After this I promise to shut up about non-gameable information for at least a month as payment of JOSKEY tax.
This is a long post, but somewhat fascinating.
Wassermelone from the Penny arcade forums writes: "He portrays himself as some sort of roleplaying auteur. Somehow he plays this game more nobly because he doesn't do anything so facile as to pick characters he wants to play. Its some sort of bizarre walk to school in the snow, uphill, both ways, argument."
Jermery Deram said of my post: "Sounds like retro-pretentious"
I understand this. It can be a common reaction to my point which was there are wrong or inappropriate ways to have fun. Russian roulette is a game people play; they do not do it for healthy reasons. Candyland is not something I would show up to play at a convention. Mainlining heroin is said to be quite pleasant. People feel catharsis from teasing the developmentally disabled. Jason Smith gives an example of objective poor design:
"Roll a d6. On a 5+, you go on a successful adventure and slay the dragon. Otherwise you're eaten by a grue."
That's a poorly designed RPG. It fails to meet its objectives.
Is this quite one sided? Not nearly as much as it seems. Rob Bush says:
"Well, it depends on its objectives. It could just be a Dadaist RPG, and would be an extremely well-designed one."Nobilis Reed also made an excellent point about how he was mocked for playing domino's by pushing them around like boats when he was a child. He says:
"My grandmother was like this. I would take out the dominoes and make buildings and ships and things out of them. She called that kind of play "dummy-noes" and for her it was wrong."His grandmother was wrong for that, I think we can all agree.
The issue is, if you sat down with me to play dominoes and you moved them around like boats, you would be playing that game incorrectly. We use the word to communicate, and there is an objectively correct one when we talking about playing chess or dominoes; we play by the agreed rules.
So here are the points.
- There are objectively badly designed games.
- There are wrong ways to play games.
- There are incorrect or less valid ways to have fun.
Seriously, it's ok to talk about this. I'm not doing it because I'm stuck in the past. I'm not sitting here being smug or holier then thou (though I certainly understand that people come away with that impression). I am not trying to be inflammatory.
Being offended is, as always in free societies, on the victims head.
I am doing it because I wished to engender an actual discussions about validity of design.
PART THE TWO
Now, my first Mea Culpa.
I work in a specific clinical environment with teenagers, and I used a shorthand we use at work to describe a complex concept. What I said was "I do not play role-playing games as a form of wish fulfillment."
It was quickly and rightly pointed out by Zzarchov Kowolski "I think it is more accurate to say the game you enjoy playing is wish fulfillment to you specifically as you list an unfulfilled wish you have and state the game meets it"
This is ipso facto true.
I implied what I meant and inferred what I meant, but that doesn't count. I didn't say what I mean. And that is my fault and not the fault of my erudite readers.
What I meant was is that I do not play games to engage in a wish-fulfillment of an adolescent empowerment and autonomy fantasy.
Oh, but that's not the end of it. Once what I said what I actually meant, Zzarchov points out the following two facts!
"The power to make meaningful choices is also clearly a power fantasy."Yep. True. So what's the difference?
"Technically even an OD&D character is a power fantasy over a regular man, and the act of leveling only increases that."
An empowerment fantasy is specifically one where the great power is always wielded justly and without negative consequence, unlike actual possessors of great power in the real world.
Although in older editions of Dungeons & Dragons I am empowered to make meaningful choices, I am not protected from the consequences of those choices. Empowerment fantasies contain the trait that no harm can be done by or befall the dreamer of the fantasy. So although making meaningful choices is empowering, it is not an empowerment fantasy. As an aside, I define games as collections of interesting (i.e. meaningful) choices which is a large part of why we enjoy playing them!
Secondly, ZZarchov is right! OD&D fighters are much more powerful then any given human and they go on grand adventures.
I mean, I set that apart up there, because it's important to note that I recognize and accept his point as correct. OD&D characters are more powerful then normal men. But the design of the character and the relevant design of the game does not fetishize that power. They may have more hit points than a normal man (9d6, or about 32 hit points on average), but their success or failure still comes down to the choices made by the player during the game.
You can't build or pick or choose your avatar in a certain way that insulates you from the consequences of your choice. If you take the gold key off the wall without choosing to tap it with a pole first, then you get your saving throw versus the yellow mold. But it was your bad play in using your hands to take the key that caused the threat of instant death. Choices, consequences.
PART THE THREEMy thesis then, is that the design of modern games insulates the players from the effects of their choices. They do this to support players living out adolescent empowerment fantasies. This is not something as an adult I wish to spend time doing. My original article's point was that the creators were about my age and also not interested in doing that, which is why the game has the design it does.
Many excellent points were made.
Ken Silverman told me to hate 3e and 4e all I want.
I can understand that impression. But really, I don't hate them. It's just as I've moved into my thirties I've become tired of them. I played 4e for a year and 3.0/pathfinder for about 8 years. If I hated them, I would not have played them for so long. Meaningful choices are few and far between in those games and it's trivial to construct an overpowered character. That engenders little interest.
To me, it is similar to the reasons why I no longer have any interest in playing candyland. I know my colors, I am not interested in a game that rewards me for that basic knowledge. Just like I'm no longer interested in 'following an adventure path' with a character that represents an empowerment fantasy. I am not conflating an age or developmental focused activity with a subjective metric. (i.e. because you are engaging in adolescent power fantasy I do not think you are wrong/bad/suck.)
