Playing With and Against

My offline gaming has explained my online gaming history to me. I am a carebear because I want to play with friends, not against them.

I can be intensely competitive, but I prefer to be cooperative. We should all be on the same team. We should all win. I would rather have an allied victory than conquer the entire board; even in a single-player 4X, I have this unhealthy tendency to let others grow and prosper rather than playing aggressively. The joy of PvE is that we have two sides, and all the Ps are on one side of that divide.

I like my PvP in small, discrete units. FPS games are conveniently concentrated doses. Games with “duels,” “matches,” and “rounds” are usually the right length. If I need to log in more than once for a “campaign,” we are probably not in my element. I don’t want to spend days dwelling on how to destroy you. I can be rather good at that, but those are not thoughts I like having in my head.

I have had some pen-and-paper RPG time lately, and I like working as a party. If there is serious intra-party conflict, I would rather skip sessions when the problematic players/characters are present. I played Diplomacy this weekend, and eight hours of suspicion and war were incredibly engrossing but not how I want to regard my fellow players. I have also been playing some Eurogames lately, and I enjoy the common characteristic that, while the games are interactive and competitive, there are fewer instances of directly striking at each other, and players are rarely eliminated mid-game.

I do have a fondness for games where it is many-against-one, with a dungeonmaster-equivalent who is explicitly “against” and not a neutral arbiter. Those are hard to find and balance. Isn’t there a zombie FPS in which one player is effectively L4D’s Director, sort of a RTS versus his FPS friends? [Zombie Master -- thanks, Mikeful.] I like that notion more than survivors versus infected.

: Zubon

16 thoughts on “Playing With and Against

  1. Darrel Hutchins

    This is basically who I am as a gamer too–I hate playing truly competitive games…I shine when I’m in a group–although I don’t mind some team-based games competitively.

    Board games, card games, I love games like Arkham Horror and Red November–it’s wonderful to play a game with friends, versus the game itself. But for alternate flavor, I love traitor-mechanic games as well–Bang, Battlestar Galactica, Shadows Over Camelot, Shadow Hunters–I like that interplay of ‘who can we trust’ within the group, even as the majority of the group is striving for the same goal. Likewise, I enjoy Betrayal at House on the Hill, because it becomes, naturally, that ‘all vs one’ type of game you discuss.

    For online games–I gravitate naturally to healers and other support classes–I want to play the role that helps bring a group together, and helps everyone play more efficiently. I don’t need to top the damage meter–I want to keep everyone alive, and make the battle easier for everyone else.

  2. mikeful

    If you have Half-Life 2 I’d like to recommend Zombie Master mod.

    Players take turns playing as Zombie Master who tries to kill players by spawning different kind of zombies and activating traps/map events.

    It’s been a while but when I played this the community was great. Unfortunately the mod is no longer actively developed. http://www.zombiemaster.org/about.php

  3. Dickie

    I’m not familiar with the 4X term I’ve seen you use a few times. Is that similar to RTS, or a subgenre?

    In any case, I’m very similar to you. I just don’t get off competing against my friends when we are all trying to have fun. An occasional FPS match is OK, but not my ideal. I like completing challenges together or helping other complete challenges.

  4. Yeebo

    When I do play against opponents, I hate losing but I also hate completely crushing someone (it makes me feel bad for them). For me the best matches are close ones, whether I win or lose.

  5. Oakstout

    In college we played Diplomacy once a semester. One of the history teachers would organize it and once a week we would summit turns and then wait for the posted results. It was fun and even though we would stab each other in the back at any opportunity, we still remained great friends.

  6. GregT

    The problem with one vs many gameplay, and the reason it’s rarely done well, is the intelligence problem. The “many” side tends to be as smart as its smartest player, or at least smarter than the average of its parts. The “one” is as smart as the one. If you skew the resources in favour of the one, you’re allowing a genuinely top-end-intelligence to repeatedly sweep the game in a frustrating and possibly unbeatable manner. If you balance the resources for theoretically balanced play, you’re actually balancing in favour of the many, who are on average smarter.

    Even in a game where the many are intended to win more often than the one, it’s not ideal, as the intelligent many will see the flaws in the play of the one, and be frustrated that they’re not playing an optimised opponent.

  7. spinks

    The problem with online play is that the people you play against take it far too seriously. (I know, big generalisation.) This is probably fantastic if you are a hardcore gamer who laments that your RL gaming friends are a bunch of lightweights but it’s stressy for anyone else. I always feel that we’re pressured by the presence of those guys to be way more hardcore than we want, even if it is just in attitude.

    I like playing board games and card games with my friends in real life. Sure, we take the game seriously and try to win, but people aren’t nasty to you if you lose … because we’re friends.

    I think you’re missing the point with the GM type example though. Part of the reason computer RPGs and MMOs really took off among roleplayers is because most people don’t want to GM, they just want to play. I know lots of good GMs who only started doing it because they couldn’t find someone to run games they wanted to play .. and they still wish they could just be players sometimes. Computer games mean that no one has to be the GM and spend all their time and effort making sure other people have fun.

    1. Zubon Post author

      Re: GM-type example
      No, I get that. I’ve been that GM. The computer games with GMs are consciously re-creating that role, rather than being forced into it by the need for an arbitrator. It can create interesting mechanics with, as GregT says, potentially unbalanced mechanics. Or maybe I just like the idea of being/having an evil mastermind (mwa ha ha ha ha!) rather than the neutral game-master.

  8. Katherine

    “straight up” PvP is better for a lot of RL groups than PvP which allows alliances and/or betrayal, I find (depends on your group of people though). Rarely do people get upset over Hearts or Mah Jong, though with risk it’s a constant whine of “stop ganging up on me waah” even when you’re not, and constant suspicion of your friends.

    We played Arkham Horror a couple of times, but too much of the interesting bit is strategising, and it tends to end up with one or two people telling the others what to do (so that we actually have a chance of winning, through being a coherant group).

  9. sid67

    My PvP style preference can best be expressed in this phrase:

    “Ha Ha Ha. Got ya, focker!”

    Focker, of course, is the endearing name I give all my online opponents. :) And sometimes his mom plays (who I call mother focker). Aurprisingly, she’s actually better than he is…

  10. Tesh

    I’m of a similar mind. If I’m going to be playing with other people online, I’d rather be cooperating than competing. I’ve had my share of contention in this life, and I’m not much of a fan.

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  12. Adventurer Historian

    You should consider giving ‘Last Night On Earth’ a shot. It’s effectively a boardgame version of Zombie Master – one players plays the zombie hoard, and everyone else tries to not die.

    1. Zubon Post author

      I played a game of Descent, which is the same idea for a dungeon. I found it unnecessarily complicated and time-consuming, but I imagine that it flows much more quickly when you are past the point at which every monster requires looking up three abilities and how they interact with something else on the board.

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