Blurry lines

October 5, 2008

The creators of Magic the Gathering, a fantasy card game, have a scale known as the Melvin-Vorthos axis. Magic is set in a universe of epic fantasy. Game cards have painted illustrations, quotes and identities that fit into a storyline. This story material is referred to as “flavor” and has no actual impact on gameplay, which involves complex strategy with a heavy mathematical component.

Melvin and Vorthos are demographic profiles given to describe the player-base for marketing purposes. Melvin thinks of the game as a straight mathematical exercise in pure abstraction; his play would be unchanged if the cards contained no illustrations or story element at all. Vorthos plays the game for the pretend epic-fantasy elements; he would enjoy the cards without the game rules and statistics. Most players fall somewhere in between these extremes and enjoy both to greater or lesser degrees. What is interesting (and frustrating) is that occasionally, players on opposite ends of the spectrum play each other and have a miscommunication because it turns out they are playing two completely different games… together.

Rahr! My cards eats you!

Rahr! My cards eats you!

All of play falls onto the Melvin-Vorthos axis. Some games reflect reality and some are pure abstraction, with levels of gradation in between. Also, some games cover more of the spectrum than others. Magic covers a wide swath of the abstraction spectrum, while games such as cops-and-robbers or roulette take up a much narrower sliver.

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