Sunday, November 6, 2011

Surviving is Gameplay Too

Yes, surviving: As in, not necessarily winning, just being able to get away with your life.

Ahtchu left an interesting comment on my last post that got me thinking: "Canadians might not get along between themselves, but when Winter's Worst makes her visit, differences are set aside. They are set aside because no other option exists for survival."

There is a reason there is a tremendous following behind the idea of zombie apocalypses. They involve survival in a way that many people will never experience in their lives. We live in a society where we are at the top of the food chain and where our continued survival likely is contingent on how well we can keep an office job with benefits rather than throwing spears at gazelle. Furthermore, during a zombie apocalypse, it is essentially an entirely new world to explore. Familiar locations are dangerous and exciting, where you can find loot in the form of food, medicine, or bullets.

Now, I am free to make up bullshit statistics and guess that 90% of the people with those fantasies would prefer they be fantasies and not reality, but the ideas presented through these are excellent for game design. Even if we avoid the zombie apocalypse genre altogether (which we shouldn't: Some AAA company really needs to cash in on this) we find that the fun of surviving and exploring is minimized in favor of walled off predictable encounters. Our quests tell us where to go, and numbers tell us how likely we are to survive against an average foe.

There is no worries of survival or losing progress in WoW-like games these days. There are no deep dungeons where you may lose your gear, there are no expensive ships that you would have to work to replace, and the rewards from the bosses are not necessary at all because hey, you're going to replace it in the next tier's heroic dungeons or the next expansion's first questing zone. There's a reason EVE Online stories are way better than WoW stories: Even with minor death penalties that can even be entirely avoidable, EVE players have something to lose. And losing something can make for a way better experience than doing nothing but gaining things.


  1. Well, yes and no.

    And losing something can make for a way better experience than doing nothing but gaining things.

    I would agree that it makes for better stories, but I don't think it makes for better experiences per se. After all, wouldn't the argument be that if EVE is getting it right, then they would have more than 400k subs?

    Thing is, as someone highly predisposed to RPGs, the idea that I could play a game and lose progress is abhorrent; I want there to be a strong correlation between time and growth. The minute I am worst off for having played a game is the same minute I am looking for a new game to play. We all had times when we died right before a checkpoint or otherwise forgot to save and then lost 2 hours of progress, right? That is the worst.

    The again, I'm playing the Binding of Isaac like crazy right now, so maybe I'm coming around.

  2. Hey, I appreciate the link, and am glad my statement spun off an interesting viewpoint of your own.

    And losing something can make for a way better experience than doing nothing but gaining things.

    Immediately, the 'groups phase' of the World Cup comes to mind. Sometimes, just exiting a game in a 'draw' is a win, in and of itself, for some teams when considering their competition and what they need to progress.
    Playing this angle more could only yield more interesting, more tactical gameplay, not less! The 'only gain' mindset of games, and society to a greater extent :(, really does hamper meaningful, fulfilling experiences.
    Great post!

  3. Hrm. I see your point there Azuriel. Perhaps simply changing it to "the threat of losing something" would be more accurate? Give the players a Risk vs Reward scenario they have to face. And the progress would not be something that could not be worked back towards given enough time.

    And I agree Ahtchu, MMORPG's as a complex reward button does remove many of the meaningful experiences from the game. Despite our heroes going up against some of the most powerful beings in the world, we lost nothing if we get our faces eaten off. The lack of risk actually removes fun rather than adds to it.

  4. I've only just started playing, and it's not even an MMO, but Dark Souls has a crazy Risk/Reward proposition. Even the lowliest of enemies will unrelentingly murder you, but overcoming a challenge leaves you with a personal satisfaction even greater than getting the next bit of loot.