-A simple hex map
-A bag of small rocks
-Two dozen tiny plastic dinosaurs
-Two 20-sided dice
-Nine six-sided dice
-100 poker chips
Deme‘s trial form is just about ready to emerge—marsupial-like—to finish its gestation outside the warm pouch of my imagination. Since its dramatic overhaul last year, the core concept has been consistent: a hex-grid tactical strategy game based on species interactions instead of the more traditional trappings of medieval fantasy and/or giant robot warfare.
The items listed above are the physical components for the game. Why tiny plastic dinosaurs? Because dinosaurs were the tiny plastic things Fred Meyer had on sale. At this early phase, it would be great to have a range of custom figurines to give the game any aesthetic properties I want, but ain’t nobody got time for that.*
This is prototyping, and if dinosaurs I have, dinosaurs I will use. The game, mind you, is not necessarily about dinosaurs. As a game, it is not necessarily about anything. I will tell people that a roll of the dice is a charge by a predator and a poker chip of a certain color is energy derived from food or an abstract representation of health. The dice roll could just as easily be a cavalry charge and the poker chips rubies, maps or small dogs. The elements that are most arbitrary are, in this case, perhaps the most important.
I’ll give you a personal example. When World War II first-person shooter games first became “a thing” with franchises like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, I was a little put off. Making a game out of a real and recent conflict that caused so much lasting destruction and pain seemed crass… until I played a few titles. In most cases, the subject matter was handled with a level of respect and honesty I hadn’t expected, and much of that honesty was the recognition that this game is not like what happened, and no game ever could be. A game need not be instructive or technically realistic to spark interest and facilitate learning.
In basic mechanical terms, a historical shooter is very similar to a gonzo sci-fi shooter like Doom. The difference is in presentation—what we’ve decided the game is about. Doom, while challenging and entertaining, never left me thinking about anything of great human significance afterward. The Call of Duty franchise left me thinking of the reality behind its narrative.
The games were not meant to recreate the experience of war, but to let us talk about it. The cliché health packs and other FPS conventions, rather than appearing cheap and “unrealistic,” served as reminders that this was play—a safe, interactive diorama of something significant and terrible worth remembering. I found myself researching the Battle of Stalingrad and the human consequences of war for weeks after playing. I’d call that a free-choice learning outcome, and from a big-budget “recreational” game at that.
*Speaking naturally in front of a camera, especially following a stressful situation, takes a lot of courage. I think the funny thing about this video is not how Sweet Brown talks—though it’s often presented that way—but the fact that she nonchalantly lays bare and discards our unspoken expectations about how one speaks to a news crew, just by acting like a regular person. I have a huge amount of respect for that.