Heh, spamming the blog tonight.
If you haven't, read Sirlin's WoW diatribe. Psychic readers will know that I keep my eye on Sirlin's blog, because when he does post, it's pretty good. Well, this is a finished Gamasutra article, and it's a head above his normal stuff. It is, in fact, a head above literally every other article I've read recently.
He, me, and Raph all agree on one thing: the underlying pattern of gameplay is what the game's crunchy nuget is. The story/art/etc is important, but the gameplay has a ton of power. In fact, a good story/art/etc can be thought of simply as being a gameplay multiplier.
The patterns you learn from a game are not limited to "zombies weak vs fire" and "72% throttle on turns". It includes basic methodology for interacting with the world. Obviously, this is most notable in games you play a metric shit-tonne. For me, I learned mostly from a combination of RPGs and adventure games. This has definitely had a massive influence on my life.
Sirlin talks about WoW, and the fact that it is subtly teaching its players to be lazy, whiny asshats. I haven't played WoW, so I can't say whether that is true. However, I can say that MMO games which prize skill - such as SecondLife and Eve Online - are the only ones which (A) hold any attraction to me and (B) have a player base worth interacting with.
Coincidence? I think not!
His other points are also extremely - EXTREMELY - good. This is probably the best essay I've read in six months. It just agrees with me that much. Err, I mean, is that good.
Point six bears special attention:
You cannot shape your players' actions with the hammer of regulations. You need to craft your game's internal logic to shape your players' actions. Seriously. I do it with every game I run. It's really not that hard, once you know how to do it and what you're aiming for.
Maybe I should write about that in more detail?