Sunday, 5 April 2015

Can you play a game in the 'wrong' way?

This is a response to a tweet I read. I though the question was interesting so I started answering. I hope I've provided an interesting answer.

“OK, poll: who thinks that you can 'play a game the wrong way'? And if you believe so, whose fault is it when that happens? If not, why not?” - @tha_rami (link)

My original untweeted response: “@tha_rami if the player is having fun, then all good. But there is something unfortunate about playing the game contrary to the orig. vision”

I ran out of characters for this, 140 is in no way gonna drill into such a complex question...

So I’m going to over analyse this a touch. First what sort of game are we talking about, it seems the answer will change with the interactions of the participants. So 1) singleplayer in which interaction is solely with the computer AI, or with oneself/no-one else, or 2) multiplayer, in which there are interactions with other players with their own maybe conflicting concepts of ‘wrong’. I fear I’m oversimplifying things but I guess this is a good enough start.

1) Singleplayer

This is what my original response was referring to. If the player is having fun then no harm, player is having fun! It is sad that perhaps the original vision of the designer’s game is no longer being followed but maybe this is a good thing. For a computer game then chances are that the ‘wrong’ thing will lose charm as the rest of the game won’t necessarily reinforce the ‘fun but wrong’ behaviour and that behaviour will become boring soon enough, the story will move on or the levels won’t take advantage of the ‘wrong’ thing. Perhaps in a simulation game or game with lots of emergent behaviour it could accidentally become a behaviour that will give sufficiently long periods of enjoyment, but in games with lots of emergent behaviour it seems difficult to say a player is doing something ‘wrong’ since there is less/limited ‘designer’s vision’ for which the player can do the contrary.

For non-computer games, single player card games and the like it’s difficult to blame a player making up their own rules and having fun with that. They just are using the tools of the original game to make their own game. Though one might say they are playing the original game ‘wrong’ and that they are denying themselves certain experiences of that game as a result. If they are having fun or an interesting time, then all good.

2) Multiplayer

Things get more complicated here, since one player’s actions can affect the enjoyment or experience of the others. If one player is ‘ruining it’ for everyone else then from those players’ perspectives they are doing it ‘wrong’. Of course this depends on what the other players see as right or wrong.

In cooperative games a griefer is usually seen to be doing the ‘wrong’ thing because it’s counter to the goals of the majority. The griefer (I say with gritted teeth) is probably having a great time. Who is to blame here? I’m honestly not sure. My heart says the griefer is definitely wrong. My head can’t articulate exactly why. Something about the majority suffering due to the betrayal of trust from one. Anyway…

Someone could simply be not playing well enough in a multiplayer game. Think soccer or Battlefield. If they are playing badly then the squad/team suffers. Who is wrong depends on the context of the game. Hyper competitive professional sports would probably be less forgiving since people’s livelihoods are on the line. It could be that they are just hyper competitive and that clouds their ability to be compassionate. Many professional sports teams can be quite forgiving if they believe said player has genuine talent or is worthy of getting through bad patches or early inexperience. If it’s a friendly game then I’d like to think that there is no wrong if all mean well. Maybe it’s the case that someone is playing way below the rest of the team and that is dragging them down. It depends on the nature of the people for them to stick it out until they are better or ask them to train up elsewhere or take whatever action they deem necessary to ensure they have more fun/maintain their friendship/whatever their values dictate. It is just a matter of the people involved. Who is wrong? If they say something is wrong ask them to explain, I can’t see an easy generalisation here.

Competitive games are maybe more clear cut. If you are against someone else (or your team against their team) then there are usually rules set out as to what is right and wrong. The rules are enforced (usually) by a certain ‘spirit’ of the game or maybe even ‘core values’ of a game. In most competitive games a core value is a fair playing field where skill is the major or only determining factor. Otherwise ‘spirit of the game’ is often notoriously difficult to pinpoint but very easy to notice when it is violated. Cheating, and taking unfair advantages are seen as contrary to that spirit and thus are usually seen as wrong. Rules are thus amended to prevent this. However this is subject (hopefully) to scrutiny and discussion. It’s not unheard of that ‘wrong’ behaviour is seen as a ‘good tactic no one has thought of yet’. Again, this depends on the game and the values the players of that game wish to uphold. It’s possible that a ‘wrong’ action, let’s say “strafe jumping” in Quake 2 becomes a fundamental part of the game. It’s possible that this could have been nerfed and removed but I guess the designers thought it was more fun or a factor that enforced the value of “player with the greater skill should win more often than not” since it’s a hard thing to do. I’m not actually sure, I’m not a Quake historian but I hope my point is clear nonetheless.

On reflection competitive games are not quite as clear cut as cooperative games.

I think in short if everyone is having fun (or a certain desired experience) then all is good. Otherwise it depends on the people involved and what they can all come to an agreement on. Kinda like the rest of life actually...