… this is going to be the new Universal Paperclips, I can just see it.
When it comes to developing any game experience, the player is at the heart of it. In most games, developers make the game give you a good roll if your past few rolls were bad, we make your computer enemies always miss the first shot so you have time to respond, and we will count a jump a frame or five or six too late as a jump anyway. Our goal is for you to have an engaging time, and it’s more important to us that it feels fair than it is that it is fair. We’ll pretend things are harder than you believe just so you feel like you’re better at it. We’ll make the game less fair if that makes it feel more fair to the average player. Almost all games – whether its an obstacle-less experience or a masocore unfairly difficult platformer – are secretly rooting for you.
Rami Ismail on video game difficulty.
This is from what is probably the best essay I’ve ever read on “difficulty” versus player experience. It’s specifically about video games, but if you’ve ever run, say, a tabletop RPG some of the challenges will seem very familiar.1
I’ve mentioned before that I am a consummate video game cheater. I have a lifetime sub to a trainer download site, and have literally never played a (single player) game without cheat codes, guides, rampant min-maxing, playing on casual, walkthroughs, save scumming, hex editing, or some combination of all of the above. There is a type of gamer that finds this attitude sacrilege, but Ismail’s essay is so compelling to me because the reason I cheat in games is due to the fact I’m never not aware that the game itself is—in any situation, on any difficulty—letting me win. Video games are like the dad who jogs backwards so his very young children can “beat” him when they’re racing. Players are always the toddler to Game Engine Dad; no matter how fast you run, Game Engine Dad is just one pace in front or behind you, but only by his choice, and a “victory” over Game Engine Dad is always on Game Engine Dad’s terms, never because you legitimately outran him.
Maybe it’s just me, but I never found being “allowed to win” particularly compelling.2 So “challenge” in games was never my thing; I’m an Explorer/Achiever, so everything from engaging with the plot to enjoying the art of different models and environments was always more compelling to me than whether I could “beat” a boss or solve a puzzle.
But, y’know. It’s all subjective; some people are really into the challenge, and more power to them. Enjoy the game the way you wanna enjoy it. Just, like. Don’t get your ego tied too much up in being Good At Games™ while you’re at it…
- Or, for that matter, played against an aggressive, kill-’em-all DM. My First D&D DM was like that, and as someone who’d come from the more collaborative-storytelling-orientated Word of Darkness lines, the attitude always baffled me. Of course the DM can obliterate the party at any time! The DM is the game’s God; they can make arbitrary changes to the world on a whim, including smiting the shit out of all the players. But so what? This, incidentally, is the main line I think separates good DMs from bad ones; a good DM knows the world isn’t “fair”, but that that’s not the point. The point is that the players have fun. If that means fudging rolls and giving monsters “bad AI” so a party doesn’t get wiped out by random encounters on the way to the main action, then so be it. DM screens exist for a reason. ^
- There’s probably some kind of gender analysis in here, too. The narrative of a man “letting the girl win” for his own benefit is as universal as it is patronizing. As a “girl”, the only way to win this game is to not to play at all, and it’s possible that attitude carries over. ^
Exactly as it says.
I am by no means shy about spending real-world cash on in-game purchases, and I’m totally 100% a-okay with
“pay to win” (I have far, far more money than I do free time… or patience for in-game grinding, for that matter). But I pretty much never buy loot boxes. If I really, truly want a thing–and outfit, a skin, a powerup, whatever–I’d much rather pay more up-front and know I’m going to get it than gamble with boxes.1
- See also: “limited time” items, which are also on my never-to-buy list. ^
I would absolutely love to play Destiny 2. It sounds fun, I love how Bungie shooters feel, and I had a blast during my solo Warlock run of the first game. But if my choice is between paying the better part of $100 to have slurs yelled at me by strangers or enjoying one of my many other entertainment options, I’ll choose the latter. And I’m not alone, and this isn’t just a gaming issue.
Supporting small businesses is important, but Amazon won’t ask you if you’re buying X-Men for your boyfriend every week. I’ve lost count of the women I know who stopped going to comics shops after being hit on or patronized too many times.
This is how fandoms and hobbies lose cultural momentum. This is a market-driven medium; more games sold means more players to play with, as well as more revenue going to the developers of the art you enjoy. Everyone wins, and all you have to do is play nice with others. But the attitude seems to be that the right to abuse others is more important than the health of our hobby.
Mike Sholars on alienating the player base.
So sometime in late 2016 I decided that my Life Goal for 2017 was to teach myself to run. I’ve never, in my entire life, been a runner. Walking, yeah. I like walking, and I do it a lot; it’s my preferred form of exercise. But running? Never.
I bounced through some some the popular couch-to-5k style apps, but none of them really stuck. I got better at running–when I started, I could barely manage a thirty-second jog–but I would still plateau out fairly quickly. I don’t know what it is. Maybe there’s just Something About Me that means I’m not a natural runner, but the point is the gamification aspect of the apps dried up pretty quickly, making it harder to keep at them.
And then I decided to bite the bullet, and download Zombies, Run. That review is from Kadomi, and it pretty much sums up my experience with the app. Apart from the weight loss part. I just don’t, apparently, really lose weight by doing exercise, which is kind of a shit of a thing but also means I need another motivator to get me out and moving. And working my way through the story of Zombies, Run is apparently that thing.
Over a year later, and I still can’t run through an entire episode. But I can run in bursts and, more importantly, I actually have some defined muscle in my legs for the first time in my life (I’ve always hated my legs, for a number of reasons, but I’m learning to live with them). And, the thing is? I just like the story of Zombies, Run. It’s interesting. The characters are, variously, engaging and adorable and infuriating. I talk back at them; cheer at their victories and cry at their losses.1 And I do like the gamification element of building up the little township, even if it doesn’t have a direct impact on the story missions per se.
So the app works for me and, it seems, it works for a lot of other people as well. At all fitness levels. And on that last note, I think it’s important to note that the app’s lead writer, Naomi Alderman, is (in her own words) fat. I was never a fit or athletic kid but–as mentioned above–I’ve always liked self-paced, non-competitive activities like walking.2 I’m fairly convinced now, as an adult, that a lot of my ingrained inactivity and “hatred of exercise” was instilled in me by high school P.E. lessons created both by and for the fit and aggressive. I loathed them,3 and it’s basically taken me a lifetime to even start to unwind the long-term emotional, mental, and physical damage they caused.
It’s kind of ironic to realize, after over two decades, that you don’t actually “hate exercise”; you just hate the way it’s commonly taught and presented.4 But go figure, I guess.
- Thankfully, I’m usually the only person in our apartment’s gym. ^
- Or DDR. One of the fittest times in my life, my late teens and early 20s, was basically because I spent a lot of time playing bemani games. Again, I always seemed to plateau out on fitness and coordination faster than all of my friends, but it didn’t really matter; we could still play together and I still had fun. ^
- Except for that one time we walked to the local gym and did Boxercise lesson. That was fun! And so much more enjoyable than every other class that I still remember it nearly twenty freakin’ years later! ^
- It’s also why I find “have you tried yoga?” so freakin’ infuriating. Because yes, I have, and yes! I even enjoy it. I just freakin’ hate yoga classes; they’re too long and too intense for me. And also tend to talk too much about fishslapping. Basically when I’m a millionaire the first thing I’m going to do is hire a nice, gentle, woo-hating personal yoga instructor–i.e. that one instructor I had in like two Yin classes before she moved to Melbourne, but man she was the best–to run me through a daily half-hour routine and it will be glorious. ^