Q&A – Guidance on information heavy games

A lot of my games are quite information-heavy — I run occult investigation scenarios with plenty of clues, documents and the like. I try to provide (and encourage the players themselves to provide) people with summaries and dot points to help make things comprehensible, but I’m wondering what else I can do. I am already moving away from purely written documents, but there’ll still be some of those. Some people seem to struggle more with gleaning information from the NPCs than written texts in my games.

This is one of those difficult questions which doesn’t have a concrete answer (though in reality there are few “one size fits all” answers here). Firstly we have to consider that everybody takes on board, processes and remembers information in different ways. This goes for people with access needs and those without: some people learn best via reading, others through listening, others through doing, as you have rightly noted in your games.

So to start off, you want to make sure you indicate in some way in your pre-game material (game summaries, setting documents, advertising etc) that your games are information heavy. Some people like and are able to work with that, other people don’t. It’s best to give people the choice up front.

But moving on from there, you are already doing some of the right things: having a number of methods of introducing information is essential. Using NPCs who drop hints or exposition is a great method, though make sure to brief your crew member carefully and make sure you are clear what information must get through. Your NPC may have to answer some odd questions on the subject and it’s important to make sure they know when they can go off script and say things that sound cool and when they need to be careful.

Printed documents are a well used and classic tool, especially in anything with a slightly more modern setting. I would recommend following the Guide to Accessible Documents to get the right balance between IC looking info and something which is accessible to players. Take note of any specific player needs such as colour blindness or dyslexia, which may require particular adjustments or alternate copies of documents. As you mention in your email, breaking up text and summarising is a good way to go. It can also be a good idea to add diagrams and pictures – not only does this provide different ways of processing information it is visually appealing.

Often it can be good to make sure that information comes from more than one source or is fragmented through different delivery methods. This gives different players the opportunity to find things out. Make sure you don’t find yourself delivering all of Plot A via text and all of Plot B via NPCs: even though this is technically using different methods you are limiting access to certain plots for some players.

In modern or sci-fi games you can also consider using computer based text or audio files IC. In some circumstances, whatever the genre you may want to offer computer based or audio files for some players anyway, if they have specific access needs such a vision impairment or using a text reader – occasionally these can be used IC, but having the option to use them OC (and ignored by character IC) is very helpful.

As far as mechanics and go there are a few possibilities. Consider how much of your game design is based around enjoyment of learning and using the information and how much of the enjoyment comes from being able to act on that information. If the latter you may want to include rules or skills that make it easier for PCs to learn information say by spending a point or invoking a piece of their background – in which case you can give them a clear easy to digest piece of information. If the former, you might want to make this an OC accommodation – giving hints or prompts to certain players after discussing their needs prior to the game.

Be sure to keep an eye on timing. This can be tricky to get right – too long between information and players can forget things; too short and they don’t have time to take it in. Be considerate of this and be prepared to alter things during the game if you think players need more time. I often encourage players of all abilities to take a notebook to games to jot down things they learn. Allowing players the opportunity to take notes can really help some players. in cases where that is impeded some how – say by it being very dark or wet – you may want to refer to the earlier points of having some pre-written summaries you can hand over to those players who need them, or finding IC ways to prompt people’s memories.

This is already a long post so I’ll leave it hear. Managing information flow in a game is difficult and taking in information can be a challenge to players for many reasons. By approaching games with flexibility and creativity you can run games that are accessible for your players.

I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts and ideas. The topic will be going up for discussion in on the Access:LARP forum on the Organiser’s boards.

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