True, but only to a certain degree. People think stories need conflict, but conflict is just one of many ways of creating uncertainty. Take, for example, how the Eastasian narrative structure kishotenketsu is story without conflict. I always talk about kishotenktsu, so should probably mention other examples, like paintings, poems and lyrics.
I think we’re kind of brainwashed into thinking in conflicts. Most of the roleplaying games tend to have that, and even all kinds of histories we consume have conflicts in them. I’m frustrated when I try to create something and I design in a space where conflict exist, because if I remove it, I don’t know what to fill that space with. (The same goes with extrinsic rewards, like XP or fan mail). When it comes to Imagine—which is a conflict free, with no dice, game master, tangible rewards, character improvements, acting in character, among other things that a typical roleplaying game has—one friend just asked me “What’s left?”.
Anyway, when I created my Theory of Engagement—in order to learn more about the potential of our hobby by stepping out of roleplaying games—I found five things of WHY we play: competition, exploration, sensation, destruction and expression. I also found five WHAT we can play around with: meaning, group, structures, fiction, and setting. Combine that with the WHYs, and you all the sudden got 25 different ways of enjoying an activity. These shouldn’t be used to categorize games, like “This game attracts Spike personas” or “That game is something for the Achiever”, because all games have a percentage of all combinations.
So I tend to start with WHY I want people to play my next design, and then I think about WHAT I want them to interact with. Do I want them to Explore Setting, Sensate Meaning or Destroy Group? How can I accomplish that? I nowadays go that way, instead of thinking what kind of dice I should use or which moves I should write. I can’t avoid the competitive part because, as I said, all activities have a small percentage of all combinations, but the focus doesn’t have to be around being competitive, and I can avoid thinking about - which can to a certain degree block me - the kind of competitive elements that are so common in roleplaying games.