The Dogma 2001 Vow
"As a game designer I promise for the good of my game, my industry, and my own creative soul to design according to the following Dogma 2001 rules:"
1. The design documents shall contain no reference to any object which is installed inside the outer case of the target machine. Input devices and the monitor screen itself may be mentioned in discussions of the game's user interface. Minimum acceptable machine specifications shall be determined by the programmers during development.
Justification: Self-evident. Dogma 2001 game designs are about the game, period. As a Dogma designer, you renounce technology as part of your game's design.
2. The use of hardware 3D acceleration of any sort is forbidden. Software 3D engines are not forbidden, but the game must run at 20 frames per second or better in 640 x 480 16-bit SVGA mode or the nearest available equivalent.
Justification: By adopting a simple, well-known display standard and sticking rigorously to it, both designers and programmers are freed to concentrate on tasks of real importance.
3. Only the following input devices are allowed: on a console machine, the controller which normally ships with it. On a computer, a 2-axis joystick with two buttons, or a D-pad with two buttons; a standard 101-key PC keyboard; a 2-button mouse.
Justification: Most games that depend on gimmicky input devices are crummy games. You must not waste your time trying to design for them.
4. There shall be no knights, elves, dwarves or dragons. Nor shall there be any wizards, wenches, bards, bartenders, golems, giants, clerics, necromancers, thieves, gods, angels, demons, sorceresses, undead bodies or body parts (mummified or decaying), Nazis, Russians, spies, mercenaries, space marines, stormtroopers, star pilots, humanoid robots, evil geniuses, mad scientists, or carnivorous aliens. And no freakin' vampires.
Justification: Self-evident. If you find that doing without all of the foregoing makes it impossible to build your game, you are not creative enough to call yourself a game designer. As proof, note that it does not exclude any of the following: queens, leprechauns, Masai warriors, ghosts, succubi, Huns, mandarins, wisewomen, grizzly bears, hamsters, sea monsters, vegetarian aliens, terrorists, firefighters, generals, gangsters, detectives, magicians, spirit mediums, shamans, whores, and lacrosse players. One of the games that made it to the finals of the first Independent Games Festival was about birds called blue-footed boobies, so forget you ever heard of George Lucas and J.R.R. Tolkien and get to work.
5. The following types of games are prohibited: first-person shooters, side-scrollers, any action game with "special attacks." Also prohibited are: simulations of 20th-century or current military vehicles, simulations of sports which are routinely broadcast live on television, real-time strategy games focussing solely on warfare and weapons production, lock-and-key adventure games, numbers-heavy role-playing games, and any card game found in Hoyle's Rules of Card Games.
Justification: It is your duty as a Dogma designer to create new genres of games, not simply to make more technologically impressive games in old genres.
6. All cinematics, cut-scenes, and other non-interactive movies are forbidden. If a game requires any introductory or transitional material, it must be provided by scrolling text.
Justification: The secret desire of game designers to be film directors is deleterious to their games and to the industry generally. This desire must be stamped out.
7. Violence is strictly limited to the disappearance or immobilization of destroyed units. Units which are damaged or destroyed shall be so indicated by symbolic, not representational, means. There shall be no blood, explosions, or injury or death animations.
Justification: Although conflict is a central principle of most games, the current "arms race" towards ever-more graphic violence is harmful and distracting. Explosions and death animations are, in fact, very short non-interactive movies. If you spend time on them, you are wasting energy that could be more profitably spent on gameplay or AI.
8. There may be victory and defeat, and my side and their side, but there may not be Good and Evil.
Justification: Good versus Evil is the most hackneyed, overused excuse imaginable for having two sides in a fight. With the exception of a small number of homicidal maniacs, no human being regards him- or herself as evil. As a Dogma designer, you are required to create a real explanation for why two sides are opposed - or to do without one entirely, as in chess.
9. If a game is representational rather than abstract, it may contain no conceptual non sequiturs, e.g. medical kits may not be hidden inside oil tanks.
Justification: The conceptual non sequitur is not merely sloppy; it is one of the things that actively discourages non-gamers from playing games. Gamers know that you're supposed to blow up everything in sight to see if anything might be hidden there, because they've played a hundred other games which have followed this pattern - games which were designed by adolescents for whom blowing things up is an end in itself. Ordinary people use their powers of reasoning to decide what should be blown up or not. Since it would not occur to a reasonable person that a medical kit could be found inside an oil tank, a reasonable person will not needlessly blow it up, and is therefore at a disadvantage when playing the game. A Dogma designer must to do the design work necessary to reward reason rather than brute-force approaches.
10. If a game is representational rather than abstract, the color black may not be used to depict any manmade object except ink, nor any dangerous fictitious nonhuman creatures. Black may be used to depict rooms in which the lights are not switched on.
Justification: Artists who make things cool by the simple expedient of making them black should be sent back to art college with a swift kick in the butt. This is also true of chrome and gunmetal grey, but black is the worst offender.
"Finally, I acknowledge that innovative gameplay is not merely a desirable attribute but a moral imperative. All other considerations are secondary.
Thus I make my solemn vow."
Now I realize that, as with Hollywood and Dogme 95, nobody at EA or Sony or Blizzard is going to pay the slightest attention to Dogma 2001. This isn't a formula for commercial success, it's a challenge to think outside the box - in our case, the standardized boxes that are on the store shelves right now. But the rules are actually far less draconian than the Dogme 95 rules for filmmakers, and it wouldn't be that hard to follow them. I think it could do both us, and our customers, a lot of good.
If anybody takes the vow and builds a Dogma 2001 game, let me know!