Over at Lean Left is a screed about the excessive complexity of modern computer games. I understand that point of view, although as someone who not infrequently purchases board games just to read the rules, I find myself unable to empathize.
One reason for the increasing complexity is of course that it’s possible. Early games were simple because the hardware couldn’t support complex ones. Moreover, the games still seemed complex compared to their predecessors as well. Games have pushed the edge of the complexity supported by the hardware and software ever since.
Is there some limit, some point at which game complexity exceeds the players capacity? Possibly, although I have yet to see a game that is more complex than physical reality and lots of people play games on that platform (not that I know personally know anyone who does, you see, but I have read about such people). I therefore expect increasing complexity for the forseeable future.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the market is driven to a large extent by young teenagers and adults who have plenty of time to master arcana. Moreover, such mastery has status because it is both difficult and demonstratable. Even newbies can tell who is a master of the game and who is not. The more complexity, the greater the status of true mastery.
On the other hand, I sometimes wonder if some of the desire for complexity is an indirect desire for community. Simple games don’t require much discussion, but a very complex game can provide endless fodder for chat rooms, forums, and water cooler discussions. Moreover, discussing the subtleties of ship mixes in a Homeworld fleet lets one brag about one’s own gameplay via illustrative anecdotes. Given how much time is spent by players in such discussions, which can only happen in complex games, I don’t see any trend toward simplification in the near future.