The need to break a game

All games are built upon a series of rules. This is one of the most basic observations one can make on the subject. Rules are the foundation and walls of all games, from Solitaire to Heart of iron. Without these rules there would not be a game, and braking these rules would usually mean that the game stops functioning properly. One can observe this when one uses cheats. The rules change or break(depending on the cheat) and it is fair to say that the game has stopped functioning properly.

Wrong kind of broken

But what happens when one does not cheat, but abuse an open system of rules to create something new? That is what I want to talk about now.

Most games are pretty rigid with their rules as to not allow any bending to happen. One of the worst offender that comes to mind(MY mind) are the latest Elder Scrolls games(and Fallout 3). In these games the rules are so tight that one can not easily deviate from them. The game even levels WITH the player so to not let the player get to far ahead, or to far behind. This kind of design does not appeal to me. It feels like you're touring the game, rather than playing it. It feels like the game has no confidence or want for the player. When the game files all it's corners down to “accommodate” the player it also takes away opportunities for the player to grow and learn. To me, the quote “The only way to get smarter is by playing a smarter opponent”* hold a lot of truth, and in a way, it's the games role to be “the smarter opponent”.

As a small example, there is this game called “Demon gaze” for the Playstation Vita. It's mildly amusing JRPG dungeon crawler. I would probably not have put as much time into that game as I did if it weren't for the fact that there are systems in that game that allow smart players to absolutely break the game across their knees. Clever players can make the notoriously hard S.T.A.L.K.E.R games seem like walks in the irradiated park.

The same cannot be said for the latest game in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim. The game is so rigid that it doesn't matter what kind of player you are, you are always o the same track, at the same relative level of power and at the same level of difficulty. This has a tendency to arrest development of strategy, tactics and decision making. When everything stays the same, why bother evolving?

Now, I'm guessing a lot of people might be upset at me right now. I've just spent some time talking down on a pretty large portion of games. For this, I apologize, mea culpa. My intention was not to upset, but to shine a light on what I view as missed opportunities. When there no longer is a challenge, the rewards for cleverness is diminished. When there is no smarter players to play against, the game as it stands, stops being interesting.

I will concede that there is room in the industry for both kinds of games. Games that are easy and accommodating, and games that are difficult and uncompromising. I just wish that the balance wasn't so one-sided as it seems to be these days.



[EDIT] Learning the difference between "brake" and "break" when you're not observant the hard way.

[EDIT] When thinking a little bit more on this subject. I realized that I had miss-characterized Skyrim as one of the worst offenders in "rigid game rules". This is a partial truth as I remembered that one CAN abuse the alchemy and smithing skills to power up ones character to ridiculous levels. I count this as a half-credit to Skyrim, since the system is exploitable, but it is very specific and obtuse in how one does this. But credit where credit is due. Mea culpa, again.