Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Room for the reckless

Ever noticed that "berserkers" in video games are never encouraged to go berserk? Their rage can make them faster, more powerful, or open up special attacks, but it never really sends them into a frenzy.

Games usually emphasize strategy and thoughtful play for a number of reasons. For one, many people like to be challenged intellectually. Also, it's easier for a developer to control a game's pace and intensity if the game is focused on overcoming set obstacles in controlled ways.

But there's something to be said for reckless gaming. I like intellectual challenges, but I also enjoy careless mayhem in wild environments. Some people have first-hand experience of my reckless habits, like charging into the midst of five Halo 3 brutes so I can smack one in the face with the butt of my assault rifle.

Sometimes, I want to play without a seatbelt. Sometimes, I want to drive off-road... in a sportscar. Sometimes, I don't want to worry about death penalties, health bars, mana bars, etc; I just want to play in the experential, unfocused way that we all enjoyed when we were little kids.

The first game I can remember that was devoted to this sort of play is Rampage. Here's your giant monster. Here's a city full of terrified citizens and skyscrapers. Now, go eat people and smash buildings.

Spore will certainly involve more strategy than Rampage, but it also is devoted to experential play. I, for one, expect to be spending more time in the editors than in any other part of the game. When I take my custom creature out into the wild, I can expect the environment to be wild... to be strange and untamed. When my creature meets another, there will be no name coloration to tell me, "This thing's going to spank you, then laugh at you, then eat you. Run away!" That's because the game isn't about victory and defeat. It's about enjoying the moment, and exploring.

Should there be more games like this? Definitely. But perhaps a better question is: Can there be room for the reckless in games that also include strategic play? Can an MMO, for example, allow my berserker to truly be a berserker, while also allowing my wizard friend to play thoughtfully to conquer fixed achievements?

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