A trend I’ve observed in games, especially small ‘pamphlet’ sytle ones the likes of which are generated by the Gamechef competition, are roleplaying games that include a winning condition, or address the nature of ‘victory.’
While not a bad thing- I strongly enjoy gamist elements and a chance to show my uppity friends who the real deal is- they are often misused, an ill-fated attempt to add spice to an otherwise bland narrative parlor game.
Here’s what my stance boils down to: if your game is not about Winning, your game should not have rules for Winning.
The correlary- the more you want your game to be about Winning, the more the rules should explicitly address Winning.
Let’s look at Gamism-supporting designs first. Agon is an example of how to do so nicely: there is a clear winner- he who has the most Glory. Were Agon to lose the Glory track, and only rely on peer perception of who succeeds most, Agon would be a weaker game for it. The conflict would be muddled, and less clear. Agon succeeds because there are different paths to victory, but the nature victory is very clear.
Some games muddle the nature of victory. Victory is survival, accumulating the most treasure, and having a good time- all at once. This is bad gamist design. The nature of a competition must be clear and evident. A softball game where no one keeps score and everyone just plays their best may be fun, but it’s hardly a juicy competition.
Gamism needs a measureable way of quantifying victory.
What are the lessons for a would be gamist-game designer?
Have rules for victory clearly supported in the text. How to players/characters compete? How do they win? How is it measured? How do other people know that you won? Tie the rest of your game into the victory and the competiton.