Attila heaps praise on one of his favorite games; The World Ends With You while Mathew listens patiently. A discussion on how the game handles Difficulty and an example of Mechanics as Metaphor.
Mechanics as Metaphor: sending Messages through Systems
Whether you intend for it or not, your game mechanics carry messages to your players. Use this to your advantage and turn your code into poetry in motion.
In the cult hit game, The World Ends with You, there is an overarching theme of the importance of individuality. It's woven into the narrative, and even directly into some of the game's mechanics. One shining example of using mechanics to metaphorically express the game's core theme relates to the combat effectiveness of your equip items. Every equip item in the game is an article of clothing associated with one of thirteen fictional clothing brands in the game world. Each of those brands is ranked in popularity, with different clothing brands being more popular in some zones of the game than others. If you wear items of a popular brand, you get a stat bonus, while if you wear unpopular clothing brands you get a stat penalty. However, the most important component of this mechanic is that the more a player wears a specific brand of clothing in battle, the more popular it becomes, eventually rising through the charts and granting the player the associated stat bonus. If the designers of TWEWY had stopped halfway and only made popular clothes give stat bonuses, that would have been a terrible message. Instead, they managed to turn that around completely and make it a fantastic example of expressing individuality; allowing players to wear what they want in the face of hardship and eventually rewarding them for it.
I would argue that most mechanics in games are devoid of a metaphorical meaning, and that's just as well. Having everything in your game be an elaborate metaphor would be incredibly difficult to construct and interpret, and in most cases it simply isn't necessary. That being said, it is incredibly important to keep this in the back of your mind while you are designing every mechanic in your game. By accident or coincidence, you could end up designing a mechanic that has some very negative undertones. It's all about understanding that nothing happens in a vacuum; your game exists as part of a large and complicated social web that is our world, and there are many things in our world that are fine in some cultures but terribly offensive in others. So take a moment to evaluate the messages in your game and ask yourself these questions: are they the messages you intended? Are there messages you didn't expect? Every once in a while you'll be presented with a fantastic opportunity to embed a meaningful message directly into the mechanics of your game, the code itself becoming poetry in motion.