Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about an issue. The issue of me seeing people do dumb decisions and how could it be possible for me to prevent it. Both in life and game design.
I had this one on my mind for a long while, but lately two things pushed me to just make a blog post about it to express my feelings of frustration towards this.
I’m currently participating in an Alpha test for a game called Reassembly, by Anisoptera Games. Its a top down space shooter where you can build your ship out of simple modules and make something remarkable, then use it to defeat other remarkable ships in an open world galaxy.
Then, I watched an interview by VICE on a rapper, who allegedly stole an armored police car along with some gold and is now sitting in prison, his artist name being Xatar.
These are just two concrete examples, but there are many, many, many, many… and many more. Some have already happened, others I can see happen before they will, but realize I’m powerless to stop it.
The common thing about the two above things and many other instances, is how people are often doomed to take actions or to make decisions that will have concequences they wish they could have avoided before it ever happened.
Halfway in the Xatar video, the guy is asked a question if his lyrics are different than what they were before. His answer was yes. He tells a story how a teenager, that was a fan of his music, came to visit him in prison and tell him how cool he was and how we wanted to live up to him.
Xatar, who’s been in prison for a long while and seen not only how the way he lived was destructive, causing sorrow to his family and has had his freedom taken away from him, wasn’t too pleased to hear that his music inspired some kid to become like him and potentially ruin his life. He felt shocked that he had that kind of power through his music, when all this time it all seemed like harmless and just for show.
He mentions how this kid may have gone over to hezbollah and gotten himself blown up by now. Relating to his own family, he imagines the feelings of that kids mother are really sad and painful.
This is a story that many people can relate to in one way or another under different context. Having no previous experience or intellectual knowledge over something can cause us to do things that seem harmless at a time, but end up biting back in our asses much later.
Considering a game developer can spend several years crafting a game, they are faced with this same problem. They need to know how to make good design decisions before they’ve even made them. If they fuck up, their project may suffer enough to be complete crap by the time it comes out. Sure, they may have learned a lesson there, but they spent a lot of time working on a product that practically killed itself.
In the case of Xatar, he’s at the point where he finally realizes how the system works and what consequences mean. Only now it is possible for him to be consicious of the power he wields and that it is a good idea to think things through before taking action, thus avoiding what happened before.
Meanwhile, in the case of Reassembly, which I’m alpha testing and talking with the developer to provide direct feedback, is at the point where he’s about to make that mistake which will have consequences he’d dearly hope he could have avoided.
The game is supposed to be about building spaceships and fighting awesome space battles. However, following outdated, but prominent game design traditions, he added grinding for arbitrary credit points to the game. The reasoning was “to introduce players to the content more smoothly”. “Start them small and then unlock more stuff as they go on”.
Basically, when you start the game, you can only build a small ship and use a very limited amount of block types. To get the ability to build bigger ships with more guns or to unlock new blocks, you need to grind out these arbitrary “credit points”, by killing ships, flying around and expanding in the galaxy, that you can then use on an upgrade screen to have the ability to become bigger and do more stuff.
The problem is that this gets in the way of… you know… building spaceships and fighting awesome space battles.
If early in the game you come across a ship that has a strong shield generator that your guns cannot bring down because your damage-per-second is lower than how fast the shield can regenerate itself, winning is impossible. You are forced to grind credits before you can actually fight stuff. This arbitrary grading of the player to be considered better or worse than a certain opponent gets in the way of actually having fun with combat and building designs, stealing the focus away for the sake of balancing yourself against the opponent, so that fights would actually be possible to win.
The other side of this problem is that once you do grind enough to finally have the access to bigger ships and unlocked all the equipment, now in turn the opponents are completely powerless, leaving you with nothing to challenge you properly, since you can just steamroll everything, rendering the game pointless.
This is only one of the many fundamental problems in the design of the game. I see that his intentions are good, but because there is an absense of actually experiencing the long-term consequence of the things he’s doing now, he’ll think its harmless and do it anyway. Then theres also the fact that the guy is aiming for a tight deadline, rapidly running short on time and funds, he doesn’t physically have the option to stop and think if his design will explode in his face or not.
Inevitably, all I can do is watch as the titanic sails straight for the iceberg. This situation makes me feel sad and powerless. I have the knowledge and the willingness to share it, but doing so is useless without a live example. Practically, I’d have to make my own version of Reassembly or use a time machine to take the developer guy into the future to see how his desicions were flawed. Anything short of that will not be enough to convince him otherwise at the current moment of development, sadly.
Similarly, I’ve blogged about how human vs human competition is self-destructive game design and any time I mention it to someone who has not seen the long-term effects is simply unable to even considered the possibility of what I’m saying is true. No matter how many times I explain every single detail and every piece of their skepticism, it won’t be enough to convince them until they see it for themselves.
This problem did apply to me as well.
While I was a modder long ago, I was just as dumb as the next guy. Having no prior experience of how the world works nor what kind of consequences there would be from doing this or doing that, I’d be doing reckless things, doing projects that would eventually end up in the toilet, wasting ridiculous amount of time on doing a task that either was pointless or could have been handled more efficiently or believing some dumb shit knowledge that I’d inevitably need to unlearn.
So the question arises:
Can this massive waste of time and effort be prevented? Can the mistakes be stopped before they ever happen? Can something be learned without needing to experience the pain and regret?
I think yes, through intellectual awareness. Although learning through regret in many cases will still be a thing that many people are doomed to go through. Either because of desperation, lack of time/resources or pressure of some kind.
But I think it is possible to learn and create something remarkable, while avoiding taking actions that will have you regret and cause you long term pain as they did with Xatar as he sits in prison.
My earlier blog post about if video games can cause violence holds the answer to that. Using the medium of video games, or actually any art for that matter or even a controlled real life recreation, one can be shown the consequence of something, without the person having to learn that mistake through regret.
This worked powerfully on me on the subject of alcohol and smoking. Having the experience of seeing what alcohol does to people around me, seeing how dangerous a person can become under the influence of drunkness, endangering both your well-being as well as their own, meanwhile understanding the science and engineering behind the construction of a cigarette, of the poisons it contains and how it causes addiction, effects of withdrawals and so on, was enough to give me that intellectual understanding of never wanting to touch that shit in my life.
The whole concept is similar to vaccination against a virus. You inject a controlled, weak strain of the virus into yourself, which is weak enough for your immune system to steamroll it, but in doing so it learns how the virus works. So when the real virus infects you, it can be stopped efficiently and safely. Same with game design. Immerse the player in a controlled environment where they get to feel that pain for themselves through their playable character or through an NPC that the player may observe to gain awareness of what consequences a certain action might give, so they’ll know better what to do if this is about to happen in real life.
Still, until the better alternative is made and proper education is put into place to raise awareness, people will be doomed to destroy the lives of other or themselves. I want to try doing what I can for this in the space of video game design, but it will take me time before I study design patterns, get my pixel art library business running to have the security to do said studying and design work to create the projects that would raise the awareness I’m talking about.
Until then, I’ll be watching the titanic crash into the iceberg over and over again.