I PLAY TO WIN!

Song Ha-Na from Overwatch
source: Blizzard

Ludogogy has entered into an agreement with Gamification Journal, based in Seoul, South Korea, for the mutual exchange of articles. This is the first of those articles we are publishing and it was in exchange for Sofia Kavlin’s article about gamifying cities from the previous issue, themed Economics.

When Song Ha-na says “I PLAY TO WIN!” in Overwatch, this Korean character, could be talking about not only Overwatch but all FPS (First-person Shooter) games. The purpose of the game is to have fun. Despite the trolling, nuisance, and boosting, it’s still fun if the player wins.

In other words, the player needs to win for the game to be fun. For this, s/he must gain victory by crushing or killing others. However, unlike Song Ha-na, who plays only to win, gamers can also take pleasure in any moment of being interested and impressed by the game.

So, what does it mean to say ‘Win’, ‘Victory’, and ‘You Win’?  So, let’s look at two questions “Is it necessary for players to win the game?”, and “Should a ‘winner’ necessarily be better than other players?”.

When we all knew what it meant to ‘win’

When I was young, the purpose of games in arcades or DOS-game was very simple and primitive. The player killed NPCs (Non-Player Characters), or beat the game quicker than other players, or got higher points. There were no community websites, Youtube, or social networks. So, knowing many effective methods of attack were important.

There was a huge difference between “It didn’t work when I did exactly what you said” and “It worked when I did exactly what you said”. Among peers, knowledge of how to play well, conferred status. Knowing more than others meant beating the competition.

In the early 2000s when high-speed internet infrastructure such as ADSL or VDSL was spreading in the region, Korean young people began to show off their game skills and thirst for competition. It was an age of ‘rivalry of warlords’ (Yu-Gi-Oh card reference – Ed). From this time on, players needed to be able to deal with other players via a LAN cable, not with an NPC in the computer. There were only two options – ‘Beat down’ or ‘Be beaten’. It was still clear what needed to be done to win the game.

Simply put, the ‘winner’ is the one who hears ‘GG’ (Good Game) from other players.

Playing Starcraft in PC bang
Status amongst peers could be gained by learning to play Starcraft well

The quest to be ‘faster than anyone, and higher than others’, continued. Teenagers who liked games believed this above all else. Just like in the school classroom, the game means competition. They had to win by any means, beat the final boss by any means, and be able to show off “I reached the end-stage with only 10 cents”. Outside the competition in school, they competed in games skills in PC bang (Korean LAN gaming centre) and arcades.

However, nobody felt the competition to be a burden or tried to escape this situation. Even young people who hated competition in school, liked it in games, and really wanted to be Pro-Gamers (professional gamers).

Two starcraft players facing each other
Many young people in South Korea spent their time to ‘Win’ the game.

Young people who played the game well started to form groups to decide the best player among them, and, in time, this was broadcast on TV. From then on, young gamers on TV were called Pro-Gamers. However, with this added status came the increased stigma of being beaten in the game. For a Pro-gamer winning each game, and winning in game leagues, became all-important.

The age of rivalry of warlords among Pro-Gamers was not a simple passing trend or a firework that would eventually fizzle out. There is still a similar mood from that heated time. The first generation became parents whose children now dream of becoming Pro-Gamers. So, there is now no quarter given in play between parents and children.

Starcraft leaderboard
Viewing a winning streak is fun  Source: Starcraft 2

Johnver (Hodler) Wins

However, unlike games from arguably simpler times, recently published games allow gamers to achieve victories in many various ways. New paths to victory other than being ‘better’ than other players emerged. In the past, the single route to victory was clear. Now, there was variety.

The game, ‘PUBG: Battlegrounds’, clearly showed players all over the world that they could win the game without ever engaging in combat. Previously, in FPS games, gamers had previously thought that battle couldn’t be escaped. Now, they realized that ‘Johnver’ (HODL, Holding on for dear life), wins were possible. Doing nothing and staying still in PUBG: Battlegrounds could result in a win. The primary objective of the game is to neutralize others by using guns, but the player can win without firing a single round of ammunition.

