Reading Note #3

Creating a perfectly level playing field is a complicated challenge.

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

I think that Connect 4 is a game that is perfectly balanced. Players can use various strategies and skills in this game, but there is no way of predicting, affecting, or changing the outcome of the game (unless you are playing with a child who does the same thing over and over, of course). Given that the physical game is not broken in any way, both players in Connect 4 have the exact same abilities, which is simply placing their colored disk into the grid. While it could be argued that Connect 4 is similar to tic tac toe and, while partially true, I consider tic tac toe to be an unbalanced game because, on the very first term, the winner of the game can already be determined. This does not ring true for Connect 4 because there are many more opportunities and different ways to win that cannot be determined by the first player placing their disk.

Describe a game that you believe is un-balanced.

I think that Settlers of Catan is an example of an unbalanced game for many reasons. The first is that the random placement of terrain elements on the board make for randomness and unbalance. While this makes each game more interesting, as the board is changeable and dynamic, it both helps or screws over players depending on ordering of these pieces. Another reason for the imbalance is the way in which players place their settlements on the very first turn. The order of turns, placement of terrain elements, and order in which players take their first turn can drastically affect one’s gameplay over the course of the game.

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 have played the game Tekken minimally on an arcade machine as a child and, while I was a child who was probably button smashing, I remember always being frustrated that I could never win. I think games like this, Super Smash Brothers, etc are interesting as players have the ability to build skill with specific characters but that also is the fault in this genre of games. These variations character ability make the experience of playing diverse and different, as the dynamic of characters may change each game, but this also makes the playing field inherently uneven.

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.

Animal Crossing: mimicry, paida

Animal Crossing could be considered mimicry because, while the very first time you play there is a slight story, the player of the game gets to choose how it plays and what their character does each and every day. Thus, this role-playing and free form improvisational nature of this game makes it fall under the categories of mimicry and paida.

Mario Party: agon, alea, ludus

Mario Party games are all three of these categories because, while they are competitive and require skill, there are also elements of chance (i.e. rolling the dice and landing on spaces that have a large effect on the game), and there are specific rules that players follows.

Tag: agon, ilinx, ludus

The game of tag fall under these categories because, although there technically isn’t a winner, it is a competitive game, the physicality of tag is what makes it competitive—running around, screaming, trying to touch the shoulder of the other players—and, while it may change according to who is playing, there are a set of regulated rules in tag.

Restaurant: mimicry, ilinx, paida

As a kid, my cousin, sister, and I would play a game creatively titled “Restaurant” where we designed a menu, cooked food, and served it to patrons (my dogs). This game utilized make-believe in creating and serving the dishes, physical action in cooking with snack foods from the pantry, and improvisation.

Candyland: alea, ludus

Candyland is based entirely on chance and probability. As players roll a nice and move the amount of spaces designated, this game would be considered area because it is chance-based.

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 state of mind in which a participant achieves a high degree of focus and enjoyment…an emotional and psychological state of focus and engaged happiness, when a person feels a sense of achievement and accomplishment, and a greater sense of self” (Salen & Zimmerman). This theory describes a person’s state in which they are deeply involved in something in a positive and rewarding way. This applies to games because, for many, that is the ultimate goal of a game: to have players deeply involved and enjoying it. This is useful for designing games because it gives the designer a goal that is not to simply create a game that is playable and functioning, but also create a game that is extremely engaging. Flow is an especially helpful way to evaluate games because, while a bad game will have a low ability to keep players’ attention and interest, a good game will do the exact opposite and pull them in, creating a level of focus, engagement, and happiness.