Well obviously you can in some respects. … Right?

Or actually; should we first separate out playing a game well from playing a game as intended? There will be some overlap here. Sometimes playing a game against the developer’s intention will result rather directly in not playing the game well. i.e., If a game is set to make the Mr Bad Lasers cut you in half, then even if you care not a whit for developer intent — running up and hugging them is never going to end well for you.

Go on. Hug the space-lasers. See how well that goes for you!

Unless being sliced and diced is your intent; then this round goes to the devs. Their will is unto law. Thou shalt comply…. Or die. Repeatedly.

Arguably, that is playing the game ‘wrong’.

But where this topic stemmed is from a comment left by Nimgimli/Pete of the Dragonchasers blog on my Animal Crossing post. I had all but reached the conclusion that Animal Crossing simply wasn’t a game for me, despite initial impressions. In particular I have issues with the pacing and the game telling me when I’ve had enough fun or made enough progress for one day.

To which, Pete said, “IMO ACNH isn’t a game you try to win. It’s a game to wander around in. If you’re trying real hard to find that iron and getting frustrated, you’re (again, IMO) doing it wrong.” (Emphasis mine.)

And in this context it isn’t so much an issue of playing the game ‘well’ or not. Not primarily at least. There has certainly been some advice given on playing more effectively! But moreso this was about a more fundamental issue of developer vs. player intent perhaps being incompatible in this case.

The developer of Animal Crossing very clearly wants their game to be taken on a slow, measured, perhaps somewhat casual basis. They want you to slow down and sniff the roses, as it were. They wish this so strongly that they are willing to put in place systems to prevent (or at least prevent by natural means) any form of power gaming or rapid advancement.

The unfolding of buildings, tools and game mechanics is to be taken slowly, day by day. A lengthy experience. Nimgimli even talked about his partner playing the prior Animal Crossing for something akin to 7-8 years.

That’s all good and well. And when it comes to narrative, I’m typically in favour of authorial intent. But when it comes to game mechanics; well, as it turns out, there can be a clash. You see, my motivation as a gamer skews heavily toward achievement, in the sense of power / ability growth over time. I’m very open to sandbox / find-your-own-fun titles, but that progression aspect is still very important.

Without feeling like I have control over my own success or failure in this regard, I can easily become disengaged with a title. The control taken out of my hands and put into those of our little Raccoon overlord in Animal Crossing conflicts rather fundamentally therefore with how I would naturally approach a game.

And so, when compared to the intent of the developers of AC — I’m very likely playing (and thinking about) it all ‘wrong’.

Is This a Bad Thing?

Maybe… Maybe not. But these certainly are!! :P

I… don’t know.

Hmm.

Certainly I believe that it’s OK that not all games are made for all people. I don’t believe there is any obligation on the part of the Animal Crossing developers (or any others) to change their design vision to suit my gaming motivations and tastes.

It’s their vision, after all. And no-one ‘tricked’ me into purchasing the title, least of all the developers. There is without a doubt more I could’ve done ahead of dropping a dime on the game to better ascertain whether or not it’d be up my ally.

But do I think there might’ve been better ways to allow for them to achieve both their goals and mine? Yeah, probably. Allowing for a broad range of play styles within the scope of staying true to your vision is certainly something I believe should be a developer’s aspiration.

An example of this?

Bhagpuss spoke for a while last year on flouting the design intention of the Final Fantasy XIV devs, and having far more fun in the process. In particular, the Main Story Quest (MSQ) of FFXIV was quite a drag to him — and so he ignored it. Utterly. Flitted around the map, looking for unlocks, side quests, and just general things to do staying as far from that MSQ as humanly possible.

My FFXIV character, sloggin’ it through the MSQ.

At the time, I remember wondering how on earth Bhagpuss was getting any fun out of that. It seemed very ‘wrong’ to me. Not because I thought the MSQ at those levels was any good (a drier story you’ll be hard pressed to locate, I think), but because I was thinking of how much ‘stuff’ might be locked behind the decision not to pursue the MSQ.

As it turned out; relatively little. The FFXIV devs no doubt intended for everyone to get through the MSQ. They almost certainly wouldn’t have spent any real design effort on ensuring players who ignored the MSQ entirely could still have a good time. But equally — they didn’t railroad Bhagpuss into doing what they wanted.

