Tensions in Live-Action Roleplaying Game Design: A Case Study with the MIT Assassins’ Guild

Philip Tan

Philip Tan

A textual analysis of games of the MIT Assassins’ Guild with an ethnographic and historical slant provides an analysis of five kinds of tensions in the process of the design and the implementation of mechanics in MIT Assassins’ Guild Live-Action Roleplaying games. These tensions are a product of a combination of the history of roleplaying games and other Live-Action simulative activities, the specific logistical and historical circumstances of the MIT Assassins’ Guild and the expectations of the members of the MIT Assassins’ Guild. Game designers and players frequently cite case studies and have developed a useful vocabulary that are worth learning to facilitate further discussion of game design.

Guild game mechanics are designed for feasibility of implementation and execution by the game designers and the players, to provide and hide information from players in a timely manner, to dissociate player decisions from character actions, to enhance the verisimilitude and the atmosphere of the game for the players, and to generate, balance and resolve interesting competition among players. Experienced game designers keep all these tensions in mind while designing mechanics that can satisfy all the criteria and highlight desirable traits that arise from the interplay of the tensions.

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About Philip Tan

Philip Tan is the creative director for the MIT Game Lab. He teaches CMS.608 Game Design and CMS.611J/6.073J Creating Video Games. For six years, he was the executive director for the US operations of the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, a game research initiative. He has served as a member of the steering committee of the Singapore chapter of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) and worked closely with Singapore game developers to launch industry-wide initiatives and administer content development grants as an assistant manager in the Media Development Authority (MDA) of Singapore. Before 2005, he produced and designed PC online games at The Education Arcade, a research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that studied and created educational games. He complements a Master's degree in Comparative Media Studies with work in Boston's School of Museum of Fine Arts, the MIT Media Lab, WMBR 88.1FM and the MIT Assassins' Guild, the latter awarding him the title of "Master Assassin" for his live-action roleplaying game designs. He also founded a DJ crew at MIT. Thesis: Tensions in Live-Action Roleplaying Game Design: A Case Study with the MIT Assassins’ Guild