I've been randomly puttering around with tabletop RPG ideas (as usual), and I've run into an interesting problem.
When you're making computer games, the game can be pretty much about anything. Many famous games don't focus on any kind of human life. Even games like Sim City (which is theoretically about humans) don't actually have any humans shown up close and personal. These games work fine: a game can be about a machine, a yellow dot, space ship fleets, microbes... they may or may not have a human element to them.
However, I've yet to see a tabletop RPG that was fun to play and not focused on the human element.
I'm trying to write this short, so forgive me for skipping a bit. Basically, tabletop RPGs and LARPs are "low structure" games. Computer games and board games have a very rigid structure, and the player is only allowed to express themselves within that structure. Move to A or B, buy A or B, roll for A or B.
Low-structure games may have very intricate rules, but there are large amounts of "free time" between them. Times when the rules are very relaxed, and the players are left to express themselves in any sort of reasonable way. This is the "role play" part of the game.
Most players are human, and so most players will naturally think of their avatar in human terms. Their avatar expresses themselves in human terms, has human goals, develops human relationships. Even non-human avatars still act like humans, just some particular personality type.
The rules generally tie very strongly to this avatar and the personality it bears. Most RPGs are about fighting because that's the most direct route to being directly about the avatar. If you do badly in a fight, your avatar directly suffers. If you do well, your avatar directly benefits. It's a very tight symbiosis with the player's emotional investment in their avatar, especially since you can express your noncombat personality very clearly through your combat actions.
This also explains why "once removed" RPGs are so rare. It's very rare for an RPG's main mechanic to be starship combat, for example. Even if each avatar has a clear role to play (and dice to roll), there's no tight connection between them and the space combat. Oh, there's a connection, but it's loose. This is why most RPGs with space ships focus almost entirely on personal combat instead of vehicular combat, using the latter only for major plot points and breathers.
Similarly, hacking RPGs are rare, because there is a similarly loose connection. What is arguably the most successful hacking system is the Shadowrun system. You'll notice that it includes direct feedback: if you do badly, your avatar can take physical damage. Also, the environment of the hack is strong VR, usually featuring humanoid avatars (or, at least, things-with-human-elements). Even with this, Shadowrun games rarely have much hacking in them.
So I've been thinking about how to create games which give the human players their self-expression and knot avatars tightly with the primary play rules, but aren't actually about humans/metahumans/near-humans.
Depending on your school of game design, you may end up throwing off some ideas right away and considering it solved, but I find those ideas are generally surface solutions that don't end up being very fun.
The issue for me is that I love elegant rule sets. But the challenge here is the opposite: I need elegant lack of rule sets. I need the part of the game where the players are freestyling to be great. I need it to guide the players into expressing themselves without limiting their expression... but I also need it to remind the players that they are not necessarily human.
It's a tough problem. I tend to fall back on my Bastard Jedi scaffold, but I don't think that's elegant enough. What are your ideas?