Winning an Argument

Molleindustria has released a a new game: Leaky World. Subtitled “Playable Theory” it is a very simple and well-made flash game that puts the main arguments of an essay by Julian Assange into a game mechanic.

I have read the essay previously so I was pleasantly surprised to see it being adapted as a gameplay rhetoric. The game conveys the core idea if the essay quite effectively. The player’s task is to create a global conspiracy network by linking nodes to each other. As the number of connections increases, some of the nodes begin to leak which can end the game. The only way to stop leaks is to isolate the affected nodes. This in turn basically undoes the player’s work and sets them back at reaching the goal. The game shows how leaks prevent conspiracy networks from forming.

It’s a great game and you should try it out. It’s especially refreshing to see a Molleindustria game with a more serious tone for a change.

There is something I noticed while playing it. It occurred to me also when playing other serious games previously. There seems to be an inherent contradiction in the very idea of some gameplay rhetorics. It’s the fact that participation in games often depends on the existence of a chance to win the game. For example, Leaky World is supposed to show that leaks prevent conspiracies. But the game only makes this argument when the player loses. This is Ok because most players will lose at first anyway. But after some practice I won the game – I was able to establish my conspiracy network in spite of the many leaks that occurred. This is something that shouldn’t be happening according to Assange’s essay. So the argument of the game is actually a different one. Leaks don’t prevent conspiracies, the just make them a little bit harder

A different example would be a game about life in the 3rd world such as Ayiti. Such games often depict the dilemmas and hardships that make living in a 3rd world so difficult. This rhetoric is effective as long as players struggle with succeeding at the game. But playing games means to learn the systems they model and to exploit them to your advantage. So after some practice, many players will be actually able to succeed at those games and make a descent living in the simulated 3rd worlds. For those players the rhetoric of the game becomes that it’s your own fault if you suffer in a 3rd world country. Because if you just take a while to think things trough, you should be able to game the system to attain a decent quality of life after all.

A solution to the problem is to skew the game’s system so there is no way to win, no matter how skilled the player is (The Lanlord’s Game). However, this in turn takes away agency from players and destroys the game itself. As soon as players realize they can’t affect the outcome of the game, their motivation in continuing playing the game decreases dramatically. They can still appreciate the game and it’s rhetoric, but their interest engaging the game is diminished.

Stangely, it seems like this dilemma mirrors the problems game designers face when integrating a narrative into gameplay. Sadly, I can only offer this observation. I have no solution for this dilemma yet. How do you think can we overcome it?

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

4 responses to “Winning an Argument”

  1. Gregory Weir

    In some cases, you could make it so that the game can be won, but only at extreme ethical cost or via some sacrifice. Perhaps in a game depicting life in the third world, the only way to climb out of poverty is to exploit those around you. Then at least the winning player understands that there’s no easy and moral solution.

  2. Erick

    Or you can make the game unwinnable, but have an underlying scoring system so players can gauge their performance against others.

  3. Zaratustra

    Why letting the player lose destroys the game? An entire generation of arcade games would only end when the player lost. Let him lose.

  4. Antome

    I don’t think that making player win in a 3rd world game puts the blame of their low quality life on them, the game would anyhow illustrate how the life in unjustly difficult there due to western economy and internal warand speculation. But not that rebellion and cheating the system is impossible.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


follow Krystian on Twitter
follow Yu-Chung on Twitter
follow Daniel on Twitter