Awareness of Individual Actions

A friend in college had an unusual day in dance class: “run slowly,” his instructor said. He realized that, while he could run, he knew it as a single activity and had great trouble analyzing it to a series of individual steps and motions. He did it unthinkingly. Programmers and industrial/organizational psychologists will be familiar with the epiphany that writing an explicit process or algorithm is really rather difficult.

I think of this every time I see a routine where someone has clearly learned the individual motions and trained him/herself to perform them forward and backwards or in unexpected combinations. Contrarily reference celebrity judges on TV talent shows, some of whom are exceedingly talented performers with almost no ability to articulate why or how, as opposed to say Ben Folds and his self-consciously technical analysis on The Sing Off.

Which brings me to the question of when games train you to do something and then punish you for doing it. Do we like that? On the one hand, it creates interesting content with unusual mechanics like killing by healing or requiring you not to DPS too quickly. On the other hand, it seems perverse and just plain mean to reward something throughout the game then punish you for following that training. On the gripping hand, that seems like taking the “game as learning” experience to its highest level, where you not only know the techniques but know when not to use them and when and why to swap parts in and out.

I want to go with that as the final answer, but not everyone wants to get that deeply into their gaming, and it is still the case that you can almost always look up when you need to change tactics rather than learning something. That does not make the advanced learning a bad idea for the intended audience, but it may make it mostly pointless given the actual audience. If I could get a fourth hand, I might note that many games already design a lot of content for the top 5%, and the rest of the playerbase can participate in the intended spirit if it feels up to it.

: Zubon

4 thoughts on “Awareness of Individual Actions”

  1. Now, did you see that Niven/Pournelle reference over at Popehat the other day, or was this your own spontaneous reference.

    Ideally, a game should give you a series of tools/methods for dealing with situations and train you when to use them so that you end up with a full bag of tricks to handle whatever high level content the devs throw at you. This is the only reason you should have three hot bars full of skills.

    What seems to happen is that you end up with one best approach that works for 80% of all situations (more DOTs! More DPS!), and which can be extended to 95% of situations if you obsess about gear. And then we get to something in that last 5% and the devs have to “fix” it in the end because people cannot solve it with the one tool in their kit they have been trained to use.

    An exception, of course, is EVE, which essentially shows you where the auto-attack button is then tells you to go have fun. But we have been over that before.

    1. I’ll second that comment – I keep seeing forum threads where someone lambasts a skill as “useless” when in fact it’s more “situational” – the attack that does 10% less DPS but debuffs the target’s fire resistance (when you have no fire-based abilities) is only “useless” if you never team up with a fire mage, to make up an example. Some players narrowly define their role and then disregard a swathe of their skills because they don’t fit that definition, rather than figuring out all they things they CAN do and defining their role as doing any of those things as required.

      I’ll go back to what I said before, which is we would have much more satisfying games if they trained players to “improvise, adapt and overcome” rather than “execute defined attack rotation perfectly” from the get-go. Funnily enough, the best example I’ve seen of a game doing that was a side-activity – GW2’s Southsun Survival. With its reliance on improvised weapons and limited resources, you had to approach each situation carefully and in light of the unique characteristics of the situation instead of relying on a one size fits all strategy.

      1. Indeed, and I’m pretty certain I’ve used the gripping hand line once or twice myself. It’s one of those things, like grokking, that are endemic amongst nerds who are old enough to have grown up when the SF shelves were full of Niven, Heinlein and Asimov rather than Star Wars and WH40K spin-off novels.

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