Reading Note 3

Creating a perfectly level playing field is a complicated challenge.

1a): Describe a game that you believe is perfectly balanced (provides a perfectly level playing field).

A game that would have perfect balance I believe would have to involve players starting the game together at the same time. For example, games like Super Mario Brothers in the 2-player mode would be pretty well balanced. Many sports games, such as basketball, soccer, where there are equal number of players on each team, and the two teams have equal chances of starting the game.

However, I think most well designed, strategic games would involve a little bit of unbalance. For example, in a game like chess, we know according to the reading that the player that starts first would have a slight advantage in the game. But I think in such games that involve a high degree of planning and strategy, the advantage of starting first could be negligible, especially when players have a gap in their skills. On the other hand, when the first player exposes his/her move first, the second player could also have an advantage as to how to respond and attack. Thus, I think unless it is a game highly dependent on chance and luck, or the amount of scores you get through an accumulation of luck, the advantage of the first player could be minimized in the strategic play experience.

1b): Describe a game that you believe is un-balanced.

As I discussed in the previous question, many games that involves taking turns would be slightly unbalanced, but that slight advantage for the first player could be negligible some times. But on the other hand, if the players of both games are highly skilled, such as professional Snooker players, if a player who starts the game got the chance and is skilled enough to continuously pot every ball into the bags and finishes the game, the other player would have never even played but still lost. (Even though it is highly unlikely)

In Citadels, players get to choose their characters each turn starting with the King and passes the cards clock-wise. This sometimes could be very unfair for the players that sit at the right side of the King, especially when a player keeps getting the King character each turn. There would be little room left for the last player to deploy strategy he/she wanted with choosing characters.

1c): What are your thoughts about asymmetrical games such as Starcraft, Axis and Allies, Soul Caliber, Tekken, or World of Warcraft, which create inherently uneven playing fields but in turn provide diverse play experiences and strategies for the opposing sides?

I think in asymmetrical games like these, uneven playing fields are what make them interesting, challenging and attractive. Fairness if created in games because we don’t want players to not want to play because of unfairness, but when uneven playing fields can actually become an attraction, it is definitely unnecessary to pursue “perfect balance”. Especially in large scale online games like Starcraft and World of Warcraft, they create a virtual reality and community, where players engage in the game as a different character that lives in the game. When socializing and a high degree of interaction is involved in the game, it is necessary to create uneven, diverse playing fields so that players get to devote and engage more of their thoughts, personality, choices and strategies into the game play experience.

2. Monopoly: Agon, Alea, Ludus

Dungeons and Dragons: Paida but also Ludus, Mimicry, Alea. (Paida because the game situation is often dependent on the Dungeon Master’s will, but still bounded by rules so it is also Ludus. )

Jenga: Agon, Alea, Paida, and probably Ilinx (since physical skill of pulling or pushing the blocks is a very important part of the game.)

Mafia: Mimicry, Agon, Ludus.

Citadels: Agon, Mimicry, Ludus.

3. In trying to quantify elusive and subjective terms like “fun” the authors reference several “typologies of pleasure”, one particularly compelling model is Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow. Briefly describe the general theory behind flow and how it may be useful for designing and evaluating games.

Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow is a phenomenon of optimal experience where a person is psychologically deeply engaged, focused and happy. It is an emotional and psychological state where we feel in control, content and exhilarated, with a stronger sense of self-awareness. Csikszentmihalyi also listed eight components that would make flow possible, and these eight components can be used to design and evaluate a good game. It involves skills, concentration, clear goals and feedback, control of situation, the loss of self-consciousness, distraction from real life problems, and a transformation of time. There are obvious parallels with games in these eight components, so we could see if the game achieved these qualities to evaluate if it is a good game. Four of the eight, challenge, clear goals, clear feedback, and having control in an uncertain situation, can be used when designing a game, and the rest four, which are more abstract and experience-related, can be used when testing the game and help further adjustment.