I see your point about the symbolic barrier, and the ability of people to perform exceptionally better in a more natural setting that doesn’t involve symbols. I feel that there are two ways to attack that problem – by avoiding the symbolic barrier to make players feel comfortable and spend more time in the game, or by introducing symbols in a game with simple enough rules thus inducing acceptance for the symbols into the realm of their natural setting. I am somehow biased towards the latter, and in my most recent game (Sumurai, iOS and Android), I have taken that approach. I have avoided most of the 8 mistakes you mention (in contrast to my earlier games, where I am guilty of most).

However, I have decided to use symbols (arithmetic and numbers) directly and invite people otherwise uncomfortable with symbolic manipulation to see how easy and fun it can be (by providing a gripping gameplay).

I agree that it may be hard to get people to play games with more symbolic load. However, there may just be a path to be treaded which involves starting with very basic symbols (like basic arithmetic, as in Sumurai) and working up to more complex symbolic manipulation on the same lines.

Sumurai requires only basic arithmetic, and a few simple rules, but the levels of complexity are astronomical within that space (akin to other intellectually stimulating games like Sudoku, Chess, the Rubik’s cube and Go-moku) . The game is about numbers and operators being moved around in a triangular grid to reach a valid state. Most people who tried the game have found it intriguing, challenging and mostly addictive – in spite of not being very symbolically comfortable. Perhaps there is some potential for symbolic games to regain acceptance through efforts of this nature.

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