I wrote this over at Story Games, but because the site is going to disappear, I will copy paste what I wrote there to save this for future references. Down below are different kinds uncertainties put into categories. When creating a game, I pick one or two categories and think about how I can use that in play. Social contingency is something I use in all my game designs though. It’s hard to avoid because of how roleplaying games works.
Chris Bateman writes:
It is oft said that “stories are about conflict”, but this is a gross simplification. /…/ What is common to all well-regarded stories is uncertainty, the desire to discover what happens next, and conflict (i.e. competition) is just one of many ways that uncertainty can be generated.
One thing I can add is that stochastic randomness, such as using dice, is decreasing the choice from the participants. That’s bad! (Hello, Chess! Good bye, D&D!) It’s good, however, to blur the outcome for a participant. What I mean by that is that others can give input to change the outcome. To cut in and build on another person’s narration. You can also create an emergent complexity, where the outcome is hard to predict due to the many possibilities that the system gives. Remember, system in this case consist of several components, where game structures and participants are only two.
You can also create uncertainty by having hidden resources. In Lady Blackbird , each role got a secret to be used once over the session. In Det sjätte inseglet , all participants write secret truths about the setting that will be revealed while playing. Thomas M Malaby and Marc LeBlanc has given us a list of different kinds of uncertainties:
Beyond Play: A New Approach to Games
Stochastic Contingency : stochastic is just a fancy word for “random”.
[see Randomness below]
Social Contingency : about never being certain of another person’s point of view.
having someone other than you in charge of saying what happens…
…a strong GM role with great control over the world / plotline…
one participant’s interpretation, perhaps having a rule system with open-deterministic results or using cards that are open for interpretation.
enforcing of people’s opinions, like voting for outcomes or making pacts.
using different techniques or rules during a scene, which may steer the story in a certain direction. “What? Is someone going to fall in love?”
Performative Contingency : you either succeed or fail at a task.
one participant’s effort in succeeding. (performance uncertainty)
two or more participants against each other.
Semiotic Contingency : the outcome is open for interpretation, changing the meaning of all the previously actions.
The good person was the bad person all along.
The game Train, where you discover the theme of the game while playing.
Lecture at NYU
Incomplete Information : if you don’t have all the pieces, you don’t know where it’s going.
…players pick elements of the story that other players must include in other characters’ storylines.
…picking a different oracle and elements for each session inspires the players to create an interesting history full of twists
…hidden or undefined knowledge about something the players /…/ care about.
…exploration and mapping…
I would see Exploration and Mystery as two genres / elements that use curiosity at their core.
…Hexploration genre, where you can travel to each place in a sandboxy way…
one participant adding something that isn’t obvious what it’s for.
Randomness : the general solution in roleplaying games.
conflict resolution /…/ task resolution
…a random table or a deck of event cards or a stack of map tiles.
the use of real world happenings, like having the weather or certain events in the newspaper affect the session.
Emergent Complexity : the interaction between the pieces of information or the overflow of information makes it hard to predict the outcome.
parallel stories with one ending. How will the stories change each other?
telling a story with a fixed ending. Now you know how it’s going to end, but not how the story will travel to the end.
Escalation : early points of the game doesn’t matter as much, because the stakes are increasing all the time. Like the three rounds in Jeopardy.
I think that the games people really like have good conflict escalation mechanisms (either formal mechanisms like in AW or Polaris or in terms of initial set-up like in Poison’d.)
…strong characterownership where you can keep and reveal a secret about a character under your control.
Potential Barrier (Decelerator) : you don’t know if you will overcome them. They are there to change the scale and the pace and to make the end seem closer than what it is.
Sometimes you want to put out hints, create an expectation by having set up scenes and finally a big reveal that might lead to new questions.
Hidden Energy : saved up resources that may come in handy later.
Cards on hand.
Turned down tokens and other fog-of-war mechanics.
Secrets. Information, powers and more.
Cashing Out : the game score (or resources) resets so everybody starts at the same level. Anybody can win.
From one combat to another in D&D4. Who will be standing the next time?
(Examples are taken from this thread.)
Uncertainty in Games
Performance Uncertainty: [see Performative Contingency (Malaby) above]
Randomness: [see Randomness (LeBlanc) above]
Analytic Complexity : [see Complexity (LeBlanc) above]
Player Unpredictability: [see Social Contingency (Malaby) above]
Hidden Information: [see Hidden Energy (LeBlanc) and Incomplete Information (LeBlanc) above]
Solver’s Uncertainty: finding out the solution given by the designer.
Discovering the algorithm behind the game, like figuring out how the AI works.
Resolving a murder mystery.
Doing things in the right order.
Narrative Anticipation: to awaken a curiosity of what to come.
Knowing the end doesn’t mean you know the way to reach that end.
Learning more about the characters over time.
Twists in story.
Creating tension within the setting.
You wont understand the story unless you puzzle the bits together. (ex. Kishotenketsu)
Development Anticipation: when the developers add more stuff to the game.
Release of expansion sets.
Updates, changes or corrections of the rules.
Change of playstyle or genre.
Schedule Uncertainty: resources limits the amount of time the player can spend on the game.
Energy in social games.
It takes a long time to build a certain element, where the player can’t do anything but wait.
Resources to build things are generated over time but runs out quickly.
A cap on the internet restricting the time for the player.
Perception Uncertainty: difficulty to perceive what’s going on.
A clogged up interface, like in Nethack.
Scanning the playing field, like the pieces in Tetris.
Finding the rhythm in, for example, dancing.
Trying to search a room to find more about what’s in it.
Malaby’s Semiotic Contingency: [see Semiotic Contingency (Malaby) above]