And I acknowledge there might be a bit of apples and oranges comparison going on here… The FFXIV devs ‘vision’ was more likely to be: As many players, for as long as possible — with all else being secondary, as opposed to Animal Crossing’s desire to specifically be a slow paced, casual game. But even within the context of that; would it have broken the vision to allow some form of storage earlier on? Even if in limited form by a chest or similar? I don’t think so. Or how about allowing Tom Nook to continue collecting specimens on Blather’s behalf while the museum is setup? Probably also not.

But it would’ve certainly opened up the enjoyment of the title a little more to me and those similarly minded, I think. And for a game that also focuses so heavily on community and connectedness; surely this would have to count for something?


This was a post for Blapril 2020, the annual blogging event (albeit usually as Blaugust), brought forward to help bring a sense of community during the challenging time of COVID-19. Blaugust is an event aiming to welcome new blogger blood into the fold and revitalise those who’ve been at it a little longer.

The Blaugust Discord is still available to join in, year round!



Naithin

Gamer, reader, writer, husband and father of two boys. Former WoW and Gaming blogger, making a return to the fold to share my love of all things looty.

17 Comments

Jeromai · April 3, 2020 at 6:49 pm

I feel like I’m increasingly triggered by the notion of playing a game ‘wrong’ these days.

Ever since I watched the Youtube channel “Let’s Game It Out” and his exceedingly absurd treatments of various games – while patently having gleeful amounts of fun and investing oodles of time in playing a game exceedingly ‘wrongly’ yet thoroughly entertaining both himself and his viewers – I think the word ‘wrong’ has lost its meaning where games are concerned.

Yes, you can choose to play a game as the designers intended (or not.) Yes, you can choose to play a game optimally and efficiently (or not.) Or one can choose to play in a way that satisfies deep seated motivations within themselves, or branch out to try and learn to enjoy a different playstyle from what one is comfortable with. One can play a game from start to finish linearly before switching games, or play 50 games for 15 minutes and anything in between. Who’s to say what’s doing it ‘wrong?’ It’s a game. Do it with it as one wills.

    Naithin · April 3, 2020 at 9:40 pm

    ‘Let’s Game It Out’ and the suggestion from Tess below of ‘DangerouslyFunny’ are amazing. I googled both of them and have spent the last little while watching their videos. xD

    I hadn’t in the context of this post even considered ‘playing wrong intentionally to humourous effect’. But… It… Is… Amazing.

    Thanks for that. :)

    In any case, I agree with you mostly. Of course all those things are valid to do, fill your boots in any which way you see fit. But I’m curious about the impacts of playing against developer intent when that in and of itself leads to a less enjoyable outcome. When, like in the example ACNH, having a goals or priority structure different to what the dev’s foresaw (and indeed enforce) leads to a lesser experience to what might otherwise be possible.

Tessa ~ Narratess · April 3, 2020 at 7:43 pm

A great example of “playing a game wrong” are the ACNH videos of Dangerously Funny. He does not play the game like a player should, but it works.

I believe that anything we as humans create will be used differently from how we intended. Art is ‘misinterpreted’ or maybe ‘we don’t get the meaning’ of the book. I think the same applies to video games. Sometimes the things we create won’t have the effect we want. And we should accept that too.

    Naithin · April 3, 2020 at 9:52 pm

    Hehe, as noted to Jeromai — I love the two YouTubers you have named. Subscribed to both of them now.

    In any case, to topic at hand — the intent of the author is not always clear and can be misinterpreted as you say. Other times it is perfectly clear and can be willfully repurposed such as what Dangerously Funny does, to great effect.

    None of this is a problem, really. If there IS a problem it’s when the author’s intent or in this case, the developer’s intent, actively clashes with and prevents enjoyment of the reader or player’s intent. And even then… Is it a problem? That was kinda my question, I guess. And it isn’t necessarily. But in this case it’s certainly a fact.

      Jeromai · April 4, 2020 at 5:03 am

      Excellent recommendation, added to my sub too. I just hurt my sides laughing from DangerouslyFunny’s Farming Simulator 19 video on delivering cows by air. That’s sheer artistry right there.

      To get back slightly on topic, I guess a follow up question would be: is it playing a game ‘wrong’ if you are not enjoying yourself? Is enjoyment or fun the critical factor here?

