I think most gamers have a love AND hate relationship when it comes to Random Number Generators. The entire MMO genre is built upon RNG and I remember the old camping structures in EQ where you could spend hours, days, or weeks waiting for a specific mob and/or specific drop. We are largely playing large Casino style games in the background, with invisible dealers. Instead of leisure suits we dress as elves and orcs and wield swords instead of cigars, and beer glasses instead of shields. (Can you tell I was in Las Vegas two weeks ago?)
The Grumpy Elf talks about his recent spat of terrible luck and I agree with him on a lot of points about WoW. When I was playing WoW I most enjoyed it because I was able to advance my character through dungeon runs and grinds, doing activities that I personally enjoyed. Bad luck and RNG is an outcome for him that is causing a lot of frustration in his goal to advance and improve his in game character.
I have spoken the random nature of our games in the past, even talking about the Star Wars PnP game and how they introduced awesome random elements:
SW was played with all d6 – and on your rolls you always had to had an off colored dice. That dice was the “special” dice. We called it the fate dice. It may have officially have been called the ‘Force’ dice. I’m not sure. Its been 15 years. The crux of it? You rolled real bad on that dice, even if you rolled all 6’s on the others, and crazy things would happen. Crazy bad. It also worked in the reverse, where a good roll – on that one dice – would make amazingly incredible things happen. Out of the ordinary. At least, that is how I remember it
I have always been a fan of randomization for the ‘surprise’ effect it can have. Good or bad – when exceptional things happen is when good stories happen. Nothing truly great would happen if the outcome was always measured and expected. This lead to some awesome gaming and story moments in Blood Bowl – here is the outcome of the story (click on it if you want to read the whole thing):
Without going into too much level of detail, with a lot of luck and some well skilled players I won the game 4-1. At the end of the game, I only had 2 players left on the field that weren’t Injured or KO’d (KO’s happen for temporary out of game injuries. After the ball changes hands they get to roll to see if they come back in or stay down for another drive). He had all 11. Goes to show what you can do against a frustrated player who wasn’t used to the Movement and Dodge ability of the Wood Elf team.
In that article I was against the predictability of raids in WoW where if someone dies it is gameover. That design makes only predictable outcomes fun and leaves no room for unpredictability. Move X, mash Y buttons on sequence, rinse, repeat, win. Nothing unexpected or out of the ordinary can, or will, occur.
Love it or hate it RNG is here to stay and I believe games can be better built around that fact. If the systems are built to be supportive of RNG (and not make RNG an automatic failure state) it can make for great gaming memories. At the end of it all, those memories and experiences are what keeps us all gaming to begin with, right?
Last week I was at a NHL game and decided to support a charity event by buying 50/50 tickets. When I gave over my $20 (for 20 tickets) I didn’t for one moment actually believe I would win – who actually wins those things? What I believed is that I was supporting a Children’s Hospital and that the money would go to good use.
So yeah, that is me (in the middle) and I won. When I was reading the ticket I didn’t actually believe it at first! The girl (on my left) who sold me the ticket told me that after she sold me the tickets she turned to her friend and told her that “that guy was so nice – I really hope he wins for good karma!” and on my right is David Desharnais, #51 from the Montreal Canadiens. He was a really nice guy and I’m a big fan of the team so that was a nice bonus. So thankfully my credit cards will now be gone along with some other household debt. I will treat myself a little as I need a new set of goalie pads (I still play twice a week) which will cost me a couple thousand.
My point here isn’t to gloat in my good fortune, but to instead point out that I wasn’t playing to win – I was playing to support charity. Winning was just a very lucky, very random, very unexpected side effect of participating. If you focus on why you are playing more than the outcome of playing you may just find some happy surprises along the way.
Our games used to mean much the same way when they felt more like virtual worlds instead of the achievement based experiences we are left with today, but that is for another post.