Discovery and Control: How Video Games and Tabletop Games are Learning from One Another

This week, I once again found myself listening to one of Geoff Englestein’s excellent “GameTek” segments on the podcast Ludology. Geoff’s short segments cover scientific and psychological topics related to gaming, and the topic from this installment – episode 230.5 – was “Implicit vs Explicit”. Geoff’s analysis underpins a foundational struggle underlying game design, one which I feel explains many of the recent trends in the game mechanics found across both video and tabletop gaming. In case you have six minutes to spare, do go listen to Geoff’s eloquent and insightful analysis for yourself: 

Listen to Geoff’s Episode

In this brief segment, Geoff uses a case study from his historical game Versailles 1919 to describe a common tension in game design: when should designers make the systems of a game explicit for player’s to understand from the outset of play, and when should they leave parts of the system hidden such that players must learn by discovery? In his own design, Geoff wrestled with whether or not he should make the political stability of regions explicitly stated on the game board, or if he should make differences in stability expressed varying ratios of each region’s cards in the deck, the latter being an implicit way to show region’s individualities that requires repeated play to learn for oneself.

There is evidence that player’s engage in implicit learning before they can even articulate what they have learned. Geoff cites the Iowa Gambling Task, an experiment in which individuals could draw from any of four decks (each with different ratios of cards) and gained or lost money based on what they drew. Although it took forty draws before most players could articulate which decks they felt were better or worse, after only ten draws players showed stress reactions when they decided to draw from one of the bad decks. 

Geoff concludes that designers can leverage implicit information in games to reduce the cognitive load on players. He also notes how video games tend to do this well – hiding lots of information about the strengths and weaknesses of various options so that players must discover the system through play. Implicitly learned systems can likewise create a more immersive experience within the fiction of the game world by not plainly explaining their rules.

Tabletop games typically feature explicit rulebooks outlining their systems.

Nevertheless, there is a degree of control gamers can gravitate towards when rules are explicitly stated. Many board games are easier to approach competetively as a first time player than many video games, as it’s far more difficult to shortcut the learning curve of discovery than it is to efficinetly digest a rules explanation. 

As I read this part of Geoff’s analysis, I realized I saw a trend in popular gaming over the last two decades. Video games often seem to be utlilizing smaller rules systems and online communities that work to provide explicit conslidation of those systems, while new tabletop games are striving for the open-ended allure of video games, wherein systems are largely implicit and left to be discovered. 

For example, the most high-profile Kickstarter successes by board game designers in the last decade have been games like The Seventh Continent and Gloomhaven, games with massively expansive worlds and stories to be explored over repeated plays. New types of cards and challenges are unearthed as the game progresses, effectively melding the immersive discovery of video games with the tactile nature and social allure of tabletop gaming. On a personal level, I was intrigued by both of these designs when droves of reviewers called them innovative, and after trying them found myself impressed with the way in which both games put players on a constant brink of discovery, both in terms of the fictional world and gameplay mechanics.

Gloomhaven” is a massive fantasy board game, weighing almost 22 pounds and containing hundreds of hours of gameplay across branching scenarios and divergent storylines.

Conversely, one of the major genres of games to succeed in the last five years are battle royal and arcade games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty: Zombies. These games see players repeatedly playing in the same gameplay space, one which is very small by video gaming standards, and striving to improve their performance in game after gme with relatively little randomness to obstruct the player’s agency. Sound a lot like a digital implementation of a tabletop game? I think so too. Moreover, the increasing popularity of forums and write ups in video gaming communities has led to more sharing of explicit information than ever, and increasing numbers of players are flocking to these articles to find out the exact mechanisms at play behind their favorite game’s flashy graphics. In essence, video game communities are writing and sharing the rulebooks to their games, even though rulebooks are an often maligned attribute of tabletop gaming.

The original map for the hit game “Fortnite”.

I don’t foresee these trends continuing forever, but I do think they represent much needed growth from designers in both digital and analog games. Implicit and explicit systems have their place in all kinds of games, and judicious employment of each is crucial to design. As a game designer, I’m keen on identifying the strengths of various mediums, but I also love to identify where design has restricted itself based on unfounded assumptions. Why should a Skyrim fan limit their gaming to digital worlds when analog games like Gloomhaven might satisfy the same itch? Mediums should indeed play to their strengths, but all games can bring in new audiences and innovate in their respective fields by studying other game forms and rethinking hitoric assumptions.

– Dylan Kistler

Podcasting — The Future of News Media

With the increasingly shortening attention span of the average person, the printed newspaper has become the least popular medium for news. News is now transmitted through a variety of different formats — such as television, internet, and video — and you would be hard pressed to find anyone that still reads the morning paper. Hell, I cannot even remember a single time I have read a newspaper throughout the 19 years of my life. The limitations of the printed medium just can’t compare with the affordances of new visual and auditory media. As a result, news media outlets are adapting to the current social climate.

News media outlets such as Vox Media and Vice News have taken advantage of the growing popularity of YouTube by creating informative, infographic videos that incorporate animations, video clips, and graphics with the spoken word to capture the audience’s attention. On the other hand, broadcast companies such as Fox, NBC, and CNN have taken advantage of television broadcasting to disseminate the news and reach broader audiences. These visual mediums have infinitely more potential to capture one’s attention than the small black and white words that fill newspapers.

Just take a look at the video and newspaper below. Which one would you be more likely to read or watch?


The video, right? I agree. There is simply no comparison between the two mediums. With print newspaper, there is just not enough stimuli to compete with these other forms of news. Just like the common idiom states, a picture is worth a thousand words, and there is no way in hell I am going to read a thousand words; so, just show me the picture.

While these mediums do a great job of capturing your attention, they require your complete and undivided attention. People are busy. Most work 9 to 5 jobs, more people than ever commute to work, and a lot don’t have the time nor the energy to engage in these news mediums. So, how can the news be translated in another way to adapt to our busy lifestyles?

Podcasting has emerged as a new, great alternative for consuming the news. It allows for the average person to keep up to date with the news, while performing their routine day-to-day tasks. Depending on the type of job you have, you could be listening to podcasts the entire workday. News media outlets need to take advantage of this emerging medium. With podcasting, news media outlets have the opportunity to be in the ears of the masses for large portions of the day.


Newspaper The New York Times has taken advantage of this opportunity with its podcast The Daily. They take the most significant current news stories and thoroughly examine them in a condensed 20-40 minutes. This audio format affords them a lot more freedom than print newspapers. For the Blasey-Kavanaugh hearing, they took actual recordings from the hearing, brought in guest speakers who have personal connections with Kavanaugh, and commented on specific key incidents that occurred during the hearing. There is a lot more nuance that can be conveyed in this format.

By listening to the actual hearing itself, a lot more is conveyed than words on a page. You can hear the intonations of their voice and emotions in their speech, and you can form your own opinions based off them. It makes it much more difficult to take out of context, and it holds a much more significant impact when you actually hear the words coming from their source. Podcasting also gives the audience a much more human take on the news. Hearing the reporter’s analysis through his or her voice helps the audience identify the difference between analytical opinions and objective facts.

With that said, podcasting offers an exciting, new alternative to traditional forms of newscasting, yet few news broadcasting companies have begun to utilize it. Podcasting is slowly growing in popularity, while these other forms are quickly declining. These companies need to advance into the future and pick up this growing medium. It is only a matter of time before podcasting becomes a significant component of news media.

*Sorry, I know it’s annoying to click a link, but WordPress is being a butthole and I have been trying to fix it for hours.

Ethan Nguyen