This doesn't make a new school player or the games themselves wrong, anymore then kids playing Candyland are wrong. It makes it not to my interest to play.
The inestimable Scrap Princess said:
"[you're] like there's saying I like this thing, and then there is saying I like this thing and if you like this other thing that's cool but you are a wanker"
Like.. what is the point of that ? And all that stuff the goes on in pathfinder (tactics , builds etc), boring as I might find it, requires thought, logic , planning etc. None of this is "choose which cool way you automatically win huzzah!"Well, that goes back to the top. Some games are better then others.
I've played a lot of games. I love miniature war games. I love tactics games. I love strategy RPG's. So why call everyone who plays these games a wanker?
First, I'm not calling anyone names. (Well, I did refer to engaging in empowerment fantasies as masturbation, saying that it was an activity best done in private.) I'm trying to discuss objective values in games. The point was made that they are different kinds of games.
Second, everyone knows that it is fairly trivial for anyone to correct these issues. Any one of the commenter's below would run a game in such a way that the flaws noted wouldn't exist. I fully understand rule 0 and how it can correct problems. That's not what this discussion is about. It's about how the game is designed as written. Why should we have to fix a game?
Modern games focus on tactics, not adventure. Why isn't that ok? It is ok. There is nothing wrong (and a whole lot right, imho, about tactics games). What I'm saying is compared to most miniature and tactics games on the market Pathfinder and 4e as tactics games are badly designed. The reasons for this are multitude and dependent on the specific game. The most egregious offenders and proof of this fact are defined by the very people defending them.
I point out, that by RAW in those systems, players are expected to win Balanced Encounters. This is, after all, why they are balanced. The basic thesis of modern games is a tactics game you are always expected to win. Why? Empowerment fantasy. Refutations follow.
+Zzachary says: "You are conflating "win encounter" with "win adventure"."
Taking victory or loss and spreading it around over the length of the game is an objectively poor design in tactics games. If I know an hour ahead of time I'm going to win, why do I have to wait an hour to make it happen? Compare, Song of Blades and Heroes, where each turn you're forced to make hard choices about dice and action.
A large part of the design of hit point inflation was to prevent players from losing characters. Why would that be important? Because the character isn't the avatar for the player interacting with the game, the character is the empowerment fantasy and should be protected from death (or other permanent consequences to poor decisions like level drain).
+Ramanan Sivaranjan says in response to 'balanced is defined as the players are expected to win.'
"I don't think [they define it that way]. More so, if that's what they suggest that need not be how you choose to play. One of the public play events Wizards of the Coast runs is Lair Assault, which is basically a very honest take on 4th Edition: straight up super difficult combat."First, 4e DMG, page 56: A standard encounter should challenge a typical group of characters but not overwhelm them. The characters should prevail if they haven’t depleted their daily resources or had a streak of bad luck.
They should win, unless they are out of dailies or they have bad luck.
As to lair assult, Chris Tulach of WotC writes: "At that time, I was talking with David Christ, our convention organizer for some of our big shows, and we agreed that we wanted to have a sort of “challenge” experience to really sate the needs of the growing audience of rules masters." of Lair Assault's design.
A special thing, specifically designed to actually be a challenge, instead of the default 4e rules.
Jeremy Murphy, who's comment about there not being a wrong way to play started this whole series says:
"I choose how difficult to make my games. So-called Balancing is just a better gauge for me to determine how hard I'm making it.Which is a tacit admission of the problem by pointing out that he's correcting the lack of threat, character fantasy empowerment, and dearth of meaningful decisions by using rule 0 to increase by TEN TIMES the suggested amount of experience in monsters.
For example, when I play 4e, I design massive, sprawling "encounters" that contain about 10x the recommended XP budgets for characters of my players levels. The players have to make meaningful decisions about how they approach things, or the results will be almost definitely horrible death."
And, in what may be one of the most direct, clear, and thoughtful comments of the thread, Scrap Princess asks:
"How are easier games objectively worse than harder games if the object of a said game is to have fun, and the people playing the game enjoy the game being easier?"
So, obviously we are talking about a spectrum here. There is a spectrum of balance and challenge and interest. Obviously we aren't interested in a simple game of identifying colors. Who's to say we don't want to let off some steam and play an easy game that just lets us kill some monsters without getting hurt? Well, nobody, really. I mean, if you enjoy playing 4e over B/X, or the cardgame War over Five Card Draw, or even Solitaire over Freecell, there isn't anything wrong with wanting an easier play experience.
But by definition, 'easier' means that choices have fewer, less serious, consequences. They are literally less meaningful choices. You don't have to think about what you're doing when you're playing on easy mode.
When I'm discussing the design of a game, if I see that it has few meaningful choices, long stretches where my choices don't seem to matter, mechanics that invalidate my choices in play, and contains many things that appeal to a demographic I am no longer a part of, then I measure that game as having an objectively worse design than another one. (Of course, the demographic appeal, being a purely subjective factor tuned to my own interest.)
And that's what I'm discussing. This isn't to say those games don't have virtues or that there is anything wrong with the people playing them. Simply that they are designed to cater to people desiring empowerment fantasies, and that the original creators were not creating with that goal in mind. And noting that those of us of the age they are find value in their original work as if it were created for us.
And it was.