The random ramblings of a casual tankadin

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gevlon, playing to win and scrubs

I'm an avid follower of The Greedy Goblin blog, and today I found a rehash of an old gamer topic. How to play to win.

Gevlon has compiled the results from another writer, applied it to the Tol Barad fights, and arrived at an interesting, albeit fundamentally incorrect, insight.

There's a catch in almost all the play to win discussions, and one that most fail to understand. The play to win scenarios are all applied games with two opposing sides, and almost always applied to games with two opposing players. That is, a duel.

While you can, to a great degree, use the result for two opposing teams, in reality you have to add a a lot of unknowns to the calculations, almost all of them social in nature. In a duel, there is an 'I' and a 'you' and one only needs to fill in the aspects of what makes a highly competitive player. Hard core if you will.

Two opposing teams are just that, teams. If you mix the individually best of the best together in a team you have a recipie for disaster. You need the grunts as well as the divas, and you need to bend every member of your team just that little bit that makes the team work optimally. This will invariably mean nerfing the individual qualities to a certain degree.

Then there is another aspect, one which is only recognized by those of us gamers who came from the cooperative type of games that once monopolized the term RPG. In today's WoW it would be PvE, and it would be PvE in every aspect of the abbreviation.

In the typical old-style RPG you can't win. You can only become better, at which time you're rewarded by obstacles matching your new an enchanced abilties. The continuous matching between increased abilities and harder opponents creates an illusion of iterative increase in character strength. One that is easily identified by the gamer at that. So even the old table top RPGs added fluff. Build a castle, employ retainers, join fictious competitions where the goal is not to kill but merely to win glory.

It's there in WoW. Get a rare mount, or an equally rare tabard. Gain a stupid title.

This is where Gevlon lacks understanding. While he correctly identifies fluff for what it is, and equally correctly notes that no player who doesn't collect mounts will even notice that rare mount, he fails tounderstand where it all began. The hard core table top gamer spent entire gaming sessions to gain fictive titles which would have no impact on a game only played by a group of four or five players. There wasn't even a theoretical opportunity to impress another player with that 'rare mount'.

So why would anyone spend time to get virtually nothing in a game played within the confines of a closely knit group?

The magic word here is simulation. You have the Sims, Sim City and their ilk for the computer, and there is a huge number of similar games out there, based on communities where social interaction lie at the core.

Now, WoW comes with both competitive gaming and simulation as well as old-style RPG elements. And it mixes them all together horisontally rather than vertically, which is exactly what you aim for when you design any kind of multiplayer on-line RPG.

There is an element of vertical stratification going on now. You can see it in the implementation of instant PvP and instant dungeons. Raids are the only events where someone has to physically transport characters to a location. This, in turn, leads to full cities and empty landscapes, and the cities serve the function of chat channels.

Chat channels for idle and bored players. Most of them aren't competitors at all, but they're still players. They'll never become competitive at anything, raiding, PvP or even collecting rare fluff, but they're still participating. A few of them can become surprisingly good at an aspect of the game very well known to us old RPG gamers -- sabotage.

The best known WoW saboteur, planned by the entire group or not, would be Leeroy Jenkins. And most would believe that only the unable resort to those stunts, but as there is great fun involved even for a decently progressed tank I think we can safely move Gevlon's assesment to the corner of incorrect preconceptions, where it belongs.

The concept of play to win simply cannot be applied to a gaming environment which to a large degree is built as a simulation. While you certainly can, and there definitely are people, playing to win specific aspects of that simulation, what constitutes winning varies from player to player. It is indeed subjective.

The final proof of this subjectivity comes from the real world. The obsessed collector. There is no respect to be gained from collecting well known stolen pieces of art. The moment you're known to collect stolen art your most likely reward is a few years in prison, not to speak of losing all the illegaly gained pieces of art you have. Still these people exist.

They win by having something they can never show. They also tend to have amassed quite an impressive amount of money in order to enable them to buy the stolen art to begin with. Lawless, possibly, but scrubs, most definitely not.

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