Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Team Riot Shield or How to have fun with a game by breaking the rules
Games have rules. That much is certain. A "game" can be broadly defined as an activity wherein one or more players manipulate key resources and abilities within a defined set of rules to achive a win state. We also know of games being fun. We also know that at certain times, breaking the rules of a game can be fun, any of us who grew up with a game genie can attest to this. But what happens to the enjoyment of a game when one changes the rules?
Months ago, whilst playing Modern Warfare 2 in a large party of friends, said friends grew bored of the standard gametypes and began playing, amongst themselves, a game variant known as Mike Meyers (named after the antagonist/protagonist of the Halloween film franchise and not the Austin Powers funnyman, though I admit, that may prove a fun derivative as well, but I digress). In Mike Meyers, one player is the epyonymous killer whilst the others played the victims and attempt to remain hidden without being able to retaliate. The Meyers player kills off one player at a time with knife kills until only three survivors remain. Once three survivors remain, they are then allowed to use their knives to slay the marauding madman. Last man standing wins. What was largeley of note about this scenario is that you will not find Mike Meyers Mode listed in any gametype, playlist or official FAQ. The rules of this gametype operate solely in the realm of the honor system. Mechanically there is nothing binding the players from simply pulling out one of the guns in their loadout and gunning down the Meyers player. That rule is enforced simply out of the player's own willingness to enjoy the game. In this instance, the game has become simply a toolset for the player's imagination. Beautifully rendered graphics and realistically modeled weaponry and personell no longer seem to matter as the new emphasis becomes on inhabiting a shared space with tracking abilities and the willingness to adhere to unenforceable rules. In some ways, it's the ultimate show of fair play.
Now, at the total other end of the spectrum, there can be amusement to be had in the non-adherence of enforced ruletypes as well. Just last week, one of my teammates had the brilliant idea of joining a Search and Destroy game in Modern Warfare 2 with the express intention of "trolling" the other players in the game. In an attempt to upset the other players (an offense for which he is fully aware can result in a negative reputation on Xbox Live) he spawned into the game weilding a Riot Shield as his primary weapon, proceeded to pick up the bomb and take it somewhere else entirley than the goal area and see how long he could hold it there before his teammates became upset with him. Somehow he found this comedy gold, I found it more than a little curious academically, so the next night, I joined him along with two friends in an attempt to group-troll this time. Same methods, but interestingly, the results began to vary. Upon seeing us crowded into a corner, riot sheilds held aloft and at the ready like some great mythological
multi-headed plexiglass tortoise, our teammates voiced some initial concern. Loudly. As the night wore on, however, something magical happened.
We started winning.
I'm not sure when it exactly happened, but at some point, our teammates with whom we had not communicated with (cleverly circumventing Xbox live chat by using skype) began also using Riot Shields. I assume it began with one or two naieve youngsters thinking that what we were doing was actual stategy. Eventually, the practice of hiding in the corner with the bomb evolved into the practice of hiding until the final minute of the match, whence our Spartan phalanx of warriors would swoop into a demolition point whilst a member in the rear would unsheath his RPG, clear a path and allow the man in front to plant the bomb, thus ensuring victory. So what exactly happened here? Having grown bored with gaming by the rules, my friend decided to attempt to greif the opposing players for his own enjoyment. When put into a group context though, the will of the group to accomplish something seemingly overrode the need of the individual to destroy the mechanics of the game. Is this behaviour to be lauded? Villified? Analysed? Perhaps all three.
What's to note here as a whole though is the myriad ways in which we play our games. Play by creating new rules or play by breaking them, there are many ways to wring enjoyment out of whatever your choice in digital entertainment. We should go forward with this in mind as we continue to enjoy our games and game creators must bear this in mind when creating their games. After all, you don't work a game, you play it.