For that wonderful feeling when 70% accuracy really means 50%
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day everyone. Tonight, I, the Inverseman, will be hashing out a few thoughts on the bane of almost every gamer’s existence, luck. However, I’d like to petition that luck is far more critical to games than we give it credit for, so let’s dig in.
Luck is a phenomenon that we can only witness because we’re human. If we could observe the system of our universe in fullness from outside then there’s nothing lucky about luck at all, we could easily see what processes and conditions lead to what results and, given the also mighty ability to keep conditions correct every time, get the desired results every time. So the first thing we have to understand is that our idea of luck is from our limited scope of vision as players. After all, the random number generators in games do have a rhyme and reason that make every action in-game seem random but actually purposeful, we would just need the time and effort to crack them.
Many gamers despise the presence of luck. It’s the scapegoat for bad matchups, a very disloyal ally, and the enemy of true skill. As stated in a previous piece, what if we were to design a game where “the more skilled player will win every time”. Yes, this is impossible, but let’s give the benefit of the doubt. Once we design the “true skill game”, if you’re very new, you’d likely lose either way and those “beginner’s luck” victories or “unfair victories” will not exist. Not much of a loss, but with more experienced players, now there’s no chance for a turnaround, no new developments that could save you from near defeat or give you a new stimuli to work against.
The “true skill” game would be no contest every match and it basically becomes a diagnostic test of how well you studied a game. You may as well forgo the fancy graphics, hand out study guides, and get your multiple choice bubble sheets ready. That’s a game none of us want to play. What we play for is an exciting match. Losing to beginner’s luck is not exciting if everything goes wrong on your end and flattening someone else isn’t always all that intriguing either. Even in a traditional fighting game like Street Fighter or old school games like chess, the of onus luck falls on your opponent and your ability to read him or her.
In the single-player setting, luck provides certain thrills, especially in some hard game where a lucky critical will either end you or end the enemy. If you knew just flat-out that the boss was strong, but nothing could interfere, it would still be exciting, but not nearly as much with that extra suspicion of dread. “Play smart, lock onto any patterns, and we’re done here. Now that I’ve found them I may as well let the game play itself now that I know the trick to it.” Compare this feeling to “If he gets so much as one clean hit, he’ll cast Medgidolaon and we’re all done-for.” In tactics games, there’s the speedy character with high critical hit rate and evasion, but is as frail as tissue paper. Here’s a character that lives life on the edge. He may not be as reliable as a sturdy paladin, but knowing most of the time the flashy critical hit animation will play is a fair trade so it seems. Just like the PVP game, it’s no fun when the enemy Venomoth launches his sixth Double Team, but luck can create a diverse array of situations and experiences.
Luck is derived from us not knowing everything to a game, and from luck we get surprise. Gamers since ages past really played games for a sense of somewhat controlled surprise. Our people in the days of yore casting lots and the like didn’t want to know the outcome before they bet, but wanted to pit their lack of full knowledge against the lottery. Since there’s money on the line, they want to win, but as long as that chance that you might be wrong and lose big is there, they’ll take the plunge. The result is important, but so is the thrill of getting there. And it’s much the same for today. Surprise is a wonderful ingredient to any game, and we take it for granted. If it’s misused or too much surprise is added, players become frustrated, but just the right amount at the right times can make for a night of roaring success. Take it from the DM that saw three natural 20s in a row from his party. Join me next time when I put a bunch of balls in some boxes.
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