Welcome back, readers, to another lesson here on Crit the Books! This week, we’ll be branching a bit away from strategy principles, and move towards the design side of games. We’ll be discussing something that comes up very often when talking about games, and this same concept is something that can let you demonstrate mastery of a game in a method that is not simply strategic. This week, we’ll be discussing the Burden of Knowledge.
In any game, there are a set number of components within the game. Even for games that are procedurally generated or make use of customizable elements, there are still parts of the game that can be known and predicted. Burden of Knowledge refers to the amount of rules or specifics of different components that exist in the game. Burden of knowledge as a concept specifically references the “printed” aspects of the game, or those that are available direct from the game and must not be deduced.
As an example of what differentiates strategic knowledge from printed knowledge that increases a game’s burden of knowledge, we’ll look at a game that I am currently dipping my toes into and attempting to learn – Pokemon! To be specific, we’ll be talking about competitive battling in the video games – specifically Generation 7 – in Drafting Leagues. While there is quite a bit to be said about Draft Leagues in Pokemon, I won’t be discussing the specifics here. Instead, I encourage you to read this article written by my good friend Hexcat, over on their site!
Pokemon has a lot of depth to it, and that is part of what makes it have such a variety of competitive formats. That depth shows in a lot of ways! Each pokemon brings with it a unique combination of base stats, abilities, types, and moves that it can learn. In addition to just the variety of possibility that differentiates the pokemon themselves, there are a variety of items that each pokemon can bring into the battle. Mega Evolutions and powerful moves called Z-Moves expand the choices even more.
All of these possibilities for the pokemon, as well as the specific interactions of moves and pokemon, are available to players at any time, and do not change game to game. Since all of this information is set and directly available to the player without being deduced, this is considered printed knowledge, and therefore contributes to the huge burden of knowledge that an aspiring pokemon player must overcome if they want to make it as a competitive player.
On the other hand, pokemon also has a very deep well of strategic information. Knowing how to construct a strong team, knowing what role each pokemon can play in that team, knowing how to leverage the knowledge you have of the opponent’s team into moves that are more efficient for you… those are all strategic knowledge, and this depth of strategy is what has made pokemon such a long-lasting player in the gaming arena. There is a reason that pokemon is still played consistently to this day, and the strategic depth is what keeps it there.
To contrast the heavy burden of knowledge of Pokemon, we’ll look at a game that has a light burden of knowledge but incredibly deep strategic knowledge. Imagine a game where there are only 6 different pieces with their own rules, as well as a very simple set of base game rules. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about Chess! It doesn’t take very long to learn the ropes of Chess, and after you have learned how each piece moves, nearly all of the knowledge you can gain about the game is strategic knowledge.
Games with a heavy burden of knowledge can be very difficult for a new player. I can speak from personal experience – for a long time, I avoided really getting into the competitive pokemon community because I didn’t think I would have the time or attention span to devote to overcoming that burden. While you can form some heuristics to lighten the load of a heavy burden of knowledge, you also risk missing out on something important because your heuristics may be flawed!
You might ask, then, “How do I get started in a game with a heavy burden of knowledge? Is it not worth my time?” To that, I must say that there is no easy answer. However, there are some starting techniques that you can look at. One method that you can use is to start with a reduced complexity version or variant of the game, either by editing the base rules to make them simpler or by limiting the options available to you. That, or you can have a more experienced player make some decisions for you while you start to work on getting deeper into the game.
This first method is the one that I got started in Pokemon Drafting with. A coach in the Fun Pokemon League – the one Hexcat mentions in their article above – ended up dropping out of the league, and the organizer of the league ended up looking for replacement coaches. I ended up stepping in, giving me an introduction to drafting without the added complexity of the drafting portion itself. This reduction in the starting complexity was a godsend. In addition, I was lucky enough to have HexCat willing to answer my questions and help assist me in my matches. While I have been relying on their help less and less as the league goes on, they were still very helpful in my early weeks.
This actually brings me to another method for getting into a game with a heavy burden of knowledge. Having a friend or another resource that can translate the knowledge into more easily accessible pieces of strategic knowledge. To provide an example, I was very unsure of why my team’s original coach had chosen Dugtrio as a Z-Move user. I was completely lost, and while I could have access to all of the moves available to Dugtrio, I didn’t know how they fit into the overall scheme of my team because I lacked the knowledge to know what made them relevant. Hexcat was able to tell me that the option of Z-Memento essentially let some pokemon on my team set up to sweep without fearing losing them to strong attacks.
One final method is to simply dive in to the game and try to master the printed knowledge of the game for yourself. This is not a simple trick or a way to escape the burden of knowledge; rather, you choose to face it head on and conquer it that way. Players that enjoy learning and don’t mind poring over information will find this method a strong one indeed. This method is also a really good one if you already enjoy the game!
When it comes to the learning new games or designing games for yourself, it is very important to remember the burden of knowledge within the game. A high burden of knowledge can make your game intimidating to learn, and that can be a death sentence for a new game. Learning to conquer that burden of knowledge for yourself can make new games far more accessible to you, and it never hurts to learn more about the games you love as well!
A big thank you to my Patrons for this month: Alex, TicTac, and anonymous patrons. If there are specific subjects or concepts you’d like an article written on, I suggest you look at my patreon! For just $7 a month, you’ll be able to suggest article topics for me to write on.
As always, remember that it’s not enough to just hit the books if you want to win. You’ve got to Crit the Books!