Gaming Decisions - What we really do when we play on computers

Sat Jun 30 18

Recently I made myself aware of a program called whiptail. I was searching through the Linux subsystem and found it. It's basically a snap-in program that you can call to prompt a user to make a meaningful decision, such as picking what sound card they have installed during an installation. In fact, it's probably the snap-in used in every installation experience ever in linux-land.

The programming model appeared in my head - "based off the state of the program, I can prompt the user for a decision in a 90's style UI". i even had cool button modes for "full button" and regular button. Looking further into it I can do stacking windows and all sorts of things. As soon as I saw the programming model, my initial instinct was "there's a game here." A quick googling turned up nothing, but I was reminded while playing with whiptail of a game like hamurabi which you can play online. For a more modern version of the menu-based game I refer to Plague inc.

The menu based game has never died, from 1960 to 2018 this idea of gameplay has persisted. A menu based game is essentially a game of interesting decisions. Whether or not to feed your people in Hamurabi is the same interesting decision as to how to evolve your disease in Plague Inc. When I think about it, when taking away all the bells and whistles in Monopoly or Railroad Tycoon or Heroes of the Storm, a game can be reduced to the following twitter-style nugget

A game is merely a series of interesting decisions, made under false duress

The only issue after you understand this is simply conveyance. Which you can do with directx 12 or whiptail. Your tools for conveyance in Hamurabi are limited to simply the static text that appears at the start : "Hammurabi: I beg to report to you," whereas in Plague inc. we can use all the modern tools of conveyance - a world map, a tech tree, news reports, popups, graphics. The underlying flow of the game is the same though: the game conveys a scenario, and the player makes a choice to affect the game world to find out what happens.

In a good game, there are no bad decisions, just different outcomes

In Hamurabi, if you starve your people, you lose. But what if you were actually just trying to find out how quickly you could starve your populace? What if you wanted to roleplay as the guy who screwed over ancient Sumer? I remember as a kid playing Space Quest one of the interesting things to do was to find out how many way I could make Roger Wilco die. I think it's an interesting effect of games, especially software based games, that we can experiment with the computer's simulated environment to see the outcomes. Gaming always assumes that the player wants to win, but actually there's a legitimate segment of population that wants to lose. "What happens if I combine earth-air-air-fire-earth in Magicka?" is just as fun as winning and getting further in the story.

The point where a game is fun is the exact same point as where the user is making a decision.