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Imagination, the psychology behind Board Games

Page: DesignArticle.Article-ImaginationPsychology - Last Modified : Sun, 26 Feb 12 - 3799 Visits

Author : Eric Pietrocupo

On the release of this article, there was a lot on controversy around it. Apparently I accused people of having no imagination and it seemed that I made it clear like I knew the topic better than anybody. I am very sorry for all the trouble it has created. It is possible that I chose the wrong words at the wrong place or that I was in an aggressive mood when I wrote the article. So I decided to revise the content of the article to avoid ambiguities or to lower down the tone.

Imagination gives the ability to the player to enhance and feeling the game as a real life experience. Euro games failed to achieve this because they are designed for adults with less imagination.

Kids vs Adults

Kids have a strong sense of imagination, you can give them almost any object and they will create stories and world around it. Unfortunately, when people get older they more or less lose that sense of imagination. There are various reasons for that including social stigmatization. Adults consider that it is more important to think about serious stuff like making money and raising a family rather than thinking about things that will never happen. Still, there are some adults, including me, that have kept a small sense of imagination, it might not be as strong as kids, but it is strong enough to exist.

Now how does that impact board games, most kids are very simplistic and are not appealing to adults. The primary reason is because they are tested with kids. It make sense because it's the primary audience, but kids are simply not experienced or old enough to realize that a game is flawed or offer little strategy. But since they have a strong sense of imagination, their creativity will exceed the game design and make the game more interesting than what it looks. But when placed in the hands of an adult, it's complete boredom.

On the other hands, adults have less imagination abilities, so they need to have a game which have strong strategy and allow to give them interesting choices because they cannot use their imagination to enhance the game. So this is why adults games are more focused on mechanics than theme.

This is a reason why the population that play role playing game is small. Teenagers are generally more likely to play RPG becaus they have a greater sense of imagination and more free time. Many adults still play RPG, but they are mostly people that have grown with the game but it is much harder to attract new adults to the hobby. The problem is that people with less imagination cannot simply imagine themselves being somebody else, somewhere else when they are actually sitting in their living room. This is what prevent them from playing RPG.

The power of Imagination

Imagination adds a layer to the game, and only those with imagination abilities will be able to perceive it. It's really hard to teach people to get back their imagination skills and it's not with board games or RPG that it could be done. Because in these kinds of games, almost everything should be in the player's head and adults already have problem creating it in their head. It might be easier to gain imagination by watching movies or playing video games because they can actually see the world under their eyes, they do not have to imagine anything.

Now you might be wondering, is it important to allow the game to have an imagination layer. In my point of view, I would say yes, because I can benefit from it. It's like taking a movie and adding 3D effect, vibration and surround sound. You can still watch the movie without these effects, but having them enhance the experience. Now the problem is that since most people cannot perceive it, they don't need it.

This is exactly the problem with euro games. They are designed for players with less imagination. So the only thing left is the mechanics, and they place the focus entirely on them. They add a theme just to make sure there is a theme, but making sense with the theme is not a priority for them, because even if it could add an imagination layer, they will not be able to perceive it. So it makes no sense to waste time on designing a good theme.

Things to avoid

For designing games that will benefit the imaginative audience, the game should follow a certain number of criteria to make sure the players are kept in some what may call the "Suspension of Disbelief". It could be compared to being in a dream, you must keep the player into a dream state while your game is running for his imagination to enhance the game. But certain elements of a game could kick out the player from the dream and that is what must be avoided. Here is a few things to avoid:

Illogical theme: Making sure that the theme remains most of the time logical with the mechanics. It's possible to deviate a bit from the logic of the theme, the limit of deviation that a player can accept is variable from a player to another.

Brain Calculation: Avoiding any mechanics that has brain burning capabilities. When a lot of calculations are required to be done by the player, he will now only see the mechanics under the game and it will destroy the imagination layer.

Time: This is also an important element to be considered in various ways. Large downtime between players could send the player off, splitting the game time repetitively between players also give them the impression that they are not achieving anything because they constantly stop doing what they do. Analysis Paralysis also add downtime for other players.


So adding an imagination layer to games could improve the experience a game has to offer for the players that have stronger imagination capabilities.

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