Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Watching vs Performing vs Mastering

Watching vs Performing

There are two distinct aspects to board gaming; so distinct, that they aren't the same activity at all, though they look the same from the outside, and most games package some combination of them into the same box.

These are: luck and strategy. Passive and active entertainment. Watching and performing.

It's no crime to enjoy both. Moods vary, depending on the lateness of the day, alcohol consumed, and other factors.

When you roll the dice and laugh, groan, or jump for joy at the outcome, you are enjoying passive entertainment. Your having to push a button to cause the random event doesn't change that. The entertainment value is from seeing what happens to something outside of your control. Like watching television.

When you're called upon to think or make a decision, you are enjoying active entertainment. There are different levels of active entertainment, from the simple (trivia: do I know it or not?) to the complex (how do I get my battalion to that base?). Regardless of complexity, you can rank better or worse players, and most of the time you can work to improve yourself.

You can't rank or improve performance of experiencing passive entertainment; the participant isn't performing.

Obviously the writers of this article had expectations that games are there to amuse the players while the players watch. That's fine, if that's what they like. Unfortunately, they didn't realize that watching games play out is a different sort of entertainment than performing them. I'm sure that they would diss Chess as too boring.

Performing vs Mastery

My friend David pointed out this article about a division within active gaming: performing vs mastery. There are two types of activities within active gaming: performing what you know well (relishing an easy win), and mastering what you don't (struggling, failing, and eventually succeeding at a difficult win). The article is a good read.

The author claims that, while in action games, the player must improve in order for his or her performance to improve (mastery), in RPGs, the player's character gains performance disproportionately to the player's actual mastery. It's like: see what skills you've gained, though the player hasn't really achieved any new skills. I think that's a little unfair to RPGs, especially the ones that require actual player thinking. But mostly because RPGs are simulating a different type of fantasy: real players shouldn't have to get more physically fit for their characters to become more physically fit.

But the general point is sound: people play games for different reasons, depending on what types of entertainment or recreation they want at a given time. Ranking different types of games against each other is pointless if they are meant to provide different types of entertainment.
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