According to the MDA Design Theory, there are eight engagements. If the theory holds for roleplaying games as much as it does for computer games, then it’s long been of interest to me that my strongest engagement is Discovery.
People who like discovery want to explore the game and the world the game takes place in. They want to uncover all the secrets, explore every room, understand every system, and find every hidden treasure. Players who leave no stone unturned, who ask a lot of questions, and insist on visiting every room in the dungeon are in it for discovery.
Original D&D offered this in spades – you were exploring the mazey dungeons and making a map as you went. Players would need to poke their noses into every detail. The explorers would be engaged from the get-go and the dungeon was, at least in the megadungeons played back in the day, essentially unending. Perhaps this is why I keep returning to the megadungeon.
That being said, I think Discovery was also the driving force behind my interest in Traveller. This was the game in which you’d explore the subsector of space and seek to uncover the mysteries and wonders the Referee had waiting for you. I love poking my way around floating hulks in space, ancient alien ruins, and the spaceports of numerous planets,
Today, as a GM, I want to offer meaningful Discovery to my players but I fear that we live in a gaming culture that has devalued the exploration element of the roleplaying experience. Very often the “setting” is a mere backdrop to the action of player characters who are super-heroic in power and out to resolve the plot of the story.
The world is not really important to many players. Six of the other seven engagements are emphasised – especially Narrative – in the regular kind of game. This leaves me, as a player, feeling unsatisfied because I can’t seem to find another GM who cares about exploration in the way that I do. As GM, I feel that I am creating details no one else cares about.
Still, this is my hobby and I get to create the spaces wherein my players can explore should they wish to do so. My job is to remember the other seven engagements and provide for those too. For this reason, I find the theory helpful. You never know, maybe someone who likes Discovery will stumble into my games one day too.