Can You Play a Game Wrong?
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.
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?
I… don’t know.
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.
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!