Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Gaming the System

Gamesblog points to an article by Peter Abilla on playing the game of Digg. As Peter points out, any activity that has rules, competition, and rewards is a game on some level. Therefore it can be "gamed".

System games, such as getting your blog post onto Digg, are usually broken in some way because they weren't designed by a competent game designer. That's hardly surprising, since they weren't initially recognized as games. They were simply meant to be a useful process.

Once seen as games they become a problem because, unlike normal games, the rewards are tangible. High blog traffic, money from a lottery system, the winning politician and so on can all be the rewards of treating a found system like a game, or "gaming the system".

Never mind that this is sort of an abuse. We blame the implementers for not having designed it correctly, and we can't be blamed for wanting what others are taking for free.

But why does this happen in regular games where the rewards are not tangible? The only thing gained from winning a game is prestige. Games are supposed to be fun for a long time. Playing a game requires you to face challenges each time you play. "Solving" the game destroys that possibility. Yet, how can we not? How can we play a game in willful ignorance when we know that the solution is accessible to us?

If a game is solved, it is no longer fun. Yet our overwhelming instinct is to "solve" the game. That's treating a game like a puzzle.

Surely there is a happy middle, where you assess the situation in a game to some degree but rely on instinct for the rest. Maybe even purposely not working out every possibility or tracking ever card that was played. Or do we say that a solvable game is by definition a broken one?


Links: Everything you ever wanted to know about Stratego, including many variations. And a few dozen original and interesting card games.

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