Reading Notes #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).


I don’t know if any games can really have a perfectly level playing field if they exist in the real world. I think the board game Trouble is pretty close to balanced though. All the players have the same goal – you must try to get your four little peg pieces out of your starting zone and into your end zone. This is accomplished by pressing on this bubble in the middle of the board that rolls a die. You can’t leave your starting area until you roll a certain number, so this eliminates the advantage of the player that goes first or last gaining an advantage. There’s not really much choice – it’s mostly up to luck. If you land on another player’s piece you can send them back to the start and you can’t have any two pieces of your own occupying the same space. I think because of this it’s an almost level playing field. There’s no skill involved so a more skilled player won’t necessarily win and there’s no information or advantage to be gained or lost whether you’re the player with the first or last turn.



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


I think limbo is unbalanced. Limbo is the party game where two people hold a stick and players try to get under it without touching the ground, but players also cannot lean forward. I think it’s unbalanced because shorter people and people with more flexible back muscles have an advantage. If you’re taller, you have to lean back further to make it under the pole than a shorter person. The fact that factors besides how you make decisions in the game affects the outcome shows an unbalance.


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?


To me, it seems like these games are more about the experience of playing over a longer period of time than just “winning” after a relatively short period of time. It’s more interesting to have an experience with a game that is a little different than the people you are playing with.  I haven’t played any of these games, but I looked up and read about World of Warcraft and I think its asymmetry is made okay by all the complexity in it. A player can have a different experience each time they play so it doesn’t get boring. There are different quests, an in-game economy, and tons of other people to interact with. The playing field is definitely uneven because different characters have different abilities but the complexity makes it hard to see the asymmetry too. There doesn’t seem to be one character or way of playing that is “best”. I think that ambiguity probably helps attract players. The asymmetry, complexity, and potential for different experiences is why I think there’s such a following for this game and ones like it.


Roger Caillios’ system for game categories includes the following terms: Agon, Alea, Mimicry, Ilinx, Paida, and Ludus. Choose 5 games that are not mentioned in the reading and and categorize them according to Callios’ terms (see ROP pg 306 for an example of the table). You may want to create hybrid categories as some games involve multiple types of game play experiences.


Yahtzee – agon, alea, lupus

Yahtzee relies on alea, or chance because it is based on rolling dice. The players have to decide what combinations they are going for and save certain dice each turn and decide which to re-roll, but it is largely shaped by chance. It is also competitive and governed by rules.


Mao- agon, ludus

It has characteristics of agon and lupus because the game is highly competitive and governed by complicated rules. Part of the object of the game is to pick up on the rules before you lose, so the ludus has particular importance. It’s also interesting because in Mao, the rules are unspoken but play a huge role in the game.


Cops and Robbers – agon, mimicry, illnx, halfway in between ludus and paida

Cops and robbers is competitive in the sense that there are two teams playing tag essentially. One group role plays as the cops, and the other as the robbers, which represents the element of mimicry. It’s usually played by kids outside running around, so it also has a strong illnx element. I classified it as halfway between ludus and paida because there are rules but in general this game is played in a more free-form way, allowing for rule changes and permutations, even during the game. It allows for transformative play.


Flip cup – illnx, agon, ludus

In flip cup, the element of illnx apples both in the sense that the game is physically-based, and involves a kind of vertigo from drunkenness if teams play long enough. There are rules that govern the game and it’s very competitive because it’s a race.


Dress up – mimicry, illnx, paida

Playing dress up is all about mimicry and paida. There are no rules besides becoming someone else for a while. Often this takes the form of physically trying on clothes or doing makeup in a way that is different from a player’s usual appearance. This exemplifies the element of illnx.


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 describes flow as an “optimal experience” when a person is the true master of their actions and fate, and feel exhilarated by it. He notes that different things provoke people to experience flow –  whether it’s doing something difficult that you are successful at, or playing a game. It is a feeling of “achievement or accomplishment”. To create flow, you must construct “a challenging activity that requires skills”, “the merging of action and awareness”, “clear goals and feedback”, “concentration on the task at hand”, “the paradox of control”, the “loss of self-consciousness”, and the “transformation of time”. Essentially, Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of flow describes how designing meaningful gameplay and choices makes a game good. If you can give a player the feeling of having control over an uncertain situation and also immerse them in it enough that they lose self-consciousness and track of time, then that’s a pretty engrossing game. Flow encourages game designers to place emphasis on creating a whole experience for players. Flow can serve as a diagnostic for how meaningful the gameplay is.