I'll begin with a quote, this quote is quite large, because it's all good. This quote is taken from the book Memetic Magic which I'm currently way too poor to buy. If you want to buy it for me I'll hug you lots. I didn't read the book, but the excerpt is available at the link provided:
ARTISTIC MEMETIC MAGIC by Kirk Packwood
Opening the Portal to the Astral-Daemonic Planes
Artistic Endeavors as Representations of Complex Memetic Structures: Spirit = Symbol = Complex Memetic Structure
Symbols embedded within works of art are re-presentations of complex memetic structures which in many cases can be correctly labeled thought viruses. Since all human beings who have had any prolonged contact with society are programmed to some degree, large portions of the human mind (especially the thinking portion of the psyche which utilizes language) are constructed almost entirely of complex memetic structures. The complex memetic structures which form the cognitive linguistic (language using) portions of the human mind possess strong defenses, both passive and active, against contamination by invading thought viruses and memetic structures. A human mind will resist any ideas which do not bind correctly within the existing memetic structures which form the framework of its linguistic consciousness. Programmed minds will only listen to what they want to hear. Therefore, it is seldom possible for an idea to be taught to another person directly. Ideas which do not fit into the binding points within a mind will be resisted and rejected. In many cases an individual will desire to convey a specific idea to other human beings, but finds, when offered in their most diluted form, his ideas will be rejected. Oftentimes the solution to this problem is to create a work of art in which the artist’s message, or root meaning, is embedded. By work of art is meant any artistic endeavor which is traditionally considered to reside within the artistic sphere; be it literature, painting, music, movies, sculpture, etc. The artwork serves to focus the attention of the programmed conscious mind, while the root meaning (thought virus or memetic structure) embedded within slips unnoticed into the subconscious.
There is no inherent goodness in art. The idea to be conveyed in a work of art can have any quality from a startling revelation intended to better the human condition to a blatant deception designed to conceal truth and take power. On many occasions an artist will embed a root meaning into his art which he believes will serve the greater good, but in reality the artist’s concept of the greater good may be nothing more than an unusually complex example of the replication phase of a thought virus of which the artist has been infected without his knowledge. Most artists, like most people, are programmed by the dominant memetic structures, or cultural ideal types. Dominant memetic structures are only concerned with maintaining their dominance by replicating to as many minds as possible, not with the greater good of humanity, except in how the greater good of humanity serves to benefit the replication possibilities of the dominant memetic structure.
All artwork, even the most rudimentary, contains complex memetic structures residing at many different levels within the work of art. An intelligent mind can dilute a work of art much as a chemist can dilute a uniform mixture of diverse chemicals. Recognition of the root meanings inherent in artistic endeavors can lead an individual to a source of great understanding and power.
Every artistic endeavor contains numerous symbols embedded at many different levels within the work of art. Some of these symbols are imbedded into the art with willed conscious intent while others are the result of subconscious communication. Of the two types of symbols inherent in artwork the subconscious symbols are the most interesting. The consciously created symbols within artwork are complex memetic structures which can be correctly labeled thought viruses or thought contagions, depending on whether the memetic structure attempts to use the mind it has infected for the purpose of further replication.
A Memetic Magician wishing to spread fashioned thought viruses would do well to consider imbedding his creations into a work of art and releasing that work of art to a target population. The artwork serves as an outer guise concealing the true form of the thought viruses contained within. The entertainment or aesthetic value of a work of art engages the attention of the conscious mind of the individual partaking of the work of art, allowing the thought viruses embedded within to penetrate the defenses of the unaware target’s complex mental memetic structure. Once the thought viruses have penetrated, instructions can be disseminated and replication can commence.
The symbols contained within a work of art can assume a variety of different forms depending on the type of art being examined. For the sake of brevity, this chapter will focus primarily on literature and paintings. But the principals contained herein are equally valid in regards to any variety of artistic endeavor.
So we have Memes, and we have games. Games often have a moral that they want to teach us, or at least claim to teach us. But if we've learnt anything from the quote above(we probably learnt many a thing, a very long and meaty quote it is!) we've learnt that we resist the messages being given, and only hidden memes can bypass our conscious mind and infect us.
So let us begin with an example I'm sure all of you know. Monopoly.
What is Monopoly about(ergo, what is its overt message saying)? I asked my mother, and she gave me the obvious answer, "Monopoly is about buying and selling, it's about acquiring, it's about handling money." That's a very lofty goal, teaching the kids how to handle money, Market Forces 101. It succeeds in that, but the meme, the meme is what we're interested in.
To perceive the meme one needs luck, one needs experiencing the right source material or having perceived the meme in its raw form beforehand. Monopoly's meme is discussed in Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. I'm not going to tell you much of the book except I think every person needs to read it at least once in their life. I consider this book important.
So what is the secretive viral meme inherent to Monopoly which worms its way into you, and then makes you repeat it after you've been infected(or in turn makes you play Monopoly to transmit it further, the Kids, the Kids! Won't anyone think of the kids?!)?
Building as much as the land could support. Not leaving one tile untilled.
That's Monopoly's corrupted meme, to acquire as much land as possible and then use it up. Build as much as the land can support and then some more.
Every RPG could probably be summed in one line, in what it is about. Its message. Its meme would probably take up to three words, if you can find it at all. What attracts people is the message, they don't notice the meme in the beginning. Surely not in a conscious manner.
I believe I'd put another example in about now:
Dogs in the Vineyard is about moral judgement. That's what you create the setting for, that is what your characters resolve, that is what you sit down at the table and play. That's the overt message, that attracts players.
What is the Meme? Conflict and its Results. The game doesn't really care about judgement, it cares about what you do to others and how the third law of Newton applies then, changing you in return.
People who post modifications, or did till now mostly posted based on societies with certain codes, such as Mafia. That is taking the idea, the hook and twisting it, cool enough.
As time passes by, people will realize they don't need that. That is the setting which is there to create Conflicts, but the game doesn't really care about how you get to the conflict, it cares that it happens and then how many changes are wrought by it, and how drastic those changes are.
Games have a Moral. Games have a Meme.
The Moral is easy to find, usually intentional, and it is that Moral which draws people to the game(that and the system).
The Meme is hard to find, often unconsciously put in and hard to modify. Find it and you'll know what truly makes the game tick, what makes you stay with it.
Memes are hard to put in intentionally, because they don't work that way.
This also relates to my last post, posted below, here. The question is "Why now?", why do all these games come up now?
One answer is that the Board-game backdrop had been taking up a larger part in our sub-culture lately. They meet it, they like it, they try to reproduce it in other places of their interest.
The other answer is that those games share a Meme, they're board-games, and Competition is often a key-word in their Meme pool. Recent RPGs also slowly spread that Meme, even if weakened at first because it was in the form of Factionalism(party Vs. GM). But now it's out, and it progresses, and Memes tend to snowball.
We live in an interesting time.