      Imo, I don’t think so. Plenty of people seem to play games for other reasons than enjoyment, if we observe the almost masochistic things they make themselves do, for say, reasons of social obligation or responsibility or connection, or for the sake of improving themselves to be better than others (challenge, competition, mastery, etc.) or for the sake of knowledge or accumulation or what-have-you. For example, in my younger days, I have been known to almost obsessively map out the boundaries/possibility spaces of various games, with the only payoff the satisfaction of turning the unknown into the known. Systematically grid searching some location is not exactly enjoyable, but it is a means to an end that I felt worthwhile at the time.

        Naithin · April 4, 2020 at 10:24 am

        I think it’s all a matter of perspective whose view you most value. Without exception here, the view is player’s intent matters far more than the developer’s. And I think that’s right. But also under that view, surely whether or not the player is having fun (or perhaps… meeting some other need, if it isn’t ‘fun’ they’re playing for) is really the only measure on whether or not they’re doing it right or not?

        Although that does somewhat discount the possibility of playing something right that just isn’t for you. And then perhaps that’s still ‘wrong’ because you just shouldn’t play it in that case? ;)

Bhagpuss · April 3, 2020 at 7:48 pm

When Tobold (him again) asked his readers if he should buy ACNH I linked this opinion piece from Gamesindustry.biz:

https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2020-03-27-animal-crossing-nintendo-opinion

It touches on something I have been saying for years, which is that the the word “game” is not helpful, appropriate or even meaningful in many of the contexts in which we use it. We call these things “games” because we haven’t yet developed better language to describe them. It’s reasonable enough in a way analagous to how we talk about “music” or “books” but “game” stands at that level of classification and we frequently try to make it do a lot more than it’s capable of.

I’m at a disadvantage, not having actually played ACNH (or any AC “games”) but from the outside it seems clear to me these are not “games” in the way we usually mean the term. The problem is that we don’t yet have a word for what these entertainments and activities are. I like to use music as an analogy for games in this context. Most people agree that Beethoven, Bruce Springsteen and Ornette Coleman are all “music” but the only people trying to place them in a hierarchy and a continuum are musicologists. Everyone else hives them off into “Classical”, “Rock” and “Jazz” and assesses them in that context. Then the Classical, Rock and Jazz fans sub-divide the categories further and further and further until we get to the minute variations in House music or rap that almost no-one can follow.

We have some of those subdivisions in place but gaming keeps throwing up new ideas that don’t fit into any of them and we struggle to talk about them in a meaningful fashion. We’re probably going to go on calling things like ACNH “games”, just as we still call countless mobile apps “games” but it’s such a top-order classification it’s not going to get us anywhere in any discussion of whether something is any good or who might be interested in “playing” it (Play being another misleading word, along with that old favorite “Fun”).

The problem really arises when people feel they’ve been misled. If you spend $60 on something you’ve been told is a “game” and you find it has no competetive elements, no narrative, no conflict and so on, all the things a gamer has been trained to expect, then you might well be annoyed. If there was another, widely-understood word for products that offer the experience Pete’s partner and your son are having, and it was used in all the marketing, gamers would know not to pay attention unless they, too, were looking for that experience. Unfortunately, “game” is a very comfortable and easy word for all of us, gamers and non-gamers, to throw around and it has huge traction. It’s going to be hard to dislodge.

    Naithin · April 3, 2020 at 10:20 pm

    Hrmm. A fair bit to digest here. But I think that, while I agree with you that ‘game’ in and of itself may not be a useful descriptor I don’t think it would be an incorrect one. Although of course does depend on the definition you go with. If you go with, ‘a physical or mental competition conducted according to rules with the participants in direct opposition to each other’ then no — it isn’t that remotely.

    But then… Neither would *any* singleplayer title.

    The more apt definition to go with I think would be, ‘an activity engaged in for diversion or amusement’ in which case Animal Crossing certainly fits.

    If you do dive into that next level and look at genre, apparently Animal Crossing has been categorised as a ‘Social simulation game’ which when digging into it a little more seems… surprisingly apt. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_simulation_game

    But like you say, this is really getting into the nitty gritty details that the average person may find difficult to track. This genre itself being a sub genre of the broader ‘Life Simulation’ genre, again a sub division of ‘Simulation’!

