Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Game Design: "Greed in games"

Just this afternoon, I was (somewhat) silently looking at my friend's returned paper and remarked on his 6-11 framework of a ancient Intellvision game Astrosmash. In his framework, he listed the existence of the 'Collection' instinct which leads to the 'Greed'. My lecturer actually circled this section and wrote 'Why?'. The question I ask is, why not? If you looked at the video link on Astrosmash I gave above, you can see clearly why my friend actually wrote 'Collection'; the points. It's not really literal collecting per se...wait, see now I'm confused. Suddenly it seemed very obvious that the player is driven to collect points in this game. Suddenly, when you put it that way, isn't many, if not all, games driven by greed?

That reminded me that I actually have a draft sitting in my blogspot here waiting to be written. I had this idea that games were all driven by some greed because for some odd reason, all the assignments I did about the 6-11 framework somehow had 'Greed' listed somewhere. A game without 'Greed' somehow doesn't cut it. I wish I could list an example but I couldn't! All games, digital or not, computerized or board, have some form of Greed. Which leads to the question: 'What is Greed?'

Is it because the idea of Greed is too broad? In my definition and words, Greed is basically the desire to possess something they don't have. From this simple definition, I believe that there is greed in every human being. I can even say that even monks are greedy in the sense that they want to seek enlightenment. Without greed, there is no drive. What is a human without drive? Without 'want'? Wouldn't they just be an empty shell?

It didn't seem so obvious then as it did now. Why do I play games? What kept me hooked? What kept OTHERS hooked? Why did I lose interest in some of them? Is it true that EVERY game plays with our greediness? Is it true, based on testing my friends' pre-alpha games, that the better games always have a better hook that preys on the greedy nature of humans? In game design discussions, it's always asking what players WANT WANT WANT. The moment a developer does not consider that, a game will just...crumble. If it doesn't and sells well, I think it is an 'Accident'. I think a lot of games are accidents, like 'Everquest' or 'Starcraft'. You can disagree with me on that; it's not the point of the discussion.

We start by looking at the infamous 'High Score'. Back then when Pong was first developed, it didn't have any way to track scores. I find it extremely hard to believe that people find the game fun without tracking the score at some given point of time, whether physically or mentally, consciously or unconsciously. Then came the arcades and High Score was introduced. My lecturer 'forced' me to watch this documentary known as 'Chasing Ghosts' which shows exactly how important it is to the arcade scene.

Whether the game LASTS is based on how difficult it is to fulfill a player's greed and their tolerance. A good example is the Disgaea series. From that game you can draw out 3 main groups of people because of it's extreme grind. Firstly, those who don't have the tolerance nor time to dedicate will just be greedy for the story. When the story ends, the game ends. Secondly, those who have too much time and incredibly tolerance to grind through everything and obtain everything the game have to offer to create the ultimate party/character. Thirdly, those who are greedy enough to try but do not have the tolerance, time nor dedication to continue.

I think it's rather safe to agree that most people fall under the first and third category. I'm not gonna conduct surveys on this; it seems pretty obvious and more so in this generation since people are getting busier and busier. I personally know people from all three categories and the ones fulfilling the second are thought to be insane and usually either have no job, play games during their jobs or in National Service (^^).

But you see, the moment a player loses interest is when it feels tedious to fulfill the greed within the player. If there's an incredibly difficult boss fight that only skilled players can defeat, the player will fight use the greed within him to drive himself to improve. After many futile attempts, they might give up, possibly due to a serious case of learned helplessness. When they give up depends on their tolerance level of such events.

All this leads to why I find the idea of 'Achievements' ingenious. The combination of the simple mechanic of collecting points in game and the fact that you are showing it (usually) to the rest of the world creates a rather powerful effect on gamers. Suddenly, pride and competition comes into play and together they can furiously generate lots of greed until the player chooses to 'let it all rest and move on'.

That choice, by the way, isn't really an easy choice. It means there is an emptiness in you that you find that it's better just to ignore it. It's still a hole in you, in the end, a hole that's difficult to ignore. A hole that will forever be waiting to be filled. How well you ignore it also depends on how perceptively tedious it is to achieve it (again, your tolerance level).

If we have to look at all the genres of games, there is always the existence of preying on the greediness of us. You might be playing RTS'/fighting games and you are greedy for the defeat of your opponent, maybe also greedy to add to your win-loss ratio, be it against him or not. You might be playing RPG's and want to beat all the bosses and secret bosses, and collect the best weapons in the game. You might be playYou might be playing Bejeweled and...well you know how this will go. OR, you can just be greedy for the story of the game.

Greed exists in all games. Card games, board games, dice games, Dungeons and Dragons, Zelda, FPS', Civilization, exists because it is part of the human nature. Game developers have the be aware of that when they are designing their games, and I believe this will bring them closer to making their games 'Fun'.

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