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Author Topic: Game Philosophy: Who are we playing against?  (Read 1427 times)
Prime Mover
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« on: December 10, 2010, 02:10:24 PM »

While playing Zelda: Link to the Past last night, I ran across a topic I hadn't really thought about before. I asked myself, "Who am I playing against?" while I was playing a given game.

I have always thought about it being a personal competition; that I was, first and foremost, challenging myself to excel in various ways. I still believe that to be a perfectly valid way of viewing games. But on a deeper level, I'm proposing that it may be more complex than that.

First of all, the tasks we are driving ourselves to complete are, intrinsically, not our own. "Go collect the widgets", "beat up the boss", "find your way to the top of the mountain;" these are all goals being giving to us. We may make these goals our own, but there is some residue of them being handed to us by the game. We may not consciously think about the origins of these goals, but since we are not aware of these goals until the game provides them, it is impossible for them to have originated within ourselves. Furthermore, I propose that we are, actually, subconsciously aware of the fact that these goals are being handed to us. This last step requires a leap of understanding into the thoughts of others, due to my own observations of myself, so forgive me if I am being presumptuous.

Secondly, as I was playing Zelda, I stopped myself a couple of times, mid-game, to really scrutinize what I had been thinking about while I had been playing. I came to the conclusion that I very often felt challenged by the game designers themselves. When I walked into a room with a puzzle, something in the back of brain asked, “What would the game designers have me do at this point in the game?” And answering that question was actually key to completing the task.

I’m not suggesting that all games are like this, all the time, even within the umbrella of adventure games or RPGs. I think it depends upon the level of abstraction that the game provides. Many western games, I think, try as hard as possible to mask the designers’ intensions, quite often successfully. One could view it as the designer simply being the conduit into a virtual world, in which the will of the designer is successfully removed from the tasks given to us.

I understand that some of this may sound fairly abstract, maybe even a bit clouded by subjective experience. But it’s just something that I found interesting to think about. When we brush away our initial presumptions about competition, who or what are we REALLY playing our games against?

What do you think?
« Last Edit: December 10, 2010, 02:18:22 PM by Prime Mover » Logged


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« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2010, 02:06:18 AM »

The primal instinct of anything alive is to fight against death which can be interpreted as many ways in games.
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Prime Mover
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« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2010, 05:58:44 PM »

But not all games pit the player against death. Puzzle games, for instance, can be completely abstract, with no hint of mortal consequence.
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« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2010, 05:33:02 PM »

I think heuristically, we deal with failure as death. Failing at a puzzle game therefore equals obliteration.
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Sensei Phoenix
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« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2010, 06:54:17 PM »

Different people probably play against different things. I play against the game's programmers, I figure, at least until computers are truly artificially intelligent.
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« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2010, 07:09:18 PM »

Different people probably play against different things. I play against the game's programmers, I figure, at least until computers are truly artificially intelligent.

This.  I wanna play against what they think they can bring at me.
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« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2010, 08:10:11 PM »

I play against Xur and his Armada.

So yeah, it's pretty much life or death
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Wendriel
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« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2010, 07:07:34 PM »

Interesting question.  In the case of A Link to the Past, which I played through over and over as a child, I felt as though I were playing against Ganon, who was somehow orchestrating all of the challenges that stood in Link's way.  Of course, I spent far too much time with the Legend of Zelda cartoon in my formative years, so that may have contributed to my visualization of Ganon as a cackling, evil mastermind who was behind everything that went wrong. :)

The "Ganon" in the above example, however, is simply a stand-in for the game designers, at least as much as Link is a stand-in for the player.  He's different from an ordinary monster only in that he's the final boss, and the method of killing him is more specialized than that of killing, say, one of the knights at Hyrule Castle.  In that light, my position is similar to that of those posters who say that they play against "what people can throw at them", and I do agree with that.  I do play games partly to challenge myself- that's where the feeling of satisfaction at having won comes from, after all.

In some games, however, particularly RPG's, I'm motivated to progress not only because I want to beat the best that the game has to offer, or because the battle system is so engaging that I want to keep using it.  Rather, I find myself pressing on to the next section because I, the player, really do want to stop Sorceress Ultimecia, or the Archdemon, or Sin.  It's a question of becoming immersed in the world, of identifying with the characters to such an extent that not only do the struggles of the heroes become my own, but I am able to see their enemies as something real enough to be worthy of struggling against.  At that point, it's not about game designers anymore; it's not even about a game.  It's about taking up a sword and carving an ending out of the story, even if some of the more linear games are more paint-by-numbers than sculpture. 

I suppose that means that at least part of me is still that kid daydreaming about Ganon grumbling when I put an arrow through the head of the last Armos Knight.  I can live with that, though :P
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« Reply #8 on: December 31, 2010, 04:11:40 AM »

I like to play against a set of challenges that are designed to test my skill with every facet of the gameplay. I also like it when the odds are stacked against me-- or at least, when there is a big challenge to overcome. It's the reason why I played Mass Effect 2 on insanity, Demon's Souls, and whatever other number of games on max difficulty, and why I never finish games like Kirby's Epic Yarn and the Prince of Persia from a year or two ago-- they're great, aesthetically pleasing games, but if I feel like there's nothing at risk, I can't play. I guess overall I just like 'playing against' the game itself, and whatever challenges the narrative can put in my face. Probably why I find story to be so important, I love overcoming 'impossible' odds.
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« Reply #9 on: December 31, 2010, 04:23:58 AM »

When I start a game, my goal is completion, not competition.
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« Reply #10 on: December 31, 2010, 10:27:03 AM »

My favorite strategy guides I've realized are ones where you're fighting LESS against some external component and more against internal inefficiency. And by strategy I mean more like strictly grand strategy and not X-Com although that has an element of that as well.

So... I guess I like games where you're playing against yourself, if that makes sense?

I mean if you look at Super Meat Boy, on one hand you're playing against the level designers (Ed and the other guy that isn't Ed?) but on the other hand you're playing against your own inability to do them.
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