There is this little game that I have been working on, although it is mainly just lying around. It is called Shades, and you can download a version of it here. The system needs some tweaking, though, and I hope to be able to present a better version soon.
But what I want to talk about is that my main design goal with this game. I used to think about design goals mainly in terms of creative agenda:
The aesthetic priorities and any matters of imaginative interest regarding role-playing.First, you need to find out whether you want to make a Narrativist, a Gamist or a Simulationist game (or some other category like that, I'm not going to talk GNS-theory here); and than the main worry of the game designer is to make sure that all the aspects of his system help him to deliver theme, challenge or the dream.
But I recently realised that it is wrong to think of aesthetic priorities and imaginative interest as the main reasons for playing a roleplaying game, even when you take into account the way that they are connected to the social situation. Of course, this is nothing new: everybody will happily agree that you might roleplay just to hang out with people, or to seduce that cute other player, or whatever. But what I realised is that these kinds of social goals are not merely interesting to the group itself, but also to the game designer: you can actually desing games that are meant to further one of these social goals.
This, too, is probably nothing new, but it bears thinking about. For example, take Paul Czege's Bacchanal. Sure, people are creating a story while playing the game, and they may have aesthetic priorities concerning it. But the most important reason for playing it is to transcend, socially, the comfort zone of the group concerning imaginatively talking about sex and by doing so create a special bond between the players: "we've done that together - and it has made us better friends"!
If I had to classify 'Shades', it would certainly be a narrativist game. But, and this was the important part of my realisation, it is not my main design goal to create a game that delivers the most stunning tragedies with the most powerful adressings of theme. I mean, how could things like not having character and setting creation and disallowing OON-speech ('out of narration') actually further this design goal? No, my main design goal is to create a system that will allow people to develop their sensitivity to the other player's goals and style of storytelling, and to increase their trust in the other. The two (or three) of you have to reach a goal: to tell a certain kind of tale. The system makes this difficult: you cannot discuss the game, you have very little prior understanding to work from, you have to accept everything the other player says as part of the unfolding narrative. In order to succeed, you must be sensitive and trusting. And the system does help you with that: it gives you the tools to carefully adjust the fiction, to give non-verbal cues to the other, to transform player-misunderstanding in productive parts of the narrative. And with these tools, the two of you will become better at telling the kind of tale that has to be told, and in becoming better, you will have learned to be sensitive to and trusting of the other (in his/her capacity as a roleplayer at least, but these things will carry over to the 'real' world).
I don't (necessarily) want the players to say: "This is the best tale we've ever told together, and this system is the best system to produce such tales!"
I want the players to say: "Wow, we've pulled it off - incredible, how quickly we've learned to do this together! I feel I understand your narrative sensibilities much better now, and it's really great relying on you to make my own ideas work!"
So, I think that's a Social Agenda trumping a Creative Agenda, if I'm allowed to use that kind of terminology a bit sloppily.
And now I really have to rewrite those rules and get some more playtesting done.