I think there's a difference between 'games' and 'play' and one of the main differences is that 'games' have rules... the key is that the rules provide the framework for the game.
Critters have DNA, but that doesn't mean that a critter is DNA, or even that it should be thought of in terms of its DNA. The rules are one part of the DNA of a game: what grows from them can be delightful and complex.
Freeform play is a bit like a virii: it has no particular protection, no particular ability to reproduce without killing something, but it crops up everywhere and is definitely notable.
Like I said: rules (and the rest) exist to protect the experience of the play from the vagaries of... well, life in general. They try to keep the experience similar from "generation to generation."
I hope this is clear...
generally [house rules] need to be agreed upon by all players.
Please remember that many games are played with private or obstinate goals on the part of the player. For example, whenever I play Bang! (a card game with hidden roles), I play with the assumption that a specific other player is on my side. It's certainly not something that is agreed on, but at the same time it's a potent method of shaping the game. It definitely changes the experience - mostly for me, but also for others, indirectly.
You could say that I am playing INSIDE the game rather than GAMING, if you see what I mean.
That distinction is not a terribly smart one to trivialize: you have to take it into account in the same way that you can't write off various other-sized organisms when you're performing surgery.
This comparison implies that playing inside a game (sideplay?) is bad, like an infection, but I don't think that's the case. I think it's vital to keeping a game fresh and interesting - I think many boring games are boring largely because they don't have any of this sideplay adding new elements and spice.
Some games are almost entirely sideplay, like the Sims or Secondlife.
You start needing rules, or a social contract between the players or you end up with the "Bang! Bang! Your Dead!.... No I'm not you missed!" syndrome.
Yes, rules (and content, and aesthetic, and social context, and and and) protect the experience. They protect it from new players, players with different visions of how the experience should go, from the weathering of time, and even from the effects of other rules, content, aesthetics, etc.
I find it hard sometimes to differentiate between rules and general parameters or environment.
Anyone who is being honest should! The difference is simply one of scope or scale. That's kind of what made me go this route.
I mean, "A fireball spell costs 50 gold and causes 15 damage when cast". Sounds an awful lot like a rule to me! But it's also content, and suggests strongly an aesthetic.
So... it's obvious that it's not quite as nicely divided up as MDA suggests, in the same way that a cell isn't neatly divided up into "goo" and "DNA".
I love 'sandbox' games and emergent gameplay. I love games that let me play with all the settings and do things that aren't explicitly spelled out. But in my experience this doesn't happen until the game is played for a period with 'vanilla' rules/settings. You need to understand the game to be able to effectively tweak the rules.
Yes! Right now, it's all done by trial and error. This is a lot like having a creature's DNA handed to you. "What will this creature be like?"
Well, you can try to simulate it in your head... "AGCFCF? That's... um... feathers?" More likely, you attempt to grow it and look at what it's characteristics are when it's alive. Of course, that takes time.
Once you see what the critter looks like, you can look back over the DNA and say, "OH! It meant spines!" and try to tweak it to be more to your liking. In theory, at least.
Fortunately, games are not critters. I think it might be possible to extrapolate rules (and so forth) from a dynamic. I haven't posted about it, yet, because I haven't figured it out yet. As you say:
You can never guarantee that 2 players will feel the same way about a game given taste and how they experience it. One person might find it simple and boring the next might be challenged and find it stressful... by what you describe - what do you want to experience - its sounds more emotional and based on feeling.
That's the core problem, you see. The rules and content impose themselves without much regard to the player's preferences and mindset. If we pursue a dynamic, however, then we can pursue a... by the way, it's fuzzy because I don't have it nailed down myself... we can pursue a specific superset of interactions? We can tweak the rules and content because we know the dynamics the player should be experiencing.
With Star Trek...
Yeah, me too.
Challenge still stands: tell me about your DYNAMIC-centered Star Wars game design. No, I really don't have a clear definition of what that means.