on Jul 2, 2014
So this episode really does highlight one of the questions about power level in the context of an RPGWhatever THAT means. with leveling mechanics. How much is the player responsible for their own fun? If the game presents a system where you can become more powerful, and it’s possible to become so powerful that the game becomes boring, then who bears the blame when that happens? I think it depends on the game and the systems it uses. If most players manage to blunder into a boring state of godlike power, then I think most people would be comfortable putting blame on the designer. But what if that state was only obtainable by following a detailed guide of obscure actions and extensive grinding? I think you could argue that the super-power is not only allowable, but the rightful reward for a player who deliberately sought it out and worked to obtain it.
Even this question presents a sliding scale of blame, when I think it’s even more complex. If there’s some state that the game can have where all combat is trivialized and the normal gameplay systems break down, then context is important. How did the player get the game into that state?
- What if it’s the natural result of the given ruleset? (Like leveling up to ridiculous levels in some Final Fantasy games. “Hey, the game didn’t FORCE you to over-level. It just give you a goal and didn’t tell you when to stop pursuing it.”)
- What if it’s clearly a loophole in the rules that works around the many obvious efforts to balance and constrain the player’s power? (You could argue that this is the case here in Skyrim. Considering grinding yourself to max level in smithing is long, expensive, and doesn’t produce runaway damage numbers that crash the game.)
- What if it’s the result of a glitch or bug? (Like using the environment to clip through walls.)
- What if it’s the result of a designer that didn’t want to constrain the player? (The design philosophy of Richard Garriott comes to mind, where he would deliberately design one solution to a problem, but not try to wall off other creative solutions, thus recognizing them as valid even if they trivialized his puzzle.)
There’s no hard line here, but it is clear that at some point the complaint of, “If you do X, the game is trivial” can’t be adequately answered with “Then don’t do X!” There’s a fundamental conflict at work here: The game presents a system and challenges us to overcome it. It exists to create something for us to destroy. If we can’t overcome it, then the game failsAssuming we’re talking about a more traditional game. I know there are lots of examples of games where the only winning move is not to play.. But if we overcome it too easily, the game also fails. But computers are stupid and literal while humans are smart and creative. And the more complex the game is, the more chances there will be for a person to route around the challenge and ruin their own fun, simply by doing what the game asked them to do. (Overcome its systems.)
It’s a tough line for the aspiring game designer to walk. I’m sure this will all get much easier once we manage to build Skynet.
 Whatever THAT means.
 Assuming we’re talking about a more traditional game. I know there are lots of examples of games where the only winning move is not to play.