    So I’m not sure if this is a matter of not having the language to describe these things, just that it is — for the reasons you’ve outlined — very much not simple.

Quietschisto · April 3, 2020 at 9:46 pm

Look at the thousands of speedrunners out there? They most definitely aren’t playing as the developers intended. Are they playing the games “wrong”? No, I don’t think so.

I agree that certain playstyles (I’m a completionist myself, and I always do the side content before I touch the main content) can hamper the enjoyment of some games, but that doesn’t mean your’re playing them “wrong”. Still, nobody hinders you from trying out new playstyles that might fit the game better (as commenter Jeromai already said), and maybe you’ll even come to like them.

Just think about Nuzlocke, sequence breaking, or various other challenge runs. They all are not what the developers intended, but they make the game mor fun.

So, I’d say you can’t play a game “wrong”, but you can play it “suboptimal”…

    Naithin · April 3, 2020 at 10:24 pm

    re: Speedrunners, it depends on perspective though, no?

    From the perspective of developer intent — these things are categorically ‘wrong’ (for most titles. Some very actively embrace this style of play!)

    And even on that point, it depends whether or not you even value authorial intent or more value reader response (or in this game; gamer response).

    Despite my challenge back to you — when it comes to play *style*, as I hope I made clear in my post, I very much value reader/player response over and above authorial intent. I respect the developers right to make a game adherent to their vision even if it means excluding gamers like myself — that is entirely their perogative.

    But of course, given an option, I would prefer for as inclusive an approach to gaming styles and methods as possible while still respecting the vision they have for their game.

Nimgimli · April 4, 2020 at 2:15 am

Well I guess I’ll chime in.

In my opinion, of course, if you’re enjoying yourself then you’re not playing a game wrong, no matter what the devs intended you to do.

But if there’s a game you’re seeing others really enjoying, and you invest your money into it, and then you’re don’t have fun, AND you’re not playing as the devs intended, then you might be playing it wrong. Or maybe a better way to word it is, in that case you might want to stop and consider coming at the game from a different angle (assuming you’re not ready to just walk away from it completely.)

For example if a game is strongly designed around group play, but you’re trying to play it solo and are getting really frustrated by the difficulty and not having fun, then maybe you should consider trying to play it in a group. Of course if you’re playing it solo and are really enjoying the challenge that comes with playing that way, then you are playing the game exactly the correct way, for you.

A more absurd example: If you’re playing a platformer and you’re running back and forth but never going to the level exit and you’re complaining that you paid $60 for a game and it only has one level, then you’re probably playing it ‘wrong.’ On the other hand if you’re having a ball just running around in that one level, then you’re playing it right.

Some people (including ME!) find the wording very antagonistic, but telling someone they are playing ‘wrong’ can also be a genuine attempt to help get a person from “this game is frustrating and not fun” to “Hey, I’m enjoying this.”

    Nimgimli · April 4, 2020 at 2:32 am

    It’s probably bad form to reply to my own comment but I thought of a good real world example.

    Ubisoft Open World Games. I love these but I see a lot of people struggle with them, finding them to be boring or repetitive or just too big.

    These games will have some kind of progression system that requires gathering experience or materials or something in order to advance. Then there will be a selection of activities that you can do to (let’s simplify a bit) gain experience. Say there are 5 types of activity: Racing, Shooting, Puzzle Solving, Exploring & Crafting. My ‘eureka’ moment with this kind of game was realizing that the developers understand that not everyone will enjoy all 5 of these activities. So they put enough of each of them into the game so that you can hit ‘level cap’ without doing all of them. If you hate racing and exploring you can just ignore those activities (for the most part, there’s usually a couple you have to do…I guess to try to force you to at least try them) and do the Shooting/Puzzle/Exploring activities and still get enough experience to hit level cap by the end of the game so you can take down the final big boss.

    In my experience a lot of people who don’t realize this try to be completionists and do every activity in the game and find the pacing of the game becomes too slow and tedious; suddenly you’re playing a 100 hour game that has 40 hours of story. I guess it is antagonistic to tell these people they’re playing it ‘wrong’ but on the other hand I love these games and would like to help others love them as well, so I might share with them my discovery that the best way to play them is to NOT try to do every activity on the map [for me this was a big leap because I usually am a completionist], but to focus on the ones you enjoy best. It’s not meant to ‘trigger’ people like Jeromai, it’s an attempt to help someone find the joy in a type of game that they currently dislike.

