Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Normative Reasoning Behind Winning


So yesterday I started thinking about the basic mechanics of gaming and I struck a sort of philosophical quandary. What's up with winning?



I realize a game cannot be categorized as such without this core component, but why exactly is that? First off, I don't have a problem with winning or losing. In fact if a game is nice and close and I lose by a small margin or stroke of misfortune in the endgame, I really could care less. As long as the game was entertaining enough to draw and maintain my attention for a period of time and deliver some tension, I’m a happy camper. If I win, it's just icing on the cake. I think the only time I really hate losing is when it's by direct cause of a blowout on luck for one player. Losing horribly because someone had a perfect hand of cards or not being able to compete because you didn't get any beneficial resources by random draw is frustrating and counterproductive to the spirit of gaming in the first place. The few times that I’ve really gotten pissed off at a game; there was a correlation directly proportional to my level of exhaustion, anxiety, or lack of luck.

To get rid of winning though is to either make the event co-op against the game itself or noncompetitive in its entirety. As many designers and players have seen, this is not an easy task to render effectively, if at all. The simplest answer is that art mimics life, and in life there are either winners, losers, or people caught in between. So what is a game without winning? Is it a game at all?

-Simon W.

11 Comments:

At 8:02 PM, February 02, 2006, Blogger Jeff said...

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At 8:03 PM, February 02, 2006, Blogger Jeff said...

So what you're saying, Simon, is that you want to play games that minimize luck and that have mechanics that prevent one player from easily blowing out the others.

Sounds like Euros to me...

 
At 9:43 PM, February 02, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

...Yeah, I know...

-Really, I don't mind luck. I just dislike when it is overwhelming. I still love my Ameritrash games and even though there are blowouts, they don't happen very frequently. It's just a component you have to deal with. I will admit, however, that you and Amy are starting to turn me more onto Euros than I'd like to say...Grrr!

My main point was more about the purpose for winning instead of why it happens in certain ways. Or at least that's what I intended...

 
At 10:24 PM, February 02, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

Bravo Simon for bringing out a philosophical subject. I enjoy these every now and then. I have been thinking about a topic (to be posted at some point when I have some time to spare and organize my thoughts) that actually included what you are proposing, at least indirectly.

I think humans are goal-driven creatures. It is the goals we set that motivate us to do everything we do. EVERYTHING. That includes just buying a Gatorade to quench your thirst, to breaking your back studying to ace an exam because it will get you far in your professional future.

But why do we set these goals? Is it classical conditioning? Do we take action because we are anticipating a reward? Could be. Winning is the goal and reward for all these games....it's the key essential goal that makes a game a game. Even when a game is coop, you either win or lose.

Other than the main goal of winning that is inherent to all games, you can set any number of personal minor goals like "I want to play because I get to hang out with my gaming buds" or "I distract my mind from the everyday hassles". To some, at a personal level, these minor goals could be more important than actually winning. But EVEN SO, any number of minor goals can't cancel out the principal goal that is the essence of the word game (winning).

So after so much ranting, the purpose... wanting to win is what motivates us to learn a game, and get together for hours on end to play.

Me personally? I value more the journey than the destination. I value more the gam-ing than the game-end.

Enough rambling.

 
At 10:56 PM, February 02, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

Beautiful post, Rob.

I agree with you that gaming is more about the journey, at least for me as well. I just wonder why the resolution has to be a certain way to make the journey enjoyable in the first place. -Seems paradoxical.

 
At 11:22 PM, February 02, 2006, Blogger Patrick said...

Fantastic topic.

Roleplaying games are a perfect example of a game where you never actually win. You may beat missions, but the game goes on.

Jeff, I thumb my nose at your Euro plug.

 
At 12:17 AM, February 03, 2006, Blogger Ben said...

Very thought provolking.

Winning is definitely not everything, but it's very rewarding when you do it by brilliantly executing a well-planned strategy. Granted this only happens to me about once every 20 games or so, but it feels pretty good when it happens.

Still, I totally agree with Rob about the journey being the key thing. Take our recent RR Tycoon game for instance. I, with four others, lost by a large margin to Jon. However, there was enough going on in this excellent game that everyone had a chance to play through the full arc of their individual strategies and have a great time.

Personal improvement over time in a specific game is key too. Games I've played five or ten times, I enjoy seeing how my ability to understand deeper levels of strategy in the game and predict how interactions in the game will play out... fantastic, even if I get my tail kicked in the end.

 
At 7:32 AM, February 03, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

Patrick: ditto. I couldn't have found a better example. That's probably why Online RPG's can be so addicting.

Ben: With RR tycoon, I had the lowest score (almost negative), but I had lots of fun playing a rather risky strategy (if you can call drowning yourself in debt a strategy).

 
At 11:37 AM, February 03, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

After a bit of thought I've come to somewhat of a conclusion, if not simplification. My original example explanation was a distributive curve with an X and Y axis but it was a bit longwinded and, quite frankly, boring. Instead I've decided to go with American Gladiators...

Everyone knows that at the end of the show, the last two competitors left after player elimination (for shame!) were put up to the task of an obstacle course race. There was a giant treadmill, cargo net, zip line, and other such playground anomalies, all finally ending with the winner crashing through a paper wall exclaiming their best Tarzan impersonation to mark the finish line.

Now, while my favorite part could be the cargo net and zip line, it would ruin the idea of the race if that was all that I did. Likewise in a game - if all players acted in such a way as only to self gratify, the whole act would be chaos (given they still are within the confines of the rules). The only way to avoid this and touch upon each person's favorite period of the game or race while still having a point to it all is to draw all the players along a path where they will see and experience roughly the same things. Without this goal (thanks Rob) there's nothing to lead one through all the mechanics. Winning is merely the simplest solution to completing this goal. It is the light at the end of the tunnel that makes the journey possible. I’m sure there are other ways to do the same thing but winning is so in tune with nature and psychology that it presents itself as the most logical answer.

It’s funny how alien things can become when you question their most basic premise…

 
At 10:49 PM, February 03, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

Hey, anything that challenges my intellect will always atract me (games, philosophy, games, medicine, games, etc).

Good wrap-up... on the the next topic...

 
At 10:25 AM, February 09, 2006, Blogger Ted Kostek said...

Looks like an interesting thread; too bad I don't have time right now to read it all.

Check out the book "Finite and Infinite Games" by James Carse. It's short, very abstract, and it's the most thought-provoking book I've ever read. The author contrasts two kinds of "activities": ones you do to create an ending (chess, football), and those you do to create new beginnings (marriage). The first are 'finite games' and the second are 'infinite games'. In a finite game you have a winner at the end. If an infinite game ends, everyone loses (divorce).

 

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