Scott Martin over at Gnome Stew posted yesterday about failure in tabletop roleplaying games. Or rather, the alternatives to simple failure. There’s any number of reasons why players of an RPG might fail: bad die rolls, bad choices, or simple failure to turn the right direction at an intersection. But often, failure is a bad thing for everyone.
Character failure isn’t always a bad thing– if you step back from your character’s eyes and think of the game as a story, you might even root for your character’s failure at times. Failure can show adversity…, create sympathy…, feel right…, provide material for character introspection, and more. But when you get to the climax of the story, it sucks when the dice come up ones and you’re just a sidekick and someone else laps up the glory.
This is a problem in tabletop RPGs and in digital games. Does the game master or developer/game engine just allow the Total Party Kill, even if the fate of the world is at stake? If the player misses her chance to find a vital clue, is she out of luck? Martin lists an array of possibilities, and they’re equally applicable to digital games as to tabletop RPGs. I’ll discuss how digital games can deal with failure after the break.
A few weeks ago, Jesse Venbrux, creator of the previously-discussed Karoshi games, released a short interactive piece called “Execution.” Not really a game, “Execution” is a quick subversion of what video games typically are and a subtle comment on the thing that the form is currently obsessed with: killing.
The impact of the game will be stronger if you play it at least twice before clicking through to the rest of the discussion. It should take you about five minutes. I’ll wait.
I just finished Karoshi 2.0 by Jesse Venbrux. It’s the sequel to the game Karoshi, which I discussed in Episode 009. It’s interesting what choices Venbrux took with this sequel; the original had gameplay centered around pushing boxes and touching switches, with rules that were generally understood by the player ahead of time. The sequel, however, is much more metatextual.
Is the illusion of player agency as good as real player agency? Isn’t a video game just a simulated game master? Is the Chinese Room a good game? If the author is dead, what about the algorithm?
The music for this episode is “The Acorns. Seedin Time in The Oak Room.” by Loveshadow, and is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license.
- John Searle’s Chinese room