12 March 2013
Difficulty Verus Time Spent Playing
Time Spent Playing is the time you spend actually playing the game. Not looking up rules or creating characters or rolling stacks of dice, or arguing about said rules, but the part that you actually can recognize as play. The part with the real conflict, where there is something to gain and something to lose. A roleplaying game where you spend most of the time playing is probably fairly light, like Risus. A roleplaying game where you spend less time playing is something fairly complex, like 3rd edition D&D (especially at higher levels).
The difficulty you can think of as complexity, if you like, because in this case it's how hard it is to "grok." In other words, how much mental effort you're using to keep the game moving. This one's pretty easy. A low-difficulty game is something where you can keep all of the information in your head at once and there's probably just the one die roll; something like Microlite 20. A high-difficulty game is where you have a lot of stats and backgrounds and lots of different dice rolls; something like GURPS, say. Or FATAL, not that anybody actually plays that.
The fun thing about it is that there's a really wide arrow in the middle that shows you that there's probably a good mix in there that makes it fit. If you have a very complex game with lots of stats, it either needs to be all up-front (so you can actually play now that you've got the complexity out of the way) or be spread out so that the game tends to progress in little bursts. You'll notice that's about true- a game like Warhammer 40k has a lot of setup and preparation and rules to memorize, but once you know them, you can play almost without referencing anything. D&D is pretty freeform except for the parts that matter to the edition you're playing (earlier editions care more about equipment, treasure, and exploring; later editions about character generation and combat), and so you play in little spurts. You find treasure, roll it up, haul it around, then go back into the dungeon, maybe fight a thing.
If you have a light game, it's in your best interest to keep it moving, because nobody wants to play a grindy, highly diced game of Risus for the same reason nobody over a certain age wants to play Sorry!(tm) or Candy Land. There are hardly any mechanics, after all, which means that if you strip away the "imagining things are happening while hanging out with friends" part there's really not a very compelling game.
I wrote more about this than I had intended, but I like the chart. It's probably possible to mark yourself on there. Doubly so if you assume that there are games that you can peg there definitively, and then draw where you'd be around it. I bet that your favorite games all cluster around themselves. I bet that if you include your house rules and how you played it (versus how it's written) it'd cluster even more tightly.