False Dilemmas in Design

Today, we’re going to turn our attention to the false dilemma and how it can be put to good (or ill) purpose in design.

First off, we’ll begin with a simple definition. A false dilemma (also known as a false dichotomy) exists when a person believes there are only two choices. For example, if it wasn’t a bear in the woods, then it must be Big Foot. We know life isn’t really that messy, but when designing a scenario, the creator cannot hope to possibly encompass all possible outcomes. What he can do, and what you should do, is consider the false dilemma not as a hard and fast, but instead as guidepost. Ask yourself what the two likeliest outcomes will be and address those. Use sidebars and other tools of advice to offer up some direction on what to do if players deviate from those paths. Now, we all think of things differently, so it’s possible the two choices you think are most likely may not necessarily mesh up with those of others. Do not give in to doubt. Work hard. You will improve.

Another time to consider false dilemmas is in the actual mechanical parts of the design process. You may find yourself thinking there are only two solutions to a problem (if, for no other reason, than that’s how your particular problem has been addressed before). Ask yourself if you’re falling into the trap of faulty logic and false reasoning by closing yourself off to the potentiality of other possibilities. For example, I listened to a podcast the other day where I heard about a game design studio finding a new use for the Guitar Hero control to fight enemies. It’s a rift off of some earlier games (such as Um Jammer Lammy), but using the physical control in a new way can breathe some life back into a genre which seemed to run its course quite rapidly (with the possible exception of Rocksmith which looks to be giving people the ability to learn how to play–the biggest shortcoming for many folks with Guitar Hero in the first place).

This is food for thought. As a general rule of thumb, when you think there are merely two ways to accomplish a specific task (or mechanical problem), you are most likely wrong. However, some ways are more accurate or elegant than others.

Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!

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