I’m thinking of writing a series on rules and ethics (in games and elsewhere), but first it seems necessary to establish a simple point: some tactics work really well even if you do not like them. Many of us know what “should win” in our idealized concept of the game, and we think it is a design flaw that other things are better, but tactically, in direct PvP or comparative performance, some things just work better. There is no moral character to it.
This is frequently hate against things that win despite being simple or boring because things that are difficult or awesome should win instead of being inefficient or impractical. You’re right, games would be more fun with more “awesome but practical” over “boring but practical,” as “boring” is not an desirable trait for most forms of entertainment, but that does not make choosing the simple, efficient, effective option bad strategy or morality. It is also an aesthetic argument rather than a balance issue; at the mechanical level, the tactics and strategy can be interesting and complex even if you personally think it’s BS that paper beats rock.
To take a friend’s favorite article, you need to play to win to enjoy the depth of the game. “Cheap” is a perfectly viable tactic if it works; if it didn’t work, it would just be “stupid.” There is probably a cheap defense against a cheap trick, and we all laugh uproariously when cheese fails. Experts beat cheap strategies using counters, fundamentals, and better tactics; you can see experts engaging in overlapping simultaneous rounds of what would be simple cheapness in a low-tier game. Intermediate players hate cheapness because it allows an unskilled player to have a chance at a win; if they knew all the counters and counter-counters, they’d be experts. Most of the losing players on “When Cheese Fails” are just bad players trying for an easy win with a cheap tactic. They are one-trick ponies that do not know how to follow up the attack or how to recover if the gambit does not win instantly. They are also frequently mouthy players who seem to think they are great for knowing one trick and that “X is OP” when it does not work. They are strangely able to recognize that the counter to their strategy is cheap without seeing that their strategy itself is. We should then most often see experts who counter cheapness for easy wins; journeymen who sometimes do so but often cannot tell whether a loss is due to expert manipulation or beginner’s luck (tip: the experts are less often mouthy about it); and newbies who (will explain loudly that they) are alternately Internet Sun Tzus or the martyrs of completely unfair design based on whether the opponent knows how to stop one particular trick.
In our MMO world, the flavor of the month is usually that way because something made it one of the most effective builds. As much as we all love being internet hipsters who look down on people for being mainstream or just “looking it up,” once someone has done the theorycraft, the math is out there. If you are trying to win, use the math. Of course, to end on a quote from yesterday‘s article, your goal may be to play rather than to win:
For most games, there’s a guide that explains exactly how to complete your objective perfectly, but to read it would be cheating. Your goal is not to master the game, but to experience the process of mastering the game as laid out by the game’s designers, without outside interference.
But if you’re playing to play, don’t act surprised or offended when you lose to people who are playing to win.
Cheap with no counter is just crap design, yeah.