Exogenous Value

Game designer Greg Costikyan originally brought the term Endogenous value to games, from biology. That said, I think Jesse Schell explains it the cleanest, in his Art of Game Design. “…it means “caused by factors inside the organism or system,” or “internally generated.”” Schell’s example is that Monopoly money only has meaning in the context of playing Monopoly. You can’t take it to the bank, unless you’re looking to prank some bedraggled teller.

Though even that isn’t completely satisfying, since Monopoly gets a lot of that context from how we value money elsewhere in life.  While we can get some satisfaction from knowing how to get what we want out of Monopoly money, or chess pieces, or the local bar on the night of the big football game, internal meanings can be at the bleeding mercy of external ones. And that’s everywhere, the effect isn’t exclusive to games.

If it really is game night, and that’s what the crowd officially wants at O’Malley’s Pub, then the conversing human beings, the beer, the loud smoky atmosphere of O’Malley’s, might just become secondary. Brawling frat boys might catch your attention, in the brief moments before an enormous red-haired bouncer throws them out by the popped collar. A juicy conversational nugget may catch your ear, especially if the game is on a commercial break. That particular bar’s atmosphere might have been why we chose it, over another bar, or a someone’s couch. The game imbues that place with an extra reason to show up. Sometimes an experience works better when it references an entirely separate reality. Fun can absolutely be about the obnoxiously wordy exogenous value, caused by factors outside the organism or system.

Our knowledge of sporting events does the same for certain videogames. FIFA and Madden are game franchises worth hundreds of millions, and certain players choose them over things like BioShock or Warcraft or FarmVille not because FIFA and Madden are heart-stoppingly innovative. They buy the games because they understand and enjoy Soccer and NFL Football, respectively. That exogenous value references familiar players, rules, and teams.

Which can add a layer to fun.


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