old-school gamer, but I'm new to board games. I'm a role-player by accident and avocation, and I've got a reason:

STORY is the one, true analog advantage.

Let me explain ...

Story is how we learn - imagination - the ability to project ourselves into other places, other times, even other people - is the main way in which we've transmitted knowledge for MOST of human history. We start early; my two and a half year old is already making up elaborate stories involving monsters, goblins, ghosts, and all sorts of challenges. It's the first game we play: "peek-a-boo" is about imagining someone is gone, then experiencing the emotional thrill and the relief at realizing they aren't.

And that, I think, is why story is so compelling - why it forms such a central element in human life. The emotional component is crucial to learning. We all remember the moments when we were moved, whether by joy, anger, regret, shame, humor - and those experiences are what shape our future reactions to things most powerfully. When you can't forget how embarrassed you were when your pants fell down in your third grade play, you'll likely have a hard time getting on stage again.

The opposite is also true - when you've experienced something that gave you confidence or joy, you'll hunger for more. All role-players know the feeling: the rush of genuine excitement at a moment of hard-fought victory, or the moving instant where a character's story becomes so real everybody at the table feels a part of it. It's the same kind of transport achieved when you're lost in a good book, but it adds another primal element: shared experience.

It's a moving, even addictive rush. And it's more productive and positive, I'd argue, than the competitive excitement possible in a video game. You CAN share those moments while playing with friends, but you're not fully engaged with them in the moment of joy - you're looking at a screen. You're also not creating - even the most story-focused of video games limits you in countless ways. The characters, the plot, the environment, the reactions - all are the predetermined, pre-generated products of an outside mind. And, unlike in an RPG, they're not interactive - the mind that created them isn't engaging with and reacting to your ideas.

That's one of the reasons I started making Genre: I was interested in making that analog experience easier. Making a game that would let grownups remember just how freaky fun what Mr. Rogers called "grow(ing) ideas in the garden of your mind!"

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