In FPS, this concept was quite unfamiliar, but gamers really started to be enthusiastic about it. But wouldn’t FPS gamers in ‘Quake’ or ‘Counter Strike’ think that this kind of play is like being a coward?

PUBG Battlegrounds
‘PUBG: Battlegrounds: New State’,  Source: PUBG

In the genre of Battle Royale games in which the player must survive as the last one standing among one hundred people, the traditional rule that the player wins by killing others, is a dominant strategy. So adopting a strategy without combat feels like it is not in the spirit of the game. However, developers intentionally include opportunities to avoid competition from the beginning, clearly indicating that this is a valid strategy to win.

Anybody can do it, but it is not easy. Those choosing this strategy must know the game well and have the capability to make appropriate moves. If the player can watch and read a combat situation well,  and thus weasel out of becoming involved themselves, this kind of play is acceptable.

Battlegrounds’ decision to subvert the FPS genre definitely makes the game very popular. Also, many gamers and streamers deliberately set themselves missions like ‘no shooting’ or ‘no item farming’, which makes people keen to watch whether they can achieve it. When ninety-nine people aim a gun at each other, but the eventual winner has prevailed by intentionally weaseling out – many gamers are crazy about it. There is another meaning of ‘Victory’.

What if it’s better to lose?

However, not all methods of winning a game are acceptable. Badly designed games can lead to gameplay experiences and opportunities which are very different from the original intention. Gamers are very clever. If the balance between ‘do nothing’ and ‘intentional escaping’ is broken, this can lead to strategies which are actually just abuse.

‘Abuse’ in games means to repeatedly exploit faulty features. Gamers can maliciously and intentionally be beaten by using features of the game that do not work as intended.

In Mercenaries of Hearthstone, the main game mechanic was ‘combat’ by a one-to-one card game, so it should have been that the only way to ‘win’ was to prevail in this competition.

However, there can be unintended consequences of the way a game is designed, leading gamers to choose to ‘lose’ rather than win. In this game the more losses there were, the more rewards built up for all players. There was also the option to ‘surrender’ in a game. Players were able to choose to lose (by surrendering) as a way of ‘grinding’ for rewards.

’Surrender Run’ only for rewards in Hearthstone
Source: Hearthstone

’Surrender Run’ only for rewards. If the purpose of the game changes into ‘grinding for rewards’, the game goes in an unexpected direction which is against the intention of developers. Designers need to be aware of the potential for unintended consequences.

Therefore, the purpose of the game becomes to click ‘Surrender’ first to gain greater rewards?’. There is little fun in this kind of victory. If the other player simultaneously quits at the start of the game, the gamer can achieve ‘Victory’, but all related aspects of gameplay are omitted. This is pretty much exactly the opposite of what was intended for the gameplay experience of Hearthstone. If rewards incentivize but there is no penalty for surrendering, or otherwise acting against the spirit of the game, this will become a widespread gameplay decision.

Sure, it was quickly fixed. But this clearly shows how a game can be played against the intention of developers was changed. Gamers choose ‘lose’ without hesitation if it is beneficial to them.

Line drawing of tabletop players
WE ARE THE WORLD. There is no difference between friend and enemy in the face of compensation

To win, the player must be beaten first

After playing ‘World of Warcraft’ for a long time, one thing I realized is that many attempts are needed to win a Boss Battle.

Victory in World of Warcraft, unlike Battlegrounds or Hearthstone, includes mid to long-term play. Victory in MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) includes a sort of journey, incorporating grwth and ongoing challenge, rather than a ‘single throw of the dice’. Games such as FPS, Battle Royale, or Trading Card Games can be a single bet, but the flow in MMORPGs is long. So, the feeling of achieving victory is different from that in other games. In fact, sometimes there is no win or lose at all.

When I (as a Raid Leader) tried to kill the boss for over nine hours every day for several weeks, I often thought ‘What am I doing now?’. If I narrowly missed the win because of the mistakes of others, there would often be feelings of resentment and might be misanthropy hating and doubting my teammates.

