A little under 13 months ago I paid a visit to my old Primary school (that's Elementary for most of you). I needed my Confirmation certificate from the Church parish and they share links. During the visit, Shannon and I wandered through the yard and into the school so I could show her where I was educated as a wee boy. On the way back out and over to the Church we were surrounded by boys from 4-12 years old.
Kids were screaming happily, some were chasing one another, others were playing marbles; more still were playing games that I couldn't begin to guess at. It was chaos, but it was happy chaos.
Shannon, as far as I recall, asked me how anyone makes any sense out of the games and what was going on. The only answer I could give was that it makes sense to the kids at the time.
They knew if they were racing and against whom. They knew whatever the latest iterations of schoolyard marbles rules were. They knew the rules of this chasing game, that hide and seek game and of all the other games that were lost on me, having grown up and no longer being the sort of person to play in a schoolyard and the type of person who thought a half hour was an eternity in which to have fun.
That's not entirely true though if I play MMOs. They are the playground I long for when I am working. Not to the exclusion of life of course, but while the schoolyard was a small slice of Heaven when you were in classes, MMOs are my escapism from work.
Why the personal anecdote? Well Seph and I, you may know him or just recognise the name from the previous post, occasionally take part in that great past time of all MMO players. Armchair developer. We toss around ideas and of course, ideal game designs that may or may not ever see the light of day. In doing so I've begun to think about combat and competition.
Take Star Trek for a moment, it appears to be and is reported as having precious little but combat and FedEx missions (with the occasional memory game in lieu of diplomacy). Even so, it launched properly yesterday and likely by the end of the week we'll see it reported that someone has reached the skill/level cap. There'll be those that complain that the Rear Admiral blew through content and lessened the game for themselves by rushing. There'll be those who take any utterance from the cap as gold and proclaim that there are either greener pastures or desolate wastelands awaiting everyone if they get past the next arbitrary level. In the end though, one thing is apparent. He wasn't playing the same game as you. Oh, you may both be in Star Trek, but he was racing while you're playing chasing with Klingons or marbles with supply missions. If the game doesn't lend itself to a schoolyard though, we've a problem.
Most "games" are about competition. Who is the fastest, the strongest, the richest, the most skilled, the most adorned or adored? Healthy competition is good, but of course there will always be cheaters or those who suffer a lack of ability in certain areas. Competition can equate to combat, but it has to be combat in all areas. Financial, physical, social. Sandbox worlds do call back to our childhood where you could race in the yard today and chase or be chased tomorrow. Where the game was what you felt like doing and took pleasure from, even if no one else in the screaming mob was necessarily playing the same game with you or at all. The games we play need to promote the competition in all its forms and be flexible in the rule set.
Further to this, I think GMs should get more chances to interact. If not them, then there should be more dedicated community teams. Someone needs to police the schoolyard and it always falls to volunteer parents where I am. They keep an eye and solve the disputes. The cheating, the fighting, the scraped knee from a fall; all these fall under their remit. GMs should walk amongst us as giants and have a chance to see the community live instead of just deal with our broken moments.
Finally though, we all learn to play our games as children. Maybe some of you now prefer a more cerebral approach to entertainment. Others will enjoy the mindless grind or chaotic nonsensical battle. No matter how you prefer to be entertained, you want to be entertained. The competitions that our games inspire should be nurtured and promoted. When I played Planetside, I played an Infiltration Armour character. I didn't play to win the war for the Vanu every day. I didn't even necessarily follow the flow of the battle most times. I played for the heart pounding excitement of being chased by a Dark lighting MAX and for the thrill of sneaking past fortified placed. I loved to test myself and play with others. No matter the flaws or virtues of the game, I will always love it for that one simple fact.
Winning didn't matter, the rules were my own and sometimes I was the only one playing my game in that massive world at war. What did matter was I got to go to the yard and I got to play.