Snobbery in Gaming

Someone mentioned the word “games” at a party I was at, and my radar picked up on it. Unfortunately, I was really annoyed by the conversation that followed.

Me: “Did someone say games?”
The Other Person: “You wouldn’t have heard of it.”
Me: “Uh, ok. I’d LIKE to hear about it.”
The Other Person, dismissively: “It’s an indie game.”
Me: “…and I’m an indie game developer. Which game?”
The Other Person, still dismissive: “It’s an indie BOARD game.”

What a jerk.

Obviously this person decided I wasn’t cool enough to know about some new game, not knowing anything about me or my interests.

And the idea that somehow I would lose interest in the conversation if it was a board game versus a computer game? How ridiculous! I love games, no matter what medium I play them in. I almost wanted to continue pestering this person just to annoy them, but I decided to take the hint and stop trying.

There are people today who think that games grew up with them, that “The Past” consisted of Sony Playstation and the CDROM versions of The Oregon Trail.

I fall into this trap as well. My childhood was spent playing games on the Apple II c+, Atari 2600 and NES. When I say, “Remember when…”, I know I make some people feel old when they think about their childhoods being defined by games played on the PDP-1, at the arcade during the golden age, or hosting a BBS.

But even before, there were games. Games have been around for almost as long as humanity has existed.

That people decided to make games on computers as soon as the computers were capable shouldn’t have been a surprise.

But no one should pretend that video games or computer games are all there is or that they are somehow superior to board and card games.

My childhood was also spent playing card games and board games. Scrabble and Battleship and Monopoly were played regularly. Some games held my interest more than others, but video games always seemed more diverse and fascinating.

My Playing Settlers of Catan

When I was introduced to some very cool games in the last 10 years, I learned that it wasn’t just Uno and Monopoly, that there is a lot of entertainment to get in traditional, non-computer games. Settlers of Catan is typically seen as a gateway to Euro-style board games, and I was fortunate to have met people who could introduce me to it and to some of the other games in their collection.

I got a late start, but I’ve been really interested in playing card games and board games beyond the standards that Hasbro keeps publishing. I enjoy perusing the massive collection of games at my local comics and gaming shop, talking with the workers there and getting their recommendations. My most recent purchase was Mage Knight after someone tweeted about the game designer Vlaada Chvatil. After talking with someone at the shop, I got a few recommendations for some of Chvatil’s games, and walked away with this super complex game that also lets you play by yourself if you can’t find anyone willing to play it with you.

So, The Other Person, you can keep your snobby, secret conversation about a game I supposedly wouldn’t have heard about. There are plenty of games to go around, and I’m sure I won’t miss it.

Chicks Dig Gaming: A Celebration of Gaming by the Women Who Love It

Chicks Dig Gaming: A Celebration of Gaming by the Women Who Love It is a book I have been waiting for ever since I first learned that my friend Lars Pearson was interested in publishing a book about women and games.

Mad Norwegian Press is known for their Doctor Who-related books, including the Hugo-award winning Chicks Dig Time Lords. Their “Chicks Dig” series features essays from female fans of Doctor Who, comics, Joss Whedon’s creations, and now games.

Lars didn’t ask me to write this post, but I wanted to let people know about this book because I think more women should have their voices heard in the game industry.

You can learn more details about the book at the Chicks Dig Gaming page at Mad Norwegian Press.

How to Handle Losing When Designing Games for Young Children

Ruined Game

Most grown-ups can learn to play a new game without too much difficulty, and when they play, losing is understood to be a perfectly expected occurrence. That is, if someone loses, it is entirely possible that person still had fun playing the game.

Young children being introduced to games, on the other hand, sometimes have difficulty with a loss. They may pout or throw tantrums. Some sessions might end with these sore losers tossing the board or cards so that no one can play.

Even before it gets to this point, you might encounter a child trying to win at all costs. You might notice the child being really obvious when slipping a specific card in the right position in a deck before dealing.

Or if you are winning a game, you might be accused of cheating yourself. This accusation is especially ridiculous when playing a video game in which you can’t cheat.

Do you let the child win? He or she might be obnoxious about it. If you thought trash talking was annoying online, play against a cocky kid.

Of course, an inconsolably upset and angry child isn’t a great way to end family game night.

But how do you teach a child that losing isn’t the end of the world, that you can always play another game, that there’s such a thing as sportsmanship and dignity in defeat?