      Naithin · April 4, 2020 at 10:45 am

      Like so much of this conversation — intent matters. I think it is easy to be offended — or at least annoyed — when someone comes at you telling you you’re playing a game ‘wrong’ when what they mean is they think that you’re not playing it well.

      Actually — I think this is a good parallel to this example over all! Because yes, that intent matters — like with your commentary, I knew it was coming from a place of wanting to be helpful and highlighting things that might shift my perspective.

      But there is intent, and then there is also the execution. While not the case here, it’s entirely possible that someone else might’ve had the same root intent — to convey useful information to better enjoy the game — but to execute it in a manner that is more aggressive, whether the intent was for that or not!

Sandrian · April 4, 2020 at 2:34 am

An interesting read Naithin!

I personally don’t think you can play any game “wrong” per sé. You can execute things in an unintended way and as such fail to meet goals you or a group of people have set but still you’re not necessarily playing a game “wrong’.

A good example of this is raiding in MMO’s. Some people are very gifted at this and enjoy doing it and as such meet goals they, and their raiding group, set for themselves. Another person, how hard they may try, is just not very gifted and is not able to meet goals. Is this person playing the game wrong? Not necessarily, they just don’t meet the goals they set for themselves.

In the context of Animal Crossing, you set the goal for yourself that you want to build the shop. Building the shop requires Iron Nuggets that are a random drop chance from hitting rocks with a shovel. If you fail at meeting that goal because you’re having bad luck and as such get frustrated you’re not playing the game wrong. You’re just frustrated with the game because you can’t do what you want. And that’s fine! It’s fine to say “this isn’t for me because I’m not getting out of the game what I want to”. I personally enjoy AC myself because I’m happy to just run around and do tiny things every day. Of course I get frustrated with the time gating sometimes aswell and I put the game down because of it. But as Nimgimli mentioned I’ve just adjusted my perspective and kind of let it go and take a step back.

Does this mean I’m now playing the game as intended? No idea. But it works for me. So do what works for you.

    Naithin · April 4, 2020 at 10:50 am

    “Some people are very gifted at this and enjoy doing it and as such meet goals they, and their raiding group, set for themselves. Another person, how hard they may try, is just not very gifted and is not able to meet goals. Is this person playing the game wrong? Not necessarily, they just don’t meet the goals they set for themselves.”

    Perfect illustration of playing a game well vs. playing it correctly. With WoW, and MMO’s more generally — their vision is typically to just keep as many people onboard for as long as possible.

    So like Nim mentioned, they will often include a raft of activity types in the full knowledge that not everyone will be there for all of them. Ignoring some of these options or focusing on one to the exclusion of others doesn’t mean that you’re playing the game wrong OR make any statement on how well or not well you’re playing. :)

    re: Animal Crossing; I don’t think in my case the perspective change would’ve saved the game for me if it was just playing for my own benefit. There is PLENTY on my gaming backlog plate that’s more of a natural fit to how I approach things. But given that I am going to continue for my youngest son, this type of advice is still going to be useful in ensuring it doesn’t drive me fricken insane. ;)

Nogamara · April 5, 2020 at 11:17 am

I think a great example are the people who play MMOs “wrong”. Like Gutrot the Naked Noob who leveled to max level in WoW with just grey items he found. This made it really tedious and hard. Or the Pandaren Doubleagent who stayed neutral until max level (usually not possible, you choose Horde or Alliance at Level 10 or so) by just picking flowers and mining ore on the starter island. Or people doing pacifist characters in games that favor combat so much.
In the end I think it’s a scope thing, I’m pretty for most of these people this wasn’t their first and only character, so it’s an alt they level in a slower pace to keep them entertained, kind of a fun or special side project. But if someone started like this and then was annoyed that it was so slow, someone might (rightfully?) tell them that’s not how the game is usually played, so it’s “wrong” in a way.

    Naithin · April 5, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    Yeah. Those sorts of challenges that people set themselves sit in a whole other category I think. And you pretty much nailed it to my mind in that if someone, somehow, saw one of these challenges and then ended up believing that this was how you were intended to play the game… tried it… Didn’t enjoy it…

    Well I would certainly hope someone would helpfully point them in the right direction! xD

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