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March 25, 2012

tollo, tollere, sustuli, sublatum
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:42 AM * 109 comments

There is a Latin verb which can mean “to build up” or “to tear down”. Playing my birthday present with my kids, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, I’m irresistibly reminded of it.

Previous Ratchet & Clank games have been essentially buddy movies, with our heroes repeatedly saving the universe—only to have it manage to get back in jeopardy again between iterations. They’re classic platformers, livened up by wry commentary and amusing touches*. It’s probably my favorite gaming franchise.

All 4 One bills itself as being all that and cooperative to boot: a truly multiplayer addition to the series. Up to four people can play, and each of them controls a long-running character from the series. There’s Ratchet, the mechanical-genius lombax (a long-eared, furry-tailed bipedal species). There’s Clank, his wisecracking robot friend. Then there’s Quark, the Captain Hammer of the story: overblown and happy to take credit for anyone’s work, but essentially cowardly. Last of all, there’s Dr Nefarious, the substantially robotic nemesis, prone to reciting snatches of soap operas when his gears don’t mesh right. (Note that if you’re Jenny Nae Mates, the game will run the necessary characters with its own AI.)

My family finds it all but unplayable in collaborative mode.

The gameplay itself is fine: each character has a lot of freedom within the frame. Players have to work together to defeat some challenges (propelling each other to places they can’t jump or drawing fire from a robotic turret while someone else sneaks up to its unshielded back side). If more than one player shoots at a target, they share credit for the “kill”, and characters who are killed can be revived by other players.

All good.

But then, at the end of each level, the game ranks the players against one another. Who killed the most enemies? Who got the most treasure? Who died the most? Who was the most cooperative?. Winners get titles like “Most Heroic” and “Bolt Master”. But if someone manages to not come in first in any of the categories, they’re labeled “Noob”.

First quibble: “most cooperative” only measures behaviors like “shoots at the same target as everyone else” and “revives fallen comrades.” Things like “being the one who always does a particular task so that no one else has to” don’t get counted. obKloutAlgorithm, if you measure the wrong stuff, you reward the wrong person.

Second quibble: my reaction to seeing anyone I’m playing with being called a “Noob” simply because other people scored higher is easily expressed in Anglo-Saxon monosyllables. It’s not only an insult; it’s also an absolute term being applied to a comparative score. And it ignores the honor and value in being a jack of all trades (and master of none), or the second best swordsman in Caribastos.

But the problem is bigger than an inability to measure true cooperation or find the right terms. The real issue is that setting the characters against each other destroys the trust and collaboration that’s the selling point of the game.† Then, after the separation of sheep and goats, after the judging and the ranking, the awarding of titles and the name-calling, somehow the players have to work together again. They have to reinvent the team from its competing components, over and over again.

How many times do we see that in collaborative environments? Workplaces are prone to it, of course; the team does the work and the manager takes the credit. People succeed or fail on their own because judging them on their team’s performance “damages individual endeavor” and “encourages freeloading”. This means that people whose main gift is making teams jell and work together are undervalued.

But I’d also submit that it’s another flavor of the tension that we’re struggling with as citizens of capitalist nations. How much do we want the entire society to succeed, and what do we do when our own interests cut against that? You know the drumbeat: Raise taxes to provide a safety net or fund better public education? Pay for others’ health care? Including the stuff I don’t approve of? What do you mean she works hard; all she does is take care of the kids. But they’re wasteful. They bought a wide-screen TV. They buy brand-name food with their food stamps. Work-shy. Slut. Lazy. Irresponsible.


* Weapons include the Sheepinator, which turns your enemies into sheep; the Chickenator; and the RYNO — Rip You a New One — which plays the 1812 Overture as it fires.
† It also damages gameplay. For instance, characters need to collect money (bolts, in-game) and spend it on new weapons. If one character can’t afford a new weapon because someone else was obsessed with being the Bolt Master and hogged all the treasure, the entire team’s ability to proceed is hampered.

Comments on tollo, tollere, sustuli, sublatum:
#1 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 10:51 AM:

Competing against each other to be the most co-operative player?

That isn't even wrong! The sound of a forehead crashing into a keyboard! The great sucking slurp of a concept disappearing up its own basis like a terminally perturbed oozlum bird!

#2 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 11:39 AM:

I have in my TBR pile a book by Richard Sennett entitled Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation It looks like it's going to be very good. I was trying to pull a quote from the early pages to drop in here, but it's not sound-biting well.

When I used to work in research and product development on career counseling, one of the bedrock principles we came to for deciding if a job was a good fit was a pair of questions: What's your contribution, and what's your satisfaction? It seems to me like that applies to most any joint endeavor. You need to bring something to the group effort(and that doesn't have to be being "the best" at any one thing), and you need to get something from it (whether that's intrinsic satisfaction, experience of some kind, the enjoyment of working with others, or just the paycheck you need at the moment).

I'm going to have to come back to this; you've hit on something I've been thinking a lot about over the years.

#3 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 12:22 PM:

Isaac Asimov tells a story in his memoirs of failing to win the school prize in either mathematics or biology, and of parental disapproval of this failure to excel. So he replied, "The kid who won the mathematics prize is lousy in biology. The kid who won the biology prize can't add two and two. And as for me, I was second in line for both prizes." That reply, he says, got him off the hook.

#4 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 01:01 PM:

That was almost precisely my wife's and my reaction. We played it through with friends and had to basically not look at the end of level summations because they irritated us so much.

#5 ::: John Costello (@joXn) ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 01:23 PM:

My favorite thing to do in such games is to invert the priorities. In this case, have people compete to be a Noob. That might allow you to balance your desire to finish the game with your desire to be as lazy as possible.

(My friends and I do this in StarCraft -- whether we win or lose, the real winner is the person who made the most workers.)

#6 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 01:51 PM:

At the risk of being completely irrelevant to the main point of this excellent post, I feel like talking some more about the Latin verb whose dictionary form is "tollo".

Its core meaning is lift -- take something from its current place and set it somewhere higher. Over time the usage of this word broadened and stretched in different directions, as usage of words does.

"Build up" comes from the idea of "raising". Lewis and Short's dictionary give an example of Cicero saying "I will raise another roof". It could also be used in the sense of raising children, and even further so in the sense of begetting them.

There were also many usages deriving from the idea of removal, and the word was used to mean "carry away" (which in turn was sometimes extended to mean "bear" or "suffer"), and this was extended to mean "kill" or "destroy", or more abstractly "cancel" or "abolish".

#7 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 01:56 PM:

I can haz Chickenator, pleez?

#8 ::: Chris Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 02:07 PM:

I can sort of see the intent here. They were trying to be irreverent, witty, and clever, perhaps envisioning the players taking part in gentle ribbing of the least apt player.

But it's just like John Scalzi said: "The failure mode of clever is 'asshole'." When you try to be witty and miss, you come off like a jerk. That seems to be what has happened here.

As the person prone to come in last in the metrics in a lot of the multiplayer games I do (for example, Mass Effect 3, where I'm prone to discourse on how wrong things are if I'm the leading player by score :), I can certainly sympathize. Bad enough to see your low score, but to be called "noob" on top of it? Yeah.

#9 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 02:34 PM:

I recently saw a cartoon that seems relevant to the "second best" bit: A kid with a B paper in front of him tells his classmate "Whenever I doubt my place in the world, I remember that it's the #2 pencil that everyone uses, not the #1".

#10 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 03:06 PM:

The intellectual support for modern capitalist society and the American ideals of the rugged individual and the evil of group action is ripe for rebuttal. It's based on scientific and philosophical ideas that have largely been discredited by later thinking and experimentation, or found to be special cases of much larger principles. But the people who have ridden them to power and influence hold onto them tightly because they represent the justification for much of the way things work in Western society today, and are held up to other cultures as the ideals they should emulate.

For example, it depends on human society being inherently a zero-sum game: in order for me to win, you must lose. And yet that's very clearly not the way society works (see Robert Wright's book and website "Non-Zero" for an extended exposition). If it were, we'd all still be living on the savannah in Africa, staring in wonder at the black monolith. The way I like to say it, human society is a reverse Ponzi scheme, it pays dividends to the later investors rather than the earlier ones.

Another example: mathematical Game Theory is used as a justification for rational-agent economic theory (anybody know an economist who's always rational, let alone a stock trader?), and thus a lot of the underpinning of economic and political policy. Well, the foundation of that theory was developed by a paranoid schizophrenic who was going into a full-blown psychotic break at the time. Maybe that's why our form of capitalism is so paranoid?

Last, and most pernicious: much of the "conservative" political policy being foisted upon us by the Tea Bag wing of the Republican party is based (sometimes surreptitiously, sometimes openly), on notions of race, class, and social darwinism that were debunked almost a century ago.

#11 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 03:26 PM:

David Goldfarb #6: Thank you, Google translate was seriously unhelpful.

#12 ::: Priscilla King ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 03:27 PM:

When someone else's interests cut against mine, in most real-world situations, it's because one or both of us is not thinking about the Highest Good. (Either that, or the conflict is symbolic, like games or elections.)