While researching this issue for educational games I want to make, I came across the 2012 Psychology Today article Winning and Losing by Dr. Kenneth Barish. He argues for playing often together and letting the child win, but only sometimes.

It is also important for us to keep in mind that, from the point of view of child development, the philosophy of Vince Lombardi (“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”) is profoundly wrong and teaches exactly the wrong lesson.

By winning and losing constantly, the child gets to practice dealing with disappointment and learns about his or her own limitations.

Eventually, children should start to understand that games involve agreeing to rules and restrictions. If you start a game of checkers, you can’t just walk away before the game is finished, and you definitely don’t throw the board in the air after your opponent’s piece is kinged.

In the meantime, is it possible to design games so that learning how to play by the rules is less stressful? Where losing isn’t as prominent?

Or is it wrong-headed to try to make a game in which everyone is a winner and so overly-protected children never learn the lessons they need to interact with others when they get older?

Games have always been a safe place to learn life skills. Whether you are running and jumping on the playground or calculating an opponent’s potential moves in chess, you learned how to navigate complex social interactions through play.

Now, there are games that can be played that don’t feature victory or loss, and recreational sports tend not to keep score for very young children. Are these games hampering anyone’s learning? The good news is that “games without winners and losers will have little effect on the desire or ability of children to excel.”

So it seems that you can choose to design a game without the ability to lose and not worry about damaging anyone’s upbringing. The key seems to be to focus on helping players get better, which is something games with their feedback loops are great at anyway.

I Want Tiny, Adorable Consoles to Play Slow Games for Christmas!

Wired reported on Ishac Bertran’s experimental game consoles that let you make only one move a day.

Slow Games from Ishac Bertran on Vimeo.

From his Slow Games page:

I’m using Slow Games as a platform to experiment with low pace, long lasting gameplays, and explore game mechanics that keep players engaged throughout weeks of play with simple rule variations

At first, I thought, “Apparently Bertran hasn’t played games such as Diplomacy or chess by mail.”

Recently I started playing Neptune’s Pride after a long break, and I was telling a coworker. He hates the idea of a game that doesn’t resolve for weeks. And he hates the idea of even slower action games such as what Bertran’s consoles provide.

So, as actual games, they’re not for everyone.

But this project is meant to explore our relationship with technology. We expect instant feedback, and if that feedback mechanism was slowed down dramatically, how would it change our interaction?

Focusing so intently on the technology only gets you so far for these games, so would we start paying attention to our surroundings more? Or would we get antsy?

No matter what, these consoles are tiny, can fit next to anything on my shelf or desk, and I want one for Christmas. I don’t see any indication that they are going to be for sale, though. B-(

Thoughts on Wind Waker’s Miniblins

Remember when I said I’m playing Wind Waker for the first time? I still am.

Well, not still. I put it down for almost two months. My last save was in September. I finally played it again.

I’ve been busy.

But I was playing it again, and I was in Forsaken Fortress trying to sneak up to the top of the middle tower to find my sister.

That’s when I encountered the Miniblins again, and I have to remark on how amazing they are as enemies.

There are a variety of moblins in this game. Some sniff around and search with lanterns, and if they see you, they’ll throw the lantern and cause a fire hazard to appear before attacking. Smaller moblins might stand guard with menacing weapons, but they tend to fall asleep if you wait long enough.

But miniblins are obnoxious.

You can hear them before you see them. And you never hear just one, but you can’t be sure. It’s this cute sounding “deh dank, deh dank.”

And then you see them. There’s usually more than one. And they are small. You think, “Ok, these guys look adorable. I’m sure I can defeat them easily.”

And it’s true.

But then you find out one is walking on the wall above you, and one had walked up the wall below you, and suddenly you realize that you’re surrounded.

And when you swing your sword at one, another one hits you with its pitchfork, knocking you down to the ground.

And he laughs. As you lie there while the others “deh dank, deh dank” around you, he laughs at how he made you fall.

From a mechanics perspective, miniblins are simply weak enemies who are quick, capable of moving in places the player can’t, and tend to show up in groups.

They are dangerous because there is going to be more than one, and they knock you down rather than merely hurt you, and you tend to encounter them in places where being knocked down can mean falling to a lower level and needing to traverse the dungeon to get to the same area again. And again. And Again.

But that’s just the mechanics. The sounds they make and the giggling after they hit you?

So obnoxious.

And that piece of aesthetics make them one of my favorite enemies in this game. Without that taunting, miniblins could have been a boring new variety of moblin.

With it, they become bullies who seem to enjoy bothering you for sport.

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