Cinemechanix Design Journal 7: What's In A Name?

Category: Cussin' In Tongues
Created on Friday, 12 February 2016 Written by Steve

I know bitching about political correctness is popular these days (mostly with comedians whose relevance is quickly fading, as far as I can tell), but the PC movement is totally correct in the assertion that what we call things matters. The go-to modern example is the estate tax, which is basically an inheritance tax on the wealthy. In 2001, the estate tax was 55% and only applied to estates worth over $675,000. Somewhere around that time, Frank Luntz, who has George Carlin level linguistic insight but uses his powers for evil, came up with the idea of making sure that GOP lawmakers called it a "death tax" instead. Not everybody has an estate, so most people don't feel too bad about some rich dead guy's leftovers being taxed. Since everybody dies, changing the name made people feel like the tax could apply to them, even though most Amercians check out well below the exemption. Thanks to the widespread support for reducing the "death tax," the estate tax now only applies to estates worth over just under $5.5 million, and the tax rate is 40%.

What does this have to do with games? Well, words are the raw material that games are built from, so the words you use can greatly influence how players approach the game. I first noticed this when QAGS started getting reviews. I can't tell you how many reviewers seemed to like the game in general, but had reservations specifically because one of the stats is called "Yum Yums." Apparently some people believe it's important that you treat pretending to be a magical space elf with a pet unicorn with the proper dignity and gravitas. Lots of games have dumb stat names (Karma Points, anyone?), but they stop being dumb once you get used to them. The same thing happens with "Yum Yums," but since the phrase is so unapologetically dumb, it makes a bad first impression on people who forget that they're using it to help them pretend they're cyborg ninjas.

With Cinemechanix, the trait names are more traditional. Since the whole game uses TV series and movie analogies and examples, I've tried to use words with a "Hollywood" feel when possible. For example, the Cinemechanix equivalent of "Yum Yums" is "Acclaim," which (at least to me) brings to mind a bunch of well-dressed celebrities politely applauding at an awards show. I've changed most of the trait names dozens of times, usually for incredibly nitpicky reasons, and the current draft currently uses two trait names from QAGS, Gimmicks and Weaknesses, because those are the best words I could come up with that described what the traits needed to be.

The problem, as someone on the playtest group articulated last week, is that Gimmicks and Weaknesses in Cinemechanix aren't the same thing as Gimmicks and Weaknesses in QAGS. Since we can safely assume that a majority of Cinemechanix players will be QAGS players, that's a potential source of confusion. Using just one of them wouldn't be as much of a problem; lots of games uses similar words, and neither is unique to QAGS (Weakness, especially, is used in a bunch of RPGs). The problem is really the pairing. Since QAGS uses the same pair of words, QAGS players are going to expect them to mean more or less the same thing, especially if they know that I designed both games. So one or both of those traits will probably end up getting renamed between now and the final draft. It's just a matter of finding words that have the right meaning and flavor but don't have baggage.



It's been a long week, so I don't have the energy to come up with a snappy way to beg you for money

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Cinemechanix Design Journal 7: What's In A Name?.
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