Who is “The Meepler”?

I received a visit today from Agent Taupe of the FBI (Fictitious Bureau of Investigations). It seemed that a game designer, who went by the handle “Buttersleeves”, had been murdered and they suspected the perpetrator was another game designer since the weapon was, wait for it…, a MEEPLE! Agent Taupe wanted a quick psych profile on designers to help in the investigation. I was more than happy to oblige.

I would have to say that most designers share many common traits. Most designers have a fairly good grasp of mathematics. Reiner Knizia and Richard Garfield both have PhD’s in mathematics, and I and several of my colleagues here in Seattle have mastered both addition and subtraction. Of course, I would obviously rule out Richard as the “Meepler” since the use of meeples as the weapon of choice would typically indicate a Eurogame designer, unless Richard is being clever because he knows that everyone would assume that a killer that used a meeple was a Eurogame designer.

That brings up the second item on the profile. Designers are generally clever. Most creative jobs require some amount of imagination. While it is true that anyone can write a book or paint a picture, most people do not have the skill level to make a living doing it. The same goes for game design. Anyone can add a fifth suit to a deck of cards, putting tape with new rocket symbols over the old suit symbols. (Important note: If you are not actually an artist, choose a new suit symbol other than rockets as poorly drawn rockets can often be mistaken for something else.) Anyone can create a set of trivia cards with their favorite questions about lolcats. (Is Hello Kitty really cuter?) But the first stage of design is when you can start to recombine existing mechanics in clever ways. The second stage is when you can start to create new mechanics. The final test though is when you can create games that people play again and again. There is also some test about snatching a twenty sided die from an old monk’s hand and carrying a pitcher of beer across the room with your elbows, but I will discuss that another time.

Tabletop game designers tend to be mostly male. This is not to say that women would have any particular difficulty designing, and there are some very talented women designers in the field, including Teeuwynn and Kelly B. with whom I have collaborated on past projects. This lack primarily stems from the fact that most gamers in general tend to be male, so for the people that turn their hobby into a career, the pool of male gamers is much larger than the pool of female gamers. In some sectors of the category, such as trading card games, the gender disparity is quite stark, with well over 90 percent of the demographic being male. When you get into board games, you see a slightly larger female demographic, and when you get into party games, the percentage jumps dramatically. Keep that in mind if you are attempting to get the elusive female demographic to play your new game. In the computer gaming field, there are both more female players and more female designers, especially when you get into virtual worlds and minigame or puzzle style games. Playing games a lot turns you into a developer. The more games you play the more you will analyze the mechanics of the game. When you start tweaking the existing mechanics, you become a developer. When you start replacing mechanics with other “cooler” mechanics, you become a designer. There are very few, if any, game designers that are not also avid game players. Most have set nights of the week they game and gaming groups that they can get together with.

Game designers are generally arrogant. Sometimes they take arrogance to new levels, sometimes even legendary levels. (Yes, some get to Hell level as well.) In college and in the military, I never really felt like I was around a lot of arrogant people. The same is true for my stint in the health care field, where I felt that many individual doctors were arrogant, but on the whole the group was not that bad. Game designers put doctors to shame in this area. Almost everyone I meet in the game design field is arrogant. It’s like there is an invisible bar where “You must be at least this arrogant to go into this field.” Most designers are aware of it and some even joke about it. Very few in the field are bothered by this characterization. I never get upset when people call me arrogant, but of course I consider the judgment of others in this area to be inferior as they often miss some of the finer points of arrogance in their comments. Complementing game designers carries the same risk as getting them wet or feeding them after midnight. Once they have had one or two games published, very few designers have the discipline to control the massive egos that ensue. On the plus side, being arrogant helps you deal with other arrogant people, which is a useful skill if you work on design teams and want to actively contribute. Note also that part of being arrogant is that there is only a plus side, since the minus side is never important to you.

Most gamers tend to be “night people”. This is not as hard and fast a trait as the others, but typically gamers tend to stay up and get up late. When was the last time you went on a “raid” at 6 AM, unless of course the raid was still going at 6 AM from the previous nights start. Since game designers as we have seen follow the traits of gamers, most game designers are “night people” as well.

The weapon of choice says something about the “Meepler”. A trading card game designer would know from years of practice that trading cards make great projectile weapons and can be thrown from quite a distance and quite hard. A trading card designer would therefore be more likely to be a ranged assassin than our “Meepler”. An RPG designer would be well versed in the deadly capacities of 4-sided dice and the fact that pencils and pens can be stuck in other things besides the ceiling. That pretty much rules out an RPG designer as the “Meepler” as well. No, I think we are looking at a board game designer here, or perhaps someone trying to be clever and frame a board game designer. I keep forgetting how clever these designers are. I am beginning to think Agent Taupe is not going to have much luck on this case.

It looks like the profile is finished. I have to leave now. I need to head over to Green Lake Games and order a replacement piece for my Carcassonne game. I can’t remember where I misplaced the piece.

Oh yeah. Now I remember.

-Mike Elliott


2 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Okay… I recognize that this post is intended to be funny (and I thought it was), but your comments about arrogance got me to thinking…

    You really have to walk a line between being self-assured and humble if you want to make anything for anyone else. I mean, in particular, when it comes to receiving feedback from testers, you have to be thick-skinned enough to take the criticism, but you actually have to actually take to heart what they say. I mean, let’s face it; some of the mechanics we try are crap. And after someone tells you it’s crap, you still have to thank them for their help.

    Anyways… I should wrap up this comment. I think I have a 4 digit phone call to make.

  2. Dre,

    I’m not a game designer nor am I arrogant…

    But every house rule I make is always a vast improvement to the original game. Honest. ;)

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