On Complexity

Games are complex systems, and as such gamers have incredibly eclectic relationships with complexity. This is true across the ecosystem; tabletop RPGs might have Honey Heist and GURPS while digital gamers have Candy Crush and Dwarf Fortress. Gaming has always had room for one-pagers to sit alongside clockwork behemoths and all coexist. Unfortunately, as is wont to occur, someone mistakes a preference for a judgment, and then we just have Twitter, where GURPS is the butt of a joke but somehow all indie games are just make-believe story circles.

The problem with trying to have a real discussion about preferences for complexity in games as well as rules density in games is twofold. First, complexity and rules density aren’t related. Second, and perhaps equally important, is that a game’s tendency towards having either physical rules or narrative rules is also not related to either complexity or rules density. Because the world likes making things difficult, though, there are confounding factors that do make these elements correlate. This muddies the waters because many associate a complex game with a game that has a lot of rules, and many also associate indie, narrative games with low complexity. These assumptions are both wrong, or at least flawed.

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