#13 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 03:30 PM:

Diverting somewhat from the original point of the post in to the realm of the economic, but I recommend a column in the Business section of today's Washington Post by Steven Pearlstein on the false choice between equality and efficiency. (might be a subscription barrier that I wouldn't see) Brief synopsis: it's true that systems that allow for some inequality of outcome have better overall results than those that don't, because they provide an incentive for increased work and increased investment in one's own human capital. It does not follow that further increases in inequality continue to produce better outcomes. He says, "I find it strange that Republicans assign such overriding importance to economic incentives for investors, executives and hedge-fund managers while remaining totally clueless about the economic incentives faced by everyone else. Over the past 30 years, the entire increase in the nation's income has been captured by the 10 percent of households at the top of the income scale. Do you think that maybe, just maybe, the lack of a pay raise for the other 90 percent might have had any impact on their productivity, their work effort, their creativity, or their willingness to take risk?"

#14 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 03:33 PM:

Easy fix in the software, if only they'd thought of it: have a selection at the beginning for "Score cooperatively" or "Score competitively." Both would keep track in exactly the same way, but when you displayed scores, the former would simply total everyone's scores on everything and show the aggregate score for the players collectively.

But of course they didn't think of that, because the game designers fundamentally lack an understanding of cooperation. A friend of mine once turned a competitive ball-bounce pool game into a cooperative one by simply counting the bounces. Without noticing, everyone stopped trying to make the others drop the ball, and started trying to keep it bouncing. I've never forgotten that.

Wow, I should write to him. That one thing changed my life.

DBratman 3: I seem to remember a story about a battle in Ancient Greece, after which the winning generals all voted for the military equivalent of MVP. The winner was the general who got all the second-place votes—after every. single. general voted for himself in the first place.

#15 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 03:58 PM:

The other verb related: fero, ferre, tuli, latus.
Bring, carry, bear, and a bunch of related/derived meanings, including to move forward or put in motion.

#16 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 03:59 PM:

Seconding the thanks of David Goldfarb by David Harmon @11. Thanks!

#17 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 04:19 PM:

My go-to source of philological information on the web is Perseus, run by Tufts University.

Of particular use are their online copy of Lewis & Short's Latin Dictionary and definition word search that acts as an English-Latin dictionary of sorts.

I usually use that and my paper copy of Allan & Greenough for any Latin work I end up doing.

#18 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 04:45 PM:

Do you think that maybe, just maybe, the lack of a pay raise for the other 90 percent might have had any impact on their productivity, their work effort, their creativity, or their willingness to take risk?"

Seconded, except for the last bit. What part of the global financial crisis convinces anyone that we need *more* willingness to take risks? People are taking too many risks already. We need more people willing to say "You know, this could really blow up in our faces. Maybe we should think twice."

Doing something competently by the book and not blowing it up is underrated.

#19 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 04:58 PM:

@18: What part of the global financial crisis convinces anyone that we need *more* willingness to take risks? People are taking too many risks already. We need more people willing to say "You know, this could really blow up in our faces. Maybe we should think twice."

I think that's one extreme of "taking risks." On a smaller scale, taking risks can be a good thing: one could open an independent store or quit a job or switch careers or move to a new city on a whim.

I think the problem with our society may not be so much that we've got too many people who are willing to take risks but that we have a financial system where only the *wrong* people (mainly, the big-scale multinational corporations) are able to take risks.

#20 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 05:09 PM:

Chris @18, agreeing with LMM @19 that it depends on the kind of risk you're talking about. Innovation and entrepreneurship always involve some level of risk. Although the availability of health insurance is another factor in people being able to make that kind of leap.

I would say that the problem with risk and the global financial crisis was that the link between risk and reward was at least damaged if not broken. In large part, the people who were reaping the financial rewards were not the ones who were taking the risks.

#21 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 06:06 PM:


Four years ago, I was underemployed, and the local hobby shop was looking for a buyer. The owner had died, and his widow wasn't healthy enough to keep it going. The business was going for barely more than the cost of inventory, and I could have scraped that much together, and I know retail and the subject matter... but I couldn't afford to lose what steady income I had.

Nobody else could, either. That storefront is still empty.

That's what happens when the little people don't have enough margin to take risks.

#22 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 06:09 PM:

@ 20: In large part, the people who were reaping the financial rewards were not the ones who were taking the risks.

There's a good case to be made that that's true of economics in general.

#23 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 07:19 PM:

mfjgates @21: Maybe it's not just that it's too easy to take risks or not easy enough, but that it's too easy to take big risks, but too hard to take the small risks from which much bigger things are born?

Things like Kickstarter are a part of solving that, but why should we even need a wholly new system? Ten or twenty years ago you went to your local bank for a loan, paid for by the deposits of other people in the community. Crowdfunding at its finest. And then your local bank got eaten by a bigger bank got eaten by Bank of America, and now their loan department won't even talk to you. But they'll happily give you a credit card with 17% APR!

#24 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 07:51 PM:

Oh dear.

I think I see where they went wrong. The designers created a reasonably good cooperative game. The programmers made it work. But then marketing took a look at it, and said "hey, don't forget anything game-related is destined for the One True Demographic[1] of hardcore gamers" and insisted on putting in some form of rating system so that they'd be able to tell how "great" they were. "Don't forget to make certain that there can be only one true winner!" they said. "Oh, and don't forget to make sure that the people who didn't do as well know that they lost!"

"I thought we were making a collaborative game here?" the designers muttered as they went back to the drawing board.

"You are," said marketing. "But you have to make sure that everyone playing knows who actually won, or our product will receive nasty reviews on places like Gamespot, Kotaku and so on, and everything will be Ruined Forever."

"But, hang on, when did the reviewers at Kotaku and other gaming sites become our core demographic?" asked the programmers, in between slogging over the code to figure out how and where to throw in the necessary modules to create the rating system.

"When they started talking about us as being Cool Kids," said the marketers.

And so an otherwise good game gets pulled down by the post-battle or end-of-stage results screens yet again. There are reasons why my favourite "go-back-to" games are earlier iterations of the Final Fantasy series (at the moment it's FFVIII). At least there the end-of-battle ratings screen is pretty much about how much experience, money and junk your characters picked up[2] (not how great your performance as a professional gamer was).

[1] The One True Demographic: white, able-bodied, cis-male, aged between 15 and 35, heterosexual, Christian-raised, middle-class, suburban, American, neurotypical. Effectively the target demographic for the entire entertainment industry.
[2] They also tend to be just blank screens covered with information, rather than pose-shots of the various characters (yes, I'm still annoyed with the designers and creators of Star Ocean IV).

#25 ::: Randall ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 09:12 PM:

It's also virtually unplayable in solo play, as well. It's the only Ratchet & Clank game I have ever traded in for credit and I did that before I even finished it.

#26 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 09:44 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue @14: I haven't seen it myself, but in my reading I've heard mention of a poll asking expert US bridge players of the '50s or thereabouts who was the second best US player.

P J Evans @15: I haven't studied the matter closely, but I've long suspected that fero stole that perfect-tense "tuli" from tollo, leaving poor tollo to have to make do with "sustuli".

abi @17: Perseus is of course indispensable. I also like Archimedes Project Dictionary Access for quick lookup of Greek and Latin words (their search interface is quicker than Perseus', albeit much more limited) and the downloadable program Diogenes.

#27 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 09:54 PM:

David 26: Perseus is of course indispensable.

Andromeda concurs.

#28 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 11:29 PM:

Megpie @24

The only truly cooperative board game I've ever played is Pandemic (no, not the computer game where Madagascar closes its ports). The board is trying to kill all of humanity, and you are part of a team from the CDC who is trying to find cures for all the diseases before the board wins. The board has three ways to win; the players have one way to win. Experienced players playing on medium win about half to 2/3s of the time. And by "win" I mean either EVERYONE wins, or EVERYONE loses. (Table talk isn't only allowed, it's essential!)

Well, they came out with an expansion. And almost all of the expansion is well thought out.

Except one thing.

The different players randomly choose roles; special skills that they bring to the team. The expansion adds several new roles, some of which are really good. But one of the new roles is "Bioterrorist". The bioterrorist is actively working against all the other players, on the side of the board. All of a sudden it's a competitive game again.

Nobody I know plays with the bioterrorist. They take that Role card right out of the deck, as being antithetical to the whole idea of the game. The dominant theory I've heard is that it was included for 14 year old boys, though that may be a slur on 14 year old boys....

#29 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 11:53 PM:

One online game that rewards cooperation is YoHoHo Puzzle Pirates. I've been playing it off and on for years (not a fanatic, not a top-rated player). You need puzzling skills and willingness to cooperate and play as a team. You can form crews, and play with your buddies, but if no one from your crew is online, you can "job" on someone else's voyage. Most play is against the AI; PVP has to be consensual.

Some players can be abrasive, but they tend not to stay long.

#30 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 01:02 AM:

Cally Soukup @ 28: Pandemic is awesomeness as far as tabletop games go. But one nitpick; the expansion is actually three separate expansions, which one wouldn't want to try to add all to the same game, though they may technically be compatible. The bioterrorist is one possible expansion of those three, and by far the least popular. We've tried the other two numerous times.

Other genuinely cooperative games:
Shadows over Camelot, which is fun but several hours long (& which has a play variation with a possible traitor, which I haven't tried, but find the mechanic interesting. Because even in that variation, it's fully possible to end up without one.)
Yggdrasil, which plays like a shorter faster version of Shadows over Camelot
Space Alert, which is quirky, using a computer or CD player to run through a "training session" attempting to defend your ship against attack. Actual gameplay is ten minutes or less of flurrying cooperation, but there's some scene setting before that depending on the chosen scenario, and it's not until it's over that you actually go through the moves to find out if what you planned worked.

#31 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 01:41 AM:

Cally Soukup @28: While it's true that the Bio-Terrorist has a role card, you aren't supposed to put it in the deck with the other roles. Basically, the expansion comes with rules for a quite different game that can be played with the same board and pieces, and you choose whether to play "Pandemic" or "CDC vs. the Bio-Terrorist" beforehand. Wanting to play the one and being forced to play the other would be quite unpleasant, I agree -- but it's not Tom Lehmann's fault if people misunderstand his intent.

My experience, btw, is that on medium difficulty experienced players will win a good deal more often than that. It may be that what I call "experienced" you would call "expert"; anyway, I find that when I play I want to play on hard or legendary in order to be challenged.

I had the game of a lifetime recently on BrettSpielWelt. Three-player game on legendary difficulty...and we won the game with all four diseases eradicated and no outbreaks all game. We did take advantage of one thing, which is that there's a special card BSW has wrong, stronger than it should be -- we were able to change two out of three roles when it was meant to be one out of three. Still, that's a small cheat, and on legendary level....

I wrote up a session report: Anyone interested can read it here.

I've played some other pure co-ops: Arkham Horror, The Lord of the Rings (both of which predate Pandemic, btw); I'd say that the surprisingly good Buffy the Vampire Slayer game qualifies as well, modulo that the forces of evil are controlled by a human player rather than being purely game effects. (There's an expansion for the Lord of the Rings game that does the same, though I haven't played that.) There are also two rethemed versions of Pandemic -- one by the same designer, Forbidden Island, in which you play treasure hunters on a sinking island, and one by a different designer called Defenders of the Realm in which you are fantasy heroes trying to fend off four invading armies from your kingdom.

#32 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 02:19 AM:

This thread reminds me of a short story (by P. K. Dick, IIRC) from the late '50s or early 60's that was broadcast as a radio play back then. A team of toy testers is trying out toys made on another planet which is in an economic and political cold war with Earth. As each toy is tested, some kind of serious threat to the players comes up, frex a robotic set of toy soldiers turns out to have real ray guns and has to be stopped from slagging down the entire room. The last product is a game similar to Monopoly; the testers play it and find it works identically to Monopoly, except that, after the game is over, they realize that the player who loses all the money is the winner. I think Dick was aiming a kick at the American notions of capitalism in that story (duh!).

#33 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 02:22 AM:

Megpie71 @24

I rather suspect that the failure is more subtle than that. I'd be inclined to think that when the programmers and designers play it, they're not really looking at that end-of-level screen: they're laughing at something that happened, or getting up to get more snacks, or stretching, or whatever. It's a very minor element in their gameplay. Earning "Bolt Master" isn't a goal for them, it's a footnote.

The dysfunction is not that these things are ranked, it's that something in the game+social climate is making them seem important. Maybe it was the marketing department, maybe it was just an issue where the core team already knew they weren't important before they ever put them in the game and so never noticed that the game made them look important, or maybe it was something about the context of the game (like maybe they were always distracted from that end-of-level screen while Abi's family isn't*).

By contrast: I played EVE Online for some time. The main way EVE combat statistics are collected is via web apps called "killboards." Killboards are leaky metrics: they give credit only to combat pilots who place targeted effects on a ship that is then destroyed. This ignores a number of vital roles: no credit is given to scouts, or the guy who helped you figure out how to fit out the ship, or the guy who bought and placed the warp bubble you trapped that ship in, or even to combat pilots present on the field but (for example) putting the hurt on ships which then escape.

But the stakes are pretty high in EVE, high enough that you care about what makes your corp and alliance succeed far more than you care about what makes you look good. So plenty of people volunteer to scout, or do logistical stuff like moving bubbles, or teach their corpmates about shipfitting.

Therefore, the existence and even prevalence of a faulty metric isn't a real problem: everybody knows killboards don't tell the whole story, just a partial view of one scene. It's very, very common to come into corp or alliance chat and see Pilot A congratulating Pilot B on an impressive raid they saw on the killboard, and Pilot B responding by calling out the scout or commander or hauler pilot who made it possible.

*Please don't read this as "Abi's playing it wrong." Obviously not. Ideally you'd make a game that everyone has fun playing, right? Realistically, it won't be right for some people, and sometimes that's because you didn't see or didn't fix a problem, while other times there wasn't a better choice. I think this is a problem that could have been fixed, I just think the problem isn't the existence of the metrics so much as their emphasis/placement/context.

PS: I'd argue that the One True Demographic for gaming places far less emphasis on neurotypicality than that for entertainment generally. Certainly, as someone with some ADD, I find myself catered to in that regard quite frequently. I wouldn't care to speak for autistic-spectrum folks, but I have heard the same observation voiced from that quarter as well.

#34 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 02:42 AM:

Cally @ 28

Vanished Planet is also collaborative. To the extent that the one time we've lost, it was because one of the players decided she wanted to run up her segment of the board independently, without any help from the rest of us. By the time she got herself up to speed, the critical timeframe had been missed...

#35 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 02:52 AM:

Sounds like a "jump the shark" moment.

I recall what happened when WOW decided to have what they called a "zombie plague" event during a holiday weekend. Essentially, players could turn themselves into zombies and go spread the plague, 'killing' other players just by getting close enough to them to infect them. But not only other players. They could also 'kill' the NPC's that are necessary to the game, thus disabling the game for, well, everyone. They could do it over and over, just for the hysterical giggles of it.

You might as well have handed every griefer in creation an engraved invitation anonymously to screw everything up for everyone, an activity that griefers look on as being better than sex.

Well, Blizzard cut it short and never did anything like that again. I played for about ten minutes that weekend, observed the carnage, and left. If it had become anything like a regular event - once a year would be enough - I'd have closed my account and left for good.

I still have a WOW account. I don't know why. I last played some months ago. It just got old, I think. But that "event" was one step away from it.

I just didn't trust them any more, you know what I mean?

#36 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 02:57 AM:

I appear to have been gnomed. There were no links, so I guess it was a Word of Power. Please advise. Thank you.

#37 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 04:08 AM:

Dave Luckett @36:

Even the capitalized initials of Ball of Bushido are a Word of Power, so mighty is it in the realms of Spam.

#38 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 04:20 AM:

Lenora Rose @30: Actually, I'd nitpick here about "Shadows Over Camelot" by saying that the way you play (pure co-op) is the variant: the base game rules have an N in 8 chance of there being a traitor (where N is the number of players). Experienced players should be able to win reasonably easily if there's no traitor, so another variant (with official sanction, as it's mentioned in the rulebook) is to have the chance of a traitor be N in (N+1).

(When I first encountered the game I wondered about the probability of having a traitor. I worked out the probabilities for a 5-player game the hard way, writing up and figuring out [7 choose 4]*[1 choose 1] / [8 choose 5] -- and then after that came out to the very simple answer of 5/8, I realized there was a hugely easier way to get to that same answer, and that the simpler way readily generalized, to boot.)

#39 ::: KristianB ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 06:05 AM:

I've played Shadows over Camelot a bit, and we always do it very simply by having one traitor randomly selected. The first time we played we had a very good traitor, such that in the end all the knights were holed up in Camelot pointing fingers at one another while the kingdom fell to pieces around us. It was brilliant.

Another game that plays heavily on the tension between competitive and cooperative play is Republic of Rome. In RoR, each player is trying to become Dictator for Life, but the board is also (very effectively at times) trying to kill everyone with plagues and wars. Keeping the Republic alive then requires all the players to chip in with lots of money and keep assassinations to a minimum, but that money and those assassinations are also what you need to win, or stop the others from winning.

#40 ::: PrivateIron ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 08:28 AM:

I wish I could play the Crack in Time radio stations in my car. And I'M disappointed in All 4 One. That says it all.

#41 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 08:30 AM:

I played a game recently, don't remember the name, that frustrated me beyond words with how noncollaborative it was. I ended up watching the drama as two unhappy roommates fought it out and one of them called on the two remaining players to 'help shut him down', meaning 'use a spell to disable him rather than me, thus picking who wins the game'. Munchkin was more cooperative than that. Still really stressful, but more cooperative.

#42 ::: Amber B. ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 09:56 AM:

Has anyone played Journey for the PS3, yet? Although I usually dislike online multiplayer games (because of griefers, language, and the winner-take-all competitiveness that turns even group activities into a ranking of DPS and whatever), I was really impressed at how well it facilitated a cooperative environment. It's pretty much impossible to grief each other, and it's FUN to play together. Likewise, the achievements often are things like, 'finish the journey with a companion', 'meditate with a companion', and 'keep the same companion over most of the journey'. I was just really impressed on how they implemented it, and made even me - jaded solo gamer that I am - look forward to and seek out other companions to play with.

#43 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 10:03 AM:

One thing that I've come to realize is how much "competitive" versus "cooperative" can be in the players rather than the game. I play Rock Band with my friends, and I also host a Rock Band game several times a month at the library where I work. (It's open to anyone 10-17, but in practice the players are mostly boys 12-14).

Playing it with friends, at the scoring screen we say stuff like "Man, that bass part is brutal" and "Nice work on that solo" and "Next time, let's do it like THIS instead."

Playing it with boys 12-14? At the scoring screen they say "I WON, YOU'RE A NOOB."

Now, it can be frustrating to play the game with people who are less skilled than oneself, because it only takes one person playing badly to fail the whole song. So it's not like I don't understand why it happens. But I find it frustrating to try to encourage good sportsmanship.

(Now that I think about it, there might be some parallels there to actual rock bands -- there's a tension between making good music together and being concerned about who's putting in how much work and who's getting the credit and the fame and the glory, and no wonder things can get so fractious.)

#44 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 10:51 AM:

On second thought, let's not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.

#45 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 11:29 AM:

Emily H. #43: One thing that I've come to realize is how much "competitive" versus "cooperative" can be in the players rather than the game.

I ran into that back when I used to GM role-playing games. As with computer games, it's a particular issue when the scoring system reinforces competition. (Spent your time scouting rather than killing things? No new level for you!)

#46 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 11:51 AM:

I find the balance between competition and cooperation in all these settings very interesting, because it's such a fundamental part of life--pretty much every real thing you do involves a combination of the two--how do I get my time to think/read/write while the family still does well, how do I get my raise this year without screwing over my coworkers, how do I get to have the fun of scoring goals while still making sure my team wins the basketball game, etc.

#47 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 12:01 PM:

David @31

I've played with all three several times: virulent strain plus mutation plus new roles (without Bioterrorist).

I'm more than a little irked at BrettSpeilWelt; I had had an account, but life intervened and I didn't get on it for about 8 months. And when I went back, they'd purged all accounts which had been inactive for 6 months and closed registration, probably permanently from what they say. I'm sure they had a problem with trolls, but I was certainly never a troll!

#48 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 12:10 PM:

KayTei and David:

You can bet I'm making notes on other cooperative boardgames to try. Thanks! Perhaps someone will bring one of them to Minicon and I can try it out.

#49 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 12:10 PM:

David Goldfarb @ 26:

I find myself wondering what happened to the Proto-Indo-European ancestor of 'fero', since the Greek cognate seems to have nicked bits of not one but two other verbs:

φέρω, οἴσω, ἤνεγκον or ἤνεγκα, ἐνήνοχα, ἐνήνεγμαι, ἠνέχθην

#50 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 12:16 PM:

David, that's why I liked GURPS. The GM decides who gets points for what.

In practice I very rarely gave one player more points than another. The whole party got the same points almost always. Two things that may or may not be a result of this: players almost always cooperated (though some of them had to resist their Disadvantages to do so), and my most competitive friends stopped playing with me.

Some people don't feel that they're really playing a game unless they're competing with another actual person. Cooperative/collaborative games are not for them. The people who kept playing with me found a hostile world and/or hostile NPCs sufficient for their competitiveness.

Sometimes I had episodes where it was all figuring out some puzzle or other, and there was no actively hostile anything on the other side. Can't do too many of those though; the BDFs need to go Kill Something every so often!

#51 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 12:42 PM:

albatross #46: I find the balance between competition and cooperation in all these settings very interesting, because it's such a fundamental part of life

Indeed, and has been since long before the advent of arrogant plains apes. Even some bacteria have to deal with the issue!

#52 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 03:37 PM:

Other co-op board games that I can think of off the top of my head:

Arkham Horror has a much simpler spinoff called Elder Sign, that is also co-op.

Betrayal at House on the Hill starts out co-operative, but eventually one of the characters is revealed to be a traitor of some sort -- some groups enjoy this, others don't.

Last Night on Earth is fully co-operative.

Fortune and Glory's main play is competitive, but it has a co-operative variant.

Hmm, what else can I pull out of the depths of my brain...?

#53 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 03:41 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue @14: everyone stopped trying to make the others drop the ball, and started trying to keep it bouncing.

Right there in a nutshell is why I have no interest in tennis, volleyball, or ping-pong (or any other standard sport).

Change the rules so you're trying to keep the ball in motion; now I'm interested.

abi @37: So how do the Gnomes distinguish between Bushido Spamminess and generalized expostulations of surprise and wonder?

#54 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 03:53 PM:

Jacque @53:

Capitalization, and human intervention.

#55 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 05:20 PM:

This is an interesting discussion to me, because I write LARPs (Live-Action Role-Playing games), and the tension between competitive and cooperative play there is paramount. One of the groups I write for tends to prefer competitive play, and the other tends to prefer cooperative play; it's very hard for games written for one group to run well with the other. Of course very rare are the players who only ever like cooperative or competitive play, and so most games need a balance of the two, but games will achieve different balances depending on their audience so it's something we spend a lot of time thinking about. And a player who comes in expecting one type of play will often be unhappy if they discover after having invested a lot in the game that it's actually a game of the other type, so it's important to make and communicate these decisions ahead of time.

In LARPs, as in computer games, the basic distinction between competitive and cooperative play is that in competitive play, other players are providing opposition in the conflicts of the game, whereas in cooperative play, the GM (game master) in LARPs or the game designers in computer or board games are providing the opposition in the conflicts of the game. (Competitive and cooperative map very nicely onto the "person-versus-person" and "person-versus-environment" categories used in literature, although in LARPing sometimes the "environment" is actually non-player characters portrayed by the GMs.)

The advantage to competitive play, from a GM perspective, is that it is much easier to create games which don't favor any particular player or group of players. Mostly you just create some competing groups, give everyone the same rules and abilities and resources, and let them go. It's much easier to surprise the players within the bounds of the rules, too, because any two players are cleverer than one GM. And the GM doesn't have to do all the work of playing the opposition, the environment, the board. In a cooperative game the GM has a conflict of interest, as well -- the GM doesn't want the players to be unhappy, and if losing will make the players unhappy, the GM has an incentive to give the players the win, even if the rules say they shouldn't strictly have gotten it. In a competitive game, the GM has an incentive to keep all groups of players happy, and so avoids unfairness by scrupulous adherence to the letter of the rules. The Circle of Death (or Wink 'Em, or Mafia) is perhaps the classic example of a competitive LARP -- extremely simple to describe and play, but produces extremely rich and engaging interactions from that minimal work.

The disadvantages to competitive play are everything outlined above, all the bad things we see in modern sports culture, etc. In the right group of players -- and in particular where team makeup changes from game to game, so your enemy in this game may be your ally in the next game -- some of the problems of team identity are averted, but still ultimately the game relies on players winning and losing individually or in groups rather than as a whole, and that's not always fun or desirable.

Looking at Pandemic, for example, the designers did a ton of work to model the world in the board, and in a LARP context that feels to me like an outsized amount of work for a game which may easily have inherent, unfixable, and unfun balance problems if I screw up the design, and which may run once or a few times at most. So right now what I'm thinking about, as a GM, is how to create an interesting collaborative game without a disproportionate amount of work on my part which still provides opposition in a meaningful way.

#56 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 05:53 PM:

Cally Soukup @47: Hm, I've never heard of BSW purging accounts, but I don't pay that close attention. I'm a bit more bemused by the "closed registration" thing -- I just looked on their site and easily found a "register new account" form; and even if you don't do that, there's also an option to just play as an unregistered player. (You might have a bit more difficulty getting games as an unreg, though.) Are you sure that you're not confusing them with some other site?

And @48: I expect there are probably board game meetup groups in your area, as well.

#57 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 07:34 PM:

David @56

You're right; I was thinking of Asobrain. Sorry about the confusion!

#58 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 09:02 PM:

David, #9: Some variation on that may soon become a T-shirt.

Xopher, #14: A butterfly moment? (I can't recall the title of the thread a couple of years ago in which we discussed that sort of thing.)

OtterB, #20: The breakage goes deeper than that. At the topmost levels, there is no risk -- no matter what you do, whether you succeed or fail, however badly you fail, you still get rewarded, while the peons below you take the damage to their reputations, finances, and lives.

Emily, #43: I remember running into that with Civilization (the original board game, not the computer game or the new board game based on the computer game). It's a competitive game, but the group with whom I was playing it had spontaneously evolved a few "unwritten house rules" by which some of the nastier things allowed by the game rules Just Weren't Done. Then we got a new player who'd been playing it with a really cutthroat group of people in his old city. After the first game, I (being generally the host for our group) had to take him aside and explain -- that he hadn't done anything wrong exactly, but he'd transgressed the unwritten* house rules and pissed everyone off mightily. He was smart; it didn't happen again.

Jacque, #53: When I was a young teenager, my friends and I would play cooperative badminton. We didn't have a good place to set up a net, so we'd just pick a spot and see how long we could keep the bird in the air. When I had a badminton unit in high school phys ed, it was extremely difficult to override the reflex to aim the bird where the other player was instead of where she wasn't.

Generally speaking, the type of game I find most rewarding is a competitive game that goes right down to the wire -- one in which any of the players could easily have won if the cards, or the luck of the dice, had fallen another way. The further away a game gets from that, the less I enjoy it, even if I'm winning.

* So unwritten, in fact, that I don't think any of us had fully realized what we were doing until we started playing with someone who didn't have the same mindset.

#59 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 09:14 PM:

Cooperative vs. competitive games: when I was younger, our household rules for Scrabble omitted the bit about challenging a word someone else had played, and permitted looking a word up in the dictionary before you played it. (Though browsing the dictionary looking for something to do with the mess in your hand was frowned upon.) I think this was a variation originally intended to improve my vocabulary when I played with my parents, and give me a big of a break. And somewhere we ran across a suggestion about what an "average" total score for a Scrabble game was, and took to adding up our scores at the end of the game to see how we'd done collectively. We didn't normally kibbitz on each others' hand, so it was competitive in that sense, but we would leave opportunities for each other: avoid playing spoilers to block someone else from getting at a triple word score, or play a long word that didn't make us many points but opened up a new sector of the board, or leave open a "U" if it was getting near the end of the game and the Q hadn't been played.

I liked it that way. I don't play much any more because I don't really care for the more standard mode of play.

#60 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 09:34 PM:

Lee #58: <rummages in recycling> The original cartoon is signed from . They may well have a T-shirt available already.

#61 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 09:49 PM:

Little Big Planet lets you play with friends. It tracks who gets what points on a board, and tells you who came in first - but everyone gets all the prizes (stickers, costumes, objects) that are picked up on that board. There are also parts that you have to have more than one player, working together, to access.

Might be why I enjoy it so much.

#62 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 11:09 PM:

I play a fairly strong game of Scrabble, OtterB, and that's the way I prefer playing too. Debbie Notkin and I used to play together keeping an eye on what we called the cume -- the cumulative score of the two of us. What's your general cume with a good collatitor?

#63 ::: Zach ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 02:17 AM:

The Battlestar Galactica boardgame is an interesting mostly-cooperative game. Its structure is largely players-against-the-board. The trick is that, at the start of the game, everyone is dealt a secret Loyalty card which tells the player whether they're a Human or a Cylon. I believe there is guaranteed to be at least one Cylon at the start of the game, though I may be mistaken. The Cylon's goal is to make sure the board wins.

The interesting twist is that half-way through the game everyone draws a second loyalty card. At least one player learns that they are a Cylon sleeper agent, meaning that, though they acted as a Human through the first half of the game, they now are a Cylon and win if the board wins.

I almost hesitate to call it a cooperative game. Even though, in a game of six players, 5/6 of the players are working together for half of the game, 2/3 for the other half, everyone generally spends the whole game at each others' throats. I think a lot of that comes from the difficulty level; the game seems heavily balanced in favor of the board winning, and thus the Cylon players' less-than-full support often makes the difference between winning and losing.

#64 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 02:51 AM:

While I love the Battlestar Galactica game, I definitely don't call it a cooperative game, especially with 5 or 6 players, when there are two Cylon cards, and I deliberately avoided mentioning it above. When I explain it to new players, what I say is, "This is a team game, but initially you don't know which team everyone is on. Initially, you may not know which team you're on."

In fact, my last five or six plays, I've started out human and then turned or been turned -- at the Sleeper Phase, or by someone giving me a Loyalty card when they revealed as a Cylon. It's been kind of frustrating, really.

(There isn't guaranteed to be a Cylon at the start, just by the by, unless you're playing a variant.)

#65 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 03:57 AM:

David Goldfarb @38: It may be because we only played it a handful of times so far, too. But I did think I remembered the potential traitor being one variant within the rules. I did want to try it that way sometime.

(I think Yggdrasil may lack the traitor mechanic, making one more difference between the two.)

Another not-quite cooperative game is Order of the Stick. Belkar gets significant advantages if he at least occasionally backstabs other players, especially Vaarsuvius. This grated badly against the other players in our usual group. Haley gets bonuses for stealing stuff - but this, weirdly, doesn't hurt group played, as there are times when the cumulative group treasure is useful, and times when it's in a player's interest to give/bribe her companions. I prefer playing Haley or Elan, and I usually vote for a five player game sans Belkar.

(It's not an especially good game, being quite long running and not terribly varied.)

#66 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 10:50 AM:

Tom Whitmore @62: I'm generally pleased if my cume goes over 300. In my family/circle, I am considered a very good Scrabble player; however, I played several games the weekend of one SMOFcon with someone who plays (mediocrely, by her standards) in official Scrabble tournaments, and WOW was it a totally different style of play! Not to mention she had all the 2-letter words memorized, etc.

She also made the single coolest play I've EVER seen; I forget what the intial words were, but she laid down only 3 tiles or so to turn two existing, lined-up things into PHAROAH. The second was AH, I remember that. Across a bonus square, of course. THAT game we nearly broke 700 on the cume ... and considerably half of it was hers. :-> I photographed the board, but it's on my other hard drive.

#67 ::: Elliott Mason was gnomed for talking about scrabble ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 10:51 AM:

Apparently. :->

[Actually, it was for "WOW" (all caps). Frequently seen spam-term (spammers just love World of Warcraft). --JDM]

#68 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 11:54 AM:

Whenever I've played the Order of the Stick game, we've just taken Belkar out as an option. We enjoy the game more without having a player who's mechanically encouraged to act actively against the other players.

Another set of completely cooperative games? Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, The Legend of Drizz't. They're very much D&D made into pure board game, and they're excellent. (Especially because, unlike a lot of dungeon crawl board games, you can easily get through a full scenario in under two hours.) Every player is playing a PC, and either everyone wins or everyone loses. Since the team loses if any one PC stays dead too long, there's not even incentive to sacrifice one person's fun for the sake of the team; you need to work together to get through. And while everyone plays the monsters and traps, too, since their actions are completely dictated by the rules on their cards, there's no "You decided to attack me with your beholder!" going on. (Unless, of course, the rules say it can legitimately attack one of two people under the circumstances, in which case the group discusses who they'd prefer to have it hit for the best chance at the whole team winning...)

That set of games has rapidly become my favorite for board game nights. I like that there's a fair amount of strategy and interaction between players, while also being cooperative. Some co-op games end up feeling a little too disconnected--we're working towards the same goal, but sort of on our own--while that set really has a good group feel.

#69 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 12:52 PM:

Hmm. I thought I had responded to Tom Whitmore @62, but I seem to have failed to click "post".

I've never played the more collaborative Scrabble two-handed, and it's been years. My recollection is that we though we'd done exceptionally well when our three-handed score went over 600.

It occurs to me that another reason Scrabble was never a really competitive game at my house was that my mother, whose hobbies were reading, crossword puzzles, and jumble puzzles, would always be the winner barring some really bad turn of the luck. No suspense there.

#70 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 10:58 PM:

I have to admit, when it comes to games, sports and similar, I've always been much more interested in the ones which offer a reward for taking part than I have been in the ones which are all about winning. Sports-wise, this is mostly because I'm lousy at most sports - I don't run very fast, my hand-eye coordination is all over the place, and my accuracy in throwing is nonexistent. In table-top games, I'm more interested in things like the overall plot, and the various details of wherever it is we're going and what we're doing than I am in how many orcs we beat up or how much loot they were carrying. And when it comes to computer games, the ones which persistently pull me back again and again are the ones which have an interesting plot and a certain amount of character development (solo-player RPGs, in other words).

MMOs tend to annoy me, mostly because as one goes further and further through the game, the emphasis on co-operative playing tends to become greater and greater - and as far as I'm concerned, that's not interesting. Heck, at least part of the fun with getting to higher levels in The MMO Which Attracts Spammers (TMMOWAS for short?) was being able to do some of the raids on my own, so I could take my time going through a place, get an idea of the layout and the various perils, rather than sprinting through it faster than a group of trippers on a whistle-stop tour of the various landmarks. Plus, of course, I'm Australian living in Australia, which means in order to take part in large raids or even find a reliable group, I have to be either staying up until oh-gods-its-late, or getting up at oh-good-grief in the morning (because I'm about 8 hours out of synch with everyone, as far as timezones go). I'd love to find an MMO which actually allowed for solo play all the way through, and gave scaled rewards for the high-end quests.

I also realise I'm apparently in a rather small minority.

#71 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 11:53 PM:
[W]hen it comes to games, sports and similar, I've always been much more interested in the ones which offer a reward for taking part than I have been in the ones which are all about winning.
I'm reminded of something that the board game designer Reiner Knizia once said: "When I'm playing my goal is to win, but it's the goal that is important, not the winning."
#72 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2012, 12:42 AM:

Elliott Mason @66 -- Mem plays a good game. We can give each other an interesting time at the Scrabble board.

OtterB @69 -- it's much harder to get a large score, even playing relatively cooperatively, with three players. I do not know why this is so, but it's been my experience.

#73 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 07:42 AM:

Speaking of Knizia, he designed a completely collaborative Lord of the Rings boardgame. The goal is (unsurprisingly) to get the Ring to Mount Doom, and if that happens, all players win, even the ones who died along the way (if any).

#74 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 09:32 AM:

There are some games I enjoy playing enough that I don't really care (much) if I win -- I enjoyed playing them, and whoever wins, wins.

Settlers of Catan is one of these.

There are other games that I am quite good at (can win regularly), that I'm seriously uninterested in playing, because they bore me; Magic: The Gathering is one of these.

Some of it is attitude; there are people who play Settlers at my local cons that I won't play with, because their cutthroat points-maximization attitude (and the things they say at table pursuant to that) just suck all the fun out of the proposition, for me.

#75 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 09:36 AM:

chris @73: Now you're reminding me of the (short-lived) Buffy boardgame from Hasbro, which, in the right company, is fascinating as a collaborative fanfic-plot-generator. Specifically, you need people enough into the characters they're playing to be motivated to come up with backhand Watsonian explanations for the things their Doylean dice-rolls and game-mechanics-related choices made them do.

There are two teams in it; the Scoobies and 'Evil'. What resources/characters Evil has at its disposal depend on what 'season' (rule subset) you're playing; there are ways for players to be turned evil (by being made vampires, for example), in which case they change teams.

#76 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 12:11 PM:

Eliott Mason @75: Oh! The Buffy board game is actually a fascinating example of collaborative gameplay to me, partly because it's "broken" in a very specific manner.

Namely, in one of the scenarios--the one with the Mayor as the villain--the villains have about a one in four chance of getting a card that will allow them to completely take the win option for the Scoobies off the table for the complete duration of the game...if they're willing to play against genre/IC motivation. (The Scoobies have to destroy a particular artifact and/or kill the Mayor. The Mayor is unkillable until he turns into a giant snake. If the villains draw the card with that artifact, give it to the Mayor, and he never turns into a giant snake...)

But the thing is, anyone playing the game who enjoys the show--and wants to emulate the show--is going to have the Mayor very well turn into that giant snake, even though it renders him potentially mortal, unlike his immortal previous form. Because the Mayor wants to turn into a giant snake. Nothing in the rules will force the Mayor's player to do this; it's just part of the unstated social contract, in that people who want to play this game will, in fact, want to follow the motivations of the show's characters.

So essentially, the game is only "broken" if you're not playing in the spirit of the setting. Which seems oddly appropriate, though I'm pretty sure that's just accidental oversight, not by design.

#77 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 12:24 PM:

#74 Elliott Mason: I want to win when I play games, and I play games to win. If I'm not playing that way, it's not fun. However, the goal is to have fun playing, and the "trying to win" is part of that goal. "Needing to win" and corresponding choice of ethics is not fun, either from me or from my opponents, so that gets discouraged (or I stop playing with that group).

There are exceptions to this, when the *game* requires that sort of play to be fun; Diplomacy is the ur-example, but there are many others. If people realize *at the beginning* that "it's always bowb-your-buddy week" with this game, then fine. If they don't, or don't like that, we don't play that game.

Odd you bring up M:tG. I'm reasonably good at *playing* the game; but I absolutely hate deckbuilding and investigating the metagame (and the cost of following along, as well). So as long as when people realize "you can't beat this deck with anything you have" and switch to something that makes it a game again, I'm fine. But, of course, there are members in the community that don't think that way.

(Tournaments, of course, are a totally different story.)

I do remember one person at a con who loudly pronounced that he had never lost a game of Titan, because he told everybody (and followed up) that if you ever attacked him, he would switch strategy to taking you out of this game, and any other game he played with you, forever. Then came the day that Somebody stacked a game with him and 5 players whose primary goal was to take him out of the game, and only after that happened, try to win. When the first person "stupidly" attacked him (about turn 3 - effectively crippling both players), he went off on his rant. When the second one hit his other stack, again "stupidly", he was very confused. When the third player attacked, he started to see what had happened.

I like cooperative games, and I like a good cutthroat game of Illuminati (with players all capable of playing); and I like games in between. I don't like players who like winning more than playing the game, and the attitudes that they generate.

#78 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 02:07 PM:

The competitive/collaborative discussion is interesting and useful.

My wife hates playing Scrabble with me. My family plays Scrabble very competitively--if you are playing with us, there will never be an easy high-score open. She doesn't enjoy that playing style at all.

#79 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 03:36 PM:

Oh, another point on the competitive/collaborative spectrum:

My family plays Dutch Blitz (the version using a deck of playing cards per player, not the bizarre special cards sold for the game) awfully competitively. It's an energetic, high-paced game where hands sometimes get slapped, and the whole group will sing out if you fail to clear a stack you've completed promptly enough. We keep score over several games of it, and by god we play to win.

And yet... Faster members of the group will also point out when someone else has a move they can make. (Usually if they want to play on top of it, but not always.) There's a casual handicapping rule, where the size of someone's stack to clear gets increased or decreased if they're constantly coming in first or last. And we don't so much play to a certain number of points as play until we stop finding it interesting, and then wander off again. It generally manages to be competitive in a way that's just...silly fun, rather than aggressive, despite the high energy. Like having a splash fight with siblings in a pool.

I've occasionally played with acquaintances or strangers who took the game more seriously, and it immediately sucked the fun out of it. Apparently I'm okay with competitive games so long as everyone's taking it very, very lightly.

#80 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2012, 03:50 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 10: "The intellectual support for modern capitalist society and the American ideals of the rugged individual and the evil of group action is ripe for rebuttal. It's based on scientific and philosophical ideas that have largely been discredited by later thinking and experimentation, or found to be special cases of much larger principles. But the people who have ridden them to power and influence hold onto them tightly because they represent the justification for much of the way things work in Western society today, and are held up to other cultures as the ideals they should emulate."

Even more depressing that that, ideas of individualistic competition rely implicitly on the very communitarian cooperation that they viciously denigrate: without a near-universal agreement to abide by the norms of personal property and a powerful social institution to enforce them, capitalism couldn't even get off the ground.

"Another example: mathematical Game Theory is used as a justification for rational-agent economic theory (anybody know an economist who's always rational, let alone a stock trader?), and thus a lot of the underpinning of economic and political policy. Well, the foundation of that theory was developed by a paranoid schizophrenic who was going into a full-blown psychotic break at the time. Maybe that's why our form of capitalism is so paranoid?"

That strikes me as guilt by association. Game theory explains the virtues of cooperation as much as it explains competition--even better, it begins to explain why one dominates in one sphere and the other in another.

OtterB @ 13: That reminds me, albeit obliquely, of this New Yorker piece I read recently. "Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary."

#81 ::: ACW ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2012, 01:47 PM:

I'm chiming in late on the side topic of the etymology of fero, ferre, tuli, latum. What's happened here is an example of suppletion, where one paradigm steals elements from another. The most familiar English examples are the outrageously irregular conjugations of be and go. Go, for example, stole its past-tense form wend from the now-archaic wend.

Fero (core meaning "carry") stole its perfect and supine from tollo (core meaning "lift"). It's unclear what the regular forms would have been had this not occurred; fero has been bunged around a lot, and nothing is as one would expect. *Ferui and *fertum are my best guesses.

This theft forced tollo to buy new perfect and supine forms on the aftermarket; it got them, in slightly dented condition, from its own prefixed form sub-tollo. We have sustuli instead of subtuli because of a tendency in Proto-Indoeuropean to mark perfectives with reduplication (I am vague on the details here).

None of this explains the weird participles latus and sublatus. Very early Latin had tlatus, it seems, so really we have the expected *tulatus with a syncopated vowel.

My apologies for not marking vowel length, on account of I am lazy.

#82 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2012, 02:17 PM:

I had an odd form of Latin instruction -- instead of using four words to show a verb declension, it only used three (infinitive, third person perfect, participle). Since the present (with a few exceptions) is formed regularly from the infinitive, this makes sense to me. One less word to remember....

#83 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2012, 02:23 PM:

ACW @81:

This is just to say

I have restored
the </em>
Which you left
in the aether

and which
you were probably
to prove your alleged laziness

Forgive me
Things were confusing
so slanted
and so emphatic.

#84 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2012, 02:38 PM:

abi @83:

*stands, applauds wildly*

#85 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2012, 03:17 PM:

Tom@82: You had a particularly odd form of Latin instruction if they had you declining verbs instead of conjugating them.

The thing about learning the first person present active indicative, is that's how the dictionary lists them -- and while you can usually get from the infinitive to the dictionary form, there is some variation: monere, agere, and capere go to moneo, ago, and capio respectively. (And then there are the irregular verbs such as esse, posse, and velle -> sum, possum, volo.)

(I admit I had to pull out my Wheelock's to get all those examples.)

ACW@81, thanks for confirming my suspicions.

#86 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2012, 09:05 PM:

I have Wheelock's somewhere in one of my boxes - it's good as a textbook - but I also have Cassell's New Latin Dictionary on a handy shelf, because I never know when I'm going to need it.

#87 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2012, 11:51 PM:

David Goldfarb: You had a particularly odd form of Latin instruction if they had you declining verbs instead of conjugating them.

I was always told that was the motto of Smith College: "We don't conjugate; we decline."

#88 ::: Dave Howell ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2012, 03:17 PM:

Oh, heavens. Game Design.

Megpie@24: "The designers created a reasonably good cooperative game." I wish. No, the unfortunate truth is that the video game industry is full of people who (a) think that (because their last game did well, or for no reason in particular) they are brilliant game designers, and (b) are rather incompetent game designers. Since the industry is also driven by revenue, and it's quite a bit larger than the movie industry, the vast majority of games are created by fairly large teams. Thus, even if there's somebody on the team who actually understands general principles of game design (prob. intuitively, but even so), their ideas will be competing with those of people who will, in effect, be grabbing for whatever seems shiny. "Bigger guns!" "More categories on the leaderboard!" "More powerups!"

Because there isn't consensus on how to make it better, groupthink will drift toward "whatever worked before," which is to say, the "safe" option.

I think the irrefutable proof of this can be found on the shelves of Best Buy, where you can still buy a boxed copy of StarCraft. This is a computer game that has not changed in any significant way since its release just over fourteen years ago (almost to the day!). Is there any other piece of commercial software that is still a viable box-on-the-shelf product with the original V1.0 feature set after fourteen years?

StarCraft is a fantastic game. Not perfect, but really really good. Still, after fourteen years, somebody should have been able to make a better "Real-time Strategy" game (the designated nomenclature for this particular type). Many companies have tried. Microsoft's Age of Empire. Blizzard's own WarCraft III and StarCraft II. Age of Mythology. Battle Realms. Myriad others. The Wikipedia entry on RTSs notes that the genre has been stagnant since 1995.

But nobody's improved on StarCraft because nobody in the industry understands what makes a game fun well enough to be able to engineer an improvement. They make guesses, they tweak, and then they playtest and focus group it to see if players are having more fun or not.

I wrote a white paper a few years ago detailing a few rather trivial changes that the designers could have (and should have) made to StarCraft that would have significantly improved the play value, the "fun" for sophisticated players without compromising it for beginners, based on some principles of game design that I've been developing (and presenting at conventions) for years. I'm still hoping one day to find a game that can do what StarCraft did, but I'm not holding my breath.

(next rock...)

#89 ::: Dave Howell ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2012, 03:42 PM:

Now, I reached my conclusions about the state of game design knowledge in the video game industry based on observing the effects, but since then, I've been able to corroborate my impression. The table-top game industry is quite small, and the number of people who have created _multiple_ successful board/card games even smaller. Reiner Knezia (Lord of the Rings, Tigris & Euphrates, 500+ others), Richard Garfield, James Ernest, Tom Lehmann (Pandemic, Race for the Galaxy), Klaus Teuber (Settlers of Catan), Steve Jackson, Andrew Looney (Icehouse, Fluxx). That's roughly half the list, but I'm using that half because I've actually had the privilege of discussing game design with all but one of the people named above.

There's precious little literature on the topic, too. Think about the uncountable number of books available to help you write better stories! I don't think there's more than a couple hundred works on how to design a game, and there are only maybe twenty or so that are particularly valuable.

A fair number of my game-design-aware friends and acquaintances currently hold, or have held, jobs designing games for companies releasing programs for computers or cell phones or tablets or whatnot. Their stories are dismayingly similar. Somebody at the company says "the game should do X!" The designer says "that will make the game worse." They are overruled, or ignored.

#90 ::: Dave Howell ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2012, 03:53 PM:

There is a brilliant little cooperative card game currently in print called "Hanabi." I recommend it without reservation.

#91 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2012, 04:50 PM:

Bruce E. Durocher II @ 87:

Wasn't the motto of the Roman 10th Legion, "We don't conjugate, we subjugate"?

#92 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2012, 04:55 PM:

Dave Howell @88: Shortly after StarCraft, everything that might have been RTS-like seems to have descended into a morass of war-simulation (where you have to be fascinated by the unit-on-unit combat mechanics enough to slog through hours of that to get twenty minutes of useful resource-management/building game). Then they started sliding into Call of Duty territory, and haven't come out.

The other category that's disappeared entirely is whatever you want to call Populous. 'God-game' is what some people called it. Black & White was the last of this ilk I know of, aside from casual titles like Virtual Villagers that come close (though lobotomized).

I have very specific zones of 'I like to play this' when it comes to computer games, and I am clearly not the customer being courted by the modern video game industry ... I had, for a long while (before becoming too broke to consider buying new platforms at all) a rule-of-thumb that went thusly:

I would not buy a new game console/platform until there were enough games for it that their new-game price added up to the price of console.

This is why I didn't have a PS2 until Christmas 07, and why I STILL don't have a PS3 or XBox. Wii would now qualify for me, I just don't have the cash. :->

It becomes easier to see why I'm more Nintendo-y than XBoxy if I tell you the categories I'm utterly uninterested in playing for any reason: Driving sims, fighting sims (punchy-kicky), first-person shooters, sports games (Madden NFL etc), 'computer RPGs' where there is no actual roleplaying or story at stake ... yeah. Basically there are no xbox games in existence I am at all interested in playing; PS3 would also be in that state if it weren't for Little Big Planet.

#93 ::: Sebastian ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2012, 05:51 PM:

Dave Howell @88: I'm intrigued. I'm no Starcraft expert, by any means (haven't played since SC1 when I was an undergrad) but I'd like to read your white paper and hear more about your ideas for making games more fun and approachable.

In my experience, everyone has a different idea of what "more fun" means - usually it boils down to "more fun for me", the kind of game the designer really enjoys. This approach works fabulously for niches - whatever the games I like to play, there's probably at least a couple thousand people out there in the world who have enough mindspace in common to enjoy my particular kink^Wgame designs. Building for a mass audience is a whole other story; for every design decision you could make, it seems half will cheer and half will throw produce, and it's a different set of halves for every decision point.

#94 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2012, 06:40 PM:

Sebastian #93: In my experience, everyone has a different idea of what "more fun" means

Well, sort of. The most basic issue for a game is the reward structure (there's an excellent article around on that, but I can't look for it just now). If the designer really muffs the reward structure, almost any player will declare it a "wall-banger". Other reward structures produce games that are problematic in a different sense -- they tend to be "addictive", despite the lack of any real progress or player development (Angry Birds is infamous for that). Other patterns can produce a game that's fun for a while, but which most players will quickly get bored with.

The kicker is that, while there are some human universals, the reward structure of a game often depends on the player's own cognitive abilities and response patterns -- patience, stamina, how much they like "pretty shows", and so forth.

For example, I have limited stamina, and don't always notice when I'm getting hungry, tired, etc.. That's why I've pretty much given up on the roguelike Dungeon Crawl, because in that game, even after spending dozens of hours working your character through the dungeon (and paying attention to character building), you're generally doomed (as in "start over, dumbass") practically the moment you lose focus. There are plenty of people who like that sort of thing... but I have better things to do with 50 to 100+ hours of my limited mental "prime time", not to mention that I find it disheartening to lose that much "investment" the moment my attention wanders even briefly.

By comparison, another roguelike, POWDER, still takes some focus and attention to character development... but it's a little more forgiving. Making a mistake will still get you hurt, but not always killed, and there's there's a much wider window to save the game and go eat or rest, before coming back to escape-and-recover in-game.

#95 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2012, 06:44 PM:

Addendum to #94: (Also, POWDER has better recovery from disaster in-game, including a limited-supply "life saving" item.)

#96 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2012, 07:01 PM:

Speaking of cooperative games, I really loved Hunt the Wumpus on my Atari 800.

#97 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2012, 08:09 PM:

Dave Howell @89: Two nitpicks: Knizia with an I; Tom Lehmann has done a number of excellent games (I'm particularly fond of Phoenicia) but Pandemic isn't one of them -- he does have a collaborator credit on the expansion. Matt Leacock designed Pandemic.

#98 ::: individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 09:18 AM:

Has anyone here tried Glitch? It's billed as a cooperative MMO, and to an extent it does work. One thing that helps is that there's a superabundance of all the resources that are useful in the game, so there's no real incentive for competition. In fact, even if you do try to get a resource that another player is harvesting, you both get bonuses for "helping", rather than one player getting the resource at the expense of the other. There are a couple of quests that can only be completed by collaborating with other players. And the atmosphere is generally nice and happy and fluffy. (It's not officially suitable for children as some of the humour relies on innuendo, but honestly I would be fine with encouraging a ten-year-old to play.)

The problem with the game is that with no jeopardy, it tends towards being boring. It's good for a few hours of play, exploring the quirky and pretty setting. But after a while it starts to feel like a slightly more sophisticated version of Farmville. Some people have made friends there the way we used to in old-style MUDs and MOOs. Some people enjoy aspects that aren't central to the actual gameplay, such as machinima, using in-game objects decoratively etc. But still, it's not quite there yet.

And there seems to be a real hankering for PvP; just the slightest miscalculation by the developers can trigger a war. For example, some players can grow "herbs" and others can grow "vegetables"; this is supposed to encourage cooperation because nobody can be self-sufficient. But the developers introduced some skills and quests that depended on the herbs, and instead of just improving the market value of herbs as intended, they ended up with players threatening, harassing and bullying eachother to get at the precious herbs. Since you can't significantly harm the avatars within game, the attacks were made against the players (eg calling racist names, spamming chat channels, rape threats, you name it).

#99 ::: ACW ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 11:41 AM:

abi @83: Thank you. I will try to give my HTML a more balanced treatment in the future.

#100 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 04:30 PM:

Dave Howell #88:

I wonder if the problem is simply that there hasn't been enough iteration to build the (collective) skill of (performing/recognizing/employing) good game design(ers). Compare to writing fiction books:

In both cases, the products are non-fungible: readers and players want more of the same world (well, or same author for books), or something Fresh! and New!, but generally not something which is similar-but-improved enough to make a worthwhile comparison.

We've been writing books for a lot longer than we've been making video games. We have more vocabulary for discussing what's wrong with books (or rather stories), and it's more widely known. Video games are (at least superficially) much more different from each other than books (except within specific established genres), so are harder to compare usefully — perhaps because the space is so much less filled with "that's been tried".

IANADomainExpert (in either domain); please provide corrections to the assumptions in this heap o' speculation…

#101 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 11:58 AM:

Kevin Reid @100: Another factor for your theory: video games are typically written in a proprietary context, so the writers/publishers are far less likely to be willing to discuss the challenges they're struggling with in open conversation. Hence, video gaming doesn't have the "workshopping" approach to fall back on for solving problems. Likewise, game writers usually (least, as I understand it) work under the aegis of a gaming company; one doesn't see amateurs putting out games in the way that amateur fiction writers can.

#102 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 12:26 PM:

Jacque @101: Mm, yes and no. There is a *lot* of freelance and independent video game design going on. However, it's in different forms than the big companies are putting out. They're the lunch-break-sized "casual" games. If you go to a Flash game site (, e.g.) you'll see a large selection of stuff produced by people working alone or in small groups.

This sort of thing may have a larger audience than most "triple-A" big-publisher games. But it's not what you think of when you talk about the videogame industry.

As for workshopping... My IF group in Boston has run a few IF writing workshops, which have worked very well. But of course we're a tiny slice of a tiny slice of the gaming world.

(I note, apropos-ish, that currently has a front-page article pointing at three interactive fiction works of the past few years...)

In the *somewhat* larger world, there are a growing number of game-jam events (team up with a couple of strangers, write a game in 24 hours, see what you get). Also design challenges (everybody write a game about "falling", or whatever). Some of these wind up polished afterwards and appear in indie game showings. It's a form of public practice.

#103 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 01:40 PM:

This thread is giving me so many interesting things to think about.

I generally prefer to play Scrabble in competitive mode. This is because I and the people I play with are evenly matched, and we all know it. (My husband and I tied the first time we played each other.) We can enjoy the friendly competition of matching wits, without feeling anxious about winning. A win feels like a meaningful victory -- but everyone also gets that losing a game doesn't mean you suck at Scrabble, and you don't lose any social standing.

I generally prefer to play Rock Band in collaborative mode. The people I play Rock Band with have widely varying skill levels. Each individual person usually has very different skill levels with different Rock Band instruments, and we like to swap around. Collaborative mode means everyone gets to have fun, play at their skill level, and enjoy succeeding. No one gets left out or has to feel like a drag on the team.

I never enjoyed competitive sports in school, because I've never been especially fast or strong or coordinated, and in school I was always playing with people who were. In team sports I knew I was a drag on the team; in individual sports, I knew there was simply no possible way I could win. Gym class in school usually ended up with the others on the team scolding me for screwing up the game for them, or with me being laughed at for how poorly I'd scored in an individual sport. That didn't make competition fun or motivating for me.

In fact, even when I do purely solo exercise now -- like running -- I have to fight back paralyzing anxiety that says "You suck at this! Everyone thinks you suck! You look like an idiot! You're humiliating yourself!"

This anxiety pops up when I'm playing solo video games, too -- which is the biggest reason why I don't usually play video games. Performance anxiety sucks all the fun out of a game and makes it feel like something I have to do, not something I want to do.

My enjoyment of competition seems to depend on two things: 1) my ability to win/succeed and 2) the social consequences of losing/failing. I was about to say that my enjoyment of the activity itself should also be in there -- except that my enjoyment of the activity can also depend on those two things.

#104 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 05:44 PM:

Another difficulty in designing "fun" games: games have social purposes entirely separate from the game-internal rewards. Settlers of Catan is one of my family's default games in part because: 1) we all know the rules and there is no learning curve -- we can just toss the game on the table and start; 2) the play-time is of a comfortable and relatively predictable length, making it possible to determine whether there's time for a game before dinner, bedtime, the football game, etc.; 3) the mechanics of the game allow for a lot of meaningless casual interaction of the sort that builds and maintains interpersonal ties among that flavor of nerd who is "not good at small-talk" (which pretty much describes my entire family); 4) while skill counts for something, there's enough luck in the mix that winning gets shared around regularly. We do play other games on a regular basis, but much of the time what we want is a comfortable, familiar, structured activity in which to enjoy each others' company.

#105 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2012, 09:01 PM:

Larger game companies may contract out the work on one or another game to much smaller companies.

#106 ::: Jennifer Baughman ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 05:59 PM:

Dave Howell @88 and 89: Husband and I are both aspiring video (and tabletop) game designers; I would actually love to read that white paper, if it's publicly available. We actively want to improve the 'fun quotient' for games; we also want to make games that appeal to more than the "traditional" game demographic.

Elliot Mason @92: Would you be willing to share your preferred game types, either here or via my email? I've got a few ideas simmering that aren't the typical 'drivy' or 'shooty', that could be designed more collaboratively, and I'm always looking for more.

P J Evans @105: They frequently do. Or the publisher of the game isn't the developer, and the rights/capabilities/desires of the publisher to push back against the actions and designs of the developer are often limited.

Last night Husband and I were part of a Pathfinder (tabletop, D&D 3.5 descendant) game session to playtest an upcoming project. The adventure itself was tough, very old-school, we came close to TPK a couple times. But never did we feel like it was GM vs. Players; it was the adventure that was the challenge. And the GM explicitly said that he expected us to be a 'high fantasy heroic' type-group; disagreements, of course, were fine, but Loney Lonesome the Brooding need not apply, and neither should Bart the Backstabber.

I'm not usually the type that enjoys dungeon crawls, because most of my experience associates them with GMs that either consider actively thwarting the players to be part of the game, or worse, take a mean sort of pleasure in it, and I abhor that. So last night's session offered quite a bit of food for thought, as both player and GM, and beginning designer.

#107 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2012, 08:58 PM:

Jennifer Baughman #106: I'm not Elliot, but there's one "game" (or perhaps pastime) whose theme/character I'd love to see explored in more depth: Transcend (video). The author seems to have more or less abandoned the game with three levels (which do repeat), but the general idea is very appealing.

#108 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 08:58 AM:

Jennifer Baughman @106: I'd love to correspond with you on any subject you'd find useful. :-> My email address is a mnemonic for my first name: 2 ells 2 tees (only without all spaces, etc) via the mail that google provides.

Possibly of general interest to anyone still reading this thread; there's a series of videos (one could call it a 'web TV show' if one wished) called Extra Credits that is written by an active, veteran game designer and his friends. It gets very in-depth and thinky about what makes a good game and why, what sorts of exercises one can do to make oneself a better game designer, and also gets into current-events-related topics from the video-game-making industry.

Episodes are 8-10 minutes long, require no previous experience or knowledge from the viewer (generally; they're very good at giving context and defining their terms), and usually quite entertaining. They are illustrated with still frames, mostly hand-drawn (with some internet-sourced clip art images and things from the games they review) in an evocative, metaphorical cartoony style that doesn't take itself too seriously.

#109 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2012, 01:19 PM:

Thanks, I needed Martin's post today.

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