Raph Koster: Games Teach Odd Lessons
Raph Koster’s talk at GDC China, at least as Gamasutra relates it, sounded fairly negative through much of its content. Koster began by examining the nature of games as, primarily, algorithms, and noted that “humans are still better at solving problems intuitively than computers can ever be”. He then went on to analyze some of the lessons that games impart to players by virtue of their design:
…most of the tropes of non-game media may involve learning and evolving from other characters – moral stories or outcomes. But Koster rightly notes: “In games, we really don’t care about learning from the monster in the RPG. Instead we just kill them all.”
There are other ways that games teach odd lessons. For example, you can retry as many times as you like in most games, and gradually improve your performance, with no ramifications. But, as the design veteran noted: “In the real world, you do get second chances. And [in some cases] the second try is harder.”
Perhaps the most piquant example Koster gave was around what F2P titles might be starting to teach us. He joked that many of today’s game titles seem to be giving the message: “Oh, you have a problem? You can buy yourself out of a problem.”
So in microtransaction-driven games, you can always buy your way out of a problem. But Koster pointed out that in real life: “That isn’t really honest…you can spend a lot of money and not buy your way out of unhappiness.”
The talk ends on an optimistic note, however; Koster remarks on the tendency of games to be optimistic by nature (since every problem can typically be solved). Game creation, as he explains it, is ultimately about “mak[ing] joy”.
Still, his point is well-taken; the solutions to problems faced by our avatars (and Avatars) are, more often than not, solutions that are just not open to us in real life…nor even analogs for solutions that are open to us. Not always, but often.