The Case Against Puzzles

I love me some puzzles, I really do. I'm all about Professor Layton, AuditoriumContinuity, various Big Fish hidden object games, Grow games... you get the idea.

So when I say that puzzles and storytelling make for star-crossed lovers, I'm not just being a puzzle hater. Pinky swear.

I used to think that puzzles were a key component of net-native storytelling. Somewhere along the way, I confused puzzles with interactivity. They aren't the same thing, and this simple fact has a lot of implications for how you approach a project, both structurally and philosophically.

 

Audience Appeal

 

Puzzles and interactive stories have two different kinds of appeal, and two different audiences. There is, to be sure, quite a lot of overlap between the two. But by assuming that an ARG must cater to both of these audiences equally, we're creating a set of expectations that may be actively harming our mainstreaming, and limiting the scope of experimentation within our art.

It all comes down to that word game in alternate reality game. A game implies some sense of competition, or at least obstacles to overcome. The word game implies winning and losing conditions, the presence of goals, objective metrics for measuring success. 

If you're looking at it from the perspective of a 

But these connotations limit the boundaries of what I might want to call an ARG. 

 

That's one of the reasons I've been jumping ship to the word 'transmedia' lately; it emcompasses experiences that contain puzzles and interactive challenges, but doesn't require them. 

Of course it's possible to do both, and do them both well. But it's exponentially difficult, and it may well limit your audience to the people who enjoy both kinds of play, while losing some who enjoy only one. I know I've lost interest in experiences that were puzzle-heavy, and to which I felt I could not contribute in a meaningful way. I've also seen puzzle lovers walk away from games that required too much pesky reading of blogs and watching videos. Striking the right balance is hard.

 

Design Problems

What do you write first, music or lyrics?