Chapter 4: Fixes that Backfire
In Magicians, potential narrative control is represented by poker chips. Players make play choices that either increase their store of chips or reduce it. Adding tension to the story gives you more chips. Resolving tensions takes chips away (but you get to decide how it's resolved). One of the design goals of the game is to create a balancing loop between chips (potential narrative control) and resolution (narrative control exerted). Thus the design is built around a balancing loop. Knowing this gives me a better idea what to look for in the actual play and how to identify the source of the problem when actual play goes awry.
So on to fixes that backfire...
Fixes that backfire are characterized by a problem that goes away when a fix is applied, only to reappear more strongly after a short delay.
Actual Play Example
The only really clear example I can think of to demonstrate fixes that backfire in action is the practice of nerfing in MMORGs. MMORGs often face serious problems of balancing classes and equipment. When one class or item is seen as too powerful, MMORG administrators face a strong temptation to weaken the offending thing. The goal is to re-balance the game so that no one play strategy is optimum. The problem with this is that they almost always weaken it to the point of being unviable, particularly to the most competitive gamers, who are always the ones using it the most. This reduces the number of viable options in the game, further exasperbating the imbalance problem.
Fixes that backfire are all about balancing situations that create pressure for a quick fix. One place I see a potential for fixes that backfire is when a designer slaps a reward mechanic into a game because a certain behavior is perceived as desirable. If the behavior they are trying to reinforce is part of a balancing loop, the fix can easily backfire.
In fact, the archetype diagram for fixes that backfire shows this - a balancing loop that is "short circuited" by the fix: