Faithfulness in Games

Faithfulness in Games

How we play a game is an essential part of what game we are playing.

When playing any sort of game, there are all kinds of ways to play. There’s win-at-all-costs, which includes all sorts of dishonorable methods including cheating, things less than honorable but short of cheating, and still other things that aren’t necessarily dishonorable but perhaps outside of general strategies (e.g., gimmicks). There’s also faithfully playing the game, regardless of how badly the game is made or the consequences on things such as time or sanity.

There are other forms still. When playing with young children, non-evil people will adopt something like a lose-at-all-costs strategy. We let kids win. As they get older, we adopt some sort of lazy-try strategy, where we will win sometimes, but we aren’t cutthroat.

When playing against adult beginners, or perhaps against older children beginners of sufficient determination or natural ability, we tend to adopt a faithful gameplay strategy with an opportunistic lose-to-teach caveat.

We can vary our gameplay quite a lot. It can change moment to moment, based on all sorts of factors. If we’re playing and drinking, for example, our impulses might get the better of us and we become ruthless. Nieces and nephews soon learn the real meaning of fish in Go Fish. Or if our opponent is drunk, we may go easy on them (assuming no stakes and a friendly, not-annoying-when-drunk adversary).

We see the variation used in the tactics of a pool shark—going soft until the stakes are high enough to justify playing at-skill.

But we also see the variations arise in single player games. If you want a lazy game of solitaire, software allows for endlessly going through the stock. If you’re frustrated in a platformer, you might seek out cheese—a way to get past a difficult portion without doing the insanely precise set of moves it usually requires.

Speedrunners adopt their own rules depending on the community and the game. They allow or bar the use of glitches, they have any% (any percentage complete) runs and full runs. Some games have categories piled atop categories. The goals of variety in speedrun rules is to build gameplay styles that suits the runner community interests. If the runs get too easy, too fast, the challenge is gone. If the runs are too long and too hard, nobody will want to attempt the feat.

Speedrunners also throw certain aspects of game faith out the window entirely. Enemies are not tough or scary to runners. They are often avoided entirely, raced past or jumped over without a thought. The runner treats the game much more like a program, looking for the set of conditions that allow progression regardless of the internal experience.

Multiplayer video games have their own variations as well, even within the same game. This depends on the players, on the community norms, on server modifications, and so on. But you might have moments when the game devolves into silliness, only to turn competitive again. You might have whole eras of a game take place in the span of minutes. A dynasty of one gameplay strategy can erupt and decay as players switch their focus from one objective to another.

All of these variations are forms of faith in gaming. There’s the rigid way-it’s-meant-to-be-played form which some would say is most faithful, but others would argue that play-for-fun or play-to-maximum-skill are more faithful to games and sports in general.

But we can also look through the looking glass the other way. There is a whole inverted set of game design that follows the same course. There are games designed to maximize revenue of the publisher or developer. There are games that feature the kinds of variations in design that jump from silly to scary to cutthroat to lose-at-all-costs (i.e., let the player win).

For multiplayer games, some game makers make some effort to let players pick the type of game they want. They offer casual modes and competitive modes, and custom servers have their own flavors of the games.

The same is true for games that allow user created levels. Some make really hard levels, others make easy ones. Some make art with the tools they are given, levels meant to be enjoyed for their design rather than their gameplay.

As with rules of dining, faith in gaming is a side dish. The goal of games is to nourish the brain’s capacity to understand systems. While wine-pairing and proper course compositions may enhance a meal, the goal is to suppress the appetite, to be fed.



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