There’s a saying all creative people have heard, and a lot of them have also uttered during their lives: “Show, don’t tell”. Simply put, it means that if you want a scene in a novel or a movie to be heart wrenching, you cannot simply tell your readers or viewers what they should be feeling or doing at this given moment. Similarly, you cannot simply make somebody laugh by telling them to laugh – or by telling them to do a thing that is definitely going to be hilarious.
It’s no secret I’m not a fan of party games – whenever people ask me about my gaming habits, I tell them that I am mostly a gaming omnivore, although I will rarely be convinced to play a real time game, or a party game (often actually being also a real time game, so that gives us one strike more). In fact, I will often admit to specifically not liking party games as a genre and actively avoiding playing them, choosing to rather not play than play a party game.
If you’re starting to feel slightly confused by how detached the two above paragraphs are, let me now tie them together. I don’t like party games, because a lot of them try to force me into making silly stuff just for other people to laugh at me – or make other people do silly stuff so that I could laugh at them. And they try to do it in such a ham-fisted way, that the only thing I do feel is embarrassment.
I’m not going to point my finger at any specific transgressors. Suffice to say that if a game simply orders me to cluck like a chicken instead of talking, or play with my forehead on the table, I’ll probably pass. I can make other people laugh at my expense, but I refuse to be the butt of primitive jokes made by someone else. I will not be happy about that, and I will certainly not pay for this type of entertainment.
What I will pay for is a subtle but engaging system that will allow me to make an idiot out of myself – and allow other people to laugh at my expense. And here, I will name names: Anomia, Apples to Apples, Spot It, 5 Second Rule – games that do not start from insulting their players by forcing them to do stupid things. No, by creating a seemingly neutral gaming environment they allow us to do silly things as we try to play according to rules that do not tell us to do a specific funny thing to amuse others.
So, if your thinking about designing a fun party game, first look at the ones that (over the years) had the most staying power – and that you enjoy (not dread!) coming back to, and then remember one thing: allow me. Specifically, allow me to entertain other players with my blunders. Don’t make me look like an idiot with a forehead on the table. Instead, allow me to find a way to make an idiot out of myself using your entertaining rules set. I’ll like your party game that much more, I promise.