The road to victory is a long and difficult one. Frustration and losing can continue for ages without getting anything. So, in Raid or Dungeon play in which many gamers have to cooperate, strategizing about the number of participants and what approaches to use is more important than achieving the win.

World of Warcraft Raid
While each of dozens of defeats seems to have no meaning, eventually the learning accumulates, and leads to a valuable victory

This sort of situation doesn’t just happen in online games. In games like Dark Soul, the player will make many attempts. Gamers are not disappointed at the failure of catching the boss overmany attempts. Rather, they enjoy repeatedly realizing ‘YOU DIED’. They will be disappointed if the boss is beaten by just one attempt feeling the game is too easy. The purpose of the game is to win, but gamers don’t want to achieve that too easily.

Disappointment and frustration are part of what make the eventual victory so much sweeter. Simply winning for gamers is not actually as important as how the process of getting there feels. Would others go crazy over my gameplay screen? Could my gameplay be presented at my funeral, to show what a super excellent player I was in life? These are what is important.

Game developers and gamers do not want wishy-washy victory. The victory only has this kind of lasting meaning because it was preceded by so much frustration, desperation, and failure.

However, somebody will win and somebody will lose in the game. The purpose of the game is to perform the activities described by the pre-defined rules to arrive at ‘who is better’ (on that occasion), and have fun doing it. So, if you have that fun, winning or losing becomes meaningless. It is not as if only the first winner can be remembered.

Not everyone can be a winner, but people don’t need to be disappointed. We don’t all need to pursue the pre-determined victory. The process is more important than winning. Sometimes, there are more impactful experiences and fun in losing rather than winning. ‘Winning’ is sort of a milestone rather than an endpoint.

Gamers in bronze or silver tiers and newbies are more accustomed to losing than winning. However, they are often more enthusiastic than other gamers in a higher tier. By approaching the required tasks step-by-step, they enjoy the process of enhancing their skills. If the continued practice of trying and staying motivated carries on, victory will eventually naturally follow.

For gamers, the meaning of ‘Makpan’ (at the last moment) is

  1. Just barely exchanging the win and loss between two teams
  2. ‘Hanta’ (team fighting) in unexpected ways
  3. Reversal afterwards
  4. Getting the attention of my gameplay
  5. Winning the game

The ‘win’ is almost like this process.

Lee Sedol faces the AI AlphaGo
AlphaGo VS Lee Sedol  Source: Google Deepmind

Human vs AI

In the Baduk (Go) between AlphaGo and Lee Sedol 9th dan, what people remember is that eventually the Human beat the AI (Artificial Intelligence)’. However, Lee Sedol 9th dan said that “In the opposite way, I am the first one who lost Baduk to an AI”. As a result, Lee Sedol 9th dan won only one game over AlphaGo. Overall, he lost the match with AlphaGo by four-to-one games. Lee Sedol 9th dan decided to retire because of this loss.

The reason why Lee Sedol 9th dan eventually won over AlphaGo is that he experienced many defeats. Through this experience, he learned how to win.

Many people remember the win in the 4th game, rather than the loss of Lee Sedol 9th dan. Despite the overall defeat, many people think that he beat the AlphaGo because of this single win. This one win retains the valuable meaning, ‘human victory’. Although he lost to the AlphaGo, his one win is what will be remembered.

Losing is quite hard to accept, but everybody knows that victory is also hard to obtain. Many people live today for their own win or victory. The most important thing in games or life is the process to arrive at the destination. In continuous losing or failures, we achieve more than a simple ‘Win’.

It’s like a joke, but there must be a loser for there to be a winner. No losing, no win. Failure is just a stepping stone to success. So always remember – my victory is not more valuable than yours, just as yours is no more valuable than mine.

Noh Yu RaeNoh Yu Rae currently works as a reporter for Gamification Journal in South Korea. Previously, he has been a professional game reporter in Korean media. Since then he has worked as a professional reviewer of Korean Indie games and an Alpha-tester for PC, Console, and mobile platforms.



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