Dip your hand in a pool of water, and you see the ripples resulting from your hand’s passage through the substance. When you step into the world of most games, your hand enters the pool, and there are no ripples. Nothing changes as the result of your entrance into the game world, there are no ripples. You aren’t really there.

Let’s say you should you remove your hand again from the pool of the game, things will continue to move (or stand completely still) as though you were never there. Why then did you play? You successfully removed water from the game’s pool and enjoyed the handful, but what came of the experience? The water is infinite, unchanging.

Now, a zero-sum approach would look at the game’s pool in terms of finite resources that cannot be renewed, and the change brought on by the player is in removing resources from the game’s pool. There are no ripples per se, but the passage of the player through the game causes changes. Only taking, not building.

Games like The Sims, allow the player entrance into a world in an additive experience. The player’s hand displaces water as it enters the world, and water can be removed from the world. Objects created by the player persist, but often enough remain undisturbed despite the rest of the game world. Water is moved, but unchanged.

Here we become aware of greater nuance in the experience. It isn’t enough to simply add or remove things from the game world, since neither is wholly satisfying. In a zero-sum game, the player’s role is destructive, removing limited resources from the world, and in a building game, adding objects is all that exists.

Make things or take them away, and only the water level has changed.

Give the game a plot and characters, and the water moves in one direction. It is an illusion of movement wherein the player can dip their hand in the pool and take or displace water in different places. But the water moves only in one direction. A non-player character may be a splash or eddy, but it is always the same each time.

Here we encounter another phenomenon. The water may be made a stream or river, drawn in one direction (or even several), may be removed or displaced, and all done without creating ripples. The player can ignore the absence of ripples, but the point remains. The water may be moved, but the hand was never really there.

How then, does one go about making ripples in the game world?