Thursday, February 8, 2007

Player versus Player

I think I'm beginning to more completely understand why, in certain games, I don't like "player versus player" (PVP) action. I think it has a lot to do with my generally non-competitive nature. [I originally wrote "anticompetitive" there, but decided that was a poor choice of language for someone who works at Microsoft. —Ed.] I like games where players cooperate toward a common goal, or are mostly independent from one another, or where the focus of the game is player-versus-player rivalry. What I strongly dislike is when a game is "mostly" one of the first two, but has PVP sprinkled in.

Here are some examples of each type of game I'm talking about.

Cooperative, common goal—Arkham Horror, World of Warcraft when playing in a group
Mostly independent—Princes of Florence (often called "multiplayer solitaire"), standard racing games, Monopoly, Clue
One of those with PVP sprinkled in—Runebound, World of Warcraft on a PVP server
Focusing on PVP—Unreal Tournament, Worms, Mario Kart, Starcraft, Command and Conquer, Magic: The Gathering, ...

My anti-competitive, friendly nature makes it very difficult to rationalize or even think of hurting others to further my own goals. Yet in Runebound, an RPG-like board game, this is often what you must do to do well. If another player has spent a couple turns fighting monsters and hasn't been particularly successful, the best move is probably to hit him while he's down and steal his stuff. I can't stand that, to the point that I don't want to play the game ever again unless we play without the ability to PVP. I don't want my success in the game to be measured by how often I picked on people who didn't deserve it, but rather success versus the "common enemy," the monsters on the board.

In World of Warcraft, on a PVP server, players of one faction can fight players of the other faction while they're out questing, playing the game as normal. I have considerable experience on a PVP server, and at the time it seemed fine, because I hadn't experienced just how much more fun the game is on a normal server. Essentially, what it boils down to, is that playing on a PVP server means that you spend 60 levels (now 70, I suppose) being constantly killed by players more powerful than you. You're off doing a quest, having fun, fighting monsters, and then suddenly you're approached by someone who is so much more powerful than you that the game won't even display your level to you (it shows up as ??). This happens several times an hour. Often after they kill you once, they hang around your corpse so once you resurrect to start playing again, they can easily chase you down and kill you again. You learn strategies to avoid this, by fighting in strange, obscure areas, avoiding the common roads, and playing at odd hours, but it's a nuisance, and I didn't find it fun in the slightest. I spent half of my play time as a ghost, running to find my freshly slaughtered corpse. I would have quit the game long before had I not started a second character with my friend Marc on a normal server.

Anyway, I can't stand those mechanics. They just aren't fun to me. There's no reward to me in kicking someone once they're down, or even when they're not down, but focused on another task. There's certainly no reward in the feeling of "danger" that I can and will be interrupted and killed by other players at any time. There are people who do find that amusing, and while I think that's just bizarre, good for them. I don't know for certain whether I dislike that very concept of mixing PVP with non-PVP, or whether it just always ends up sucking because I have this broken sense of honor and people in general are assholes, but I know I don't like it.

On the other hand, games which are only competitive are perfectly fine for me. There are a ton of these; they're the majority of multiplayer video games. I certainly don't feel bad about finding myself a good nook, whipping out the sniper rifle, and pecking peoples' heads off from a distance. I don't feel bad about firing a turtle shell at other drivers in Mario Kart, or launching a nuclear strike against my foes in Command and Conquer. It's a mandatory part of the game, and I fully expect the same from the other players.

Of course, my metric for deciding whether a game is the type of game I like is very subjective. I might think that a particular game is "all non-PVP," and someone else might think that the same game is totally oriented around PVP. It's all perception.

Luckily for me, there is a wide variety of different styles of games to choose from.

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