Monday, May 18, 2009

Camping, realism, failures of game design

I'm always amused when my game design students complain that someone is "camping" in a shooter game. (They play at the game club, not during class!) They're trying to enforce some kind of standard of "honorable" behavior through peer-pressure, it seems. Yet I always tell them, if the game allows a player to do something that is a good strategy, some players are going to do it--I would. (In the same sense, "turtling" in a boardgame might be frowned upon, but if it's the best strategy for a player, some are going to do it.)

In other words, if the game fails to make camping (or turtling) an impractical strategy, yet the result is undesirable, there's a defect in the design.

The bigger problem, in shooters, is that camping is a reminder of the real world. In the real world people don't run around like crazy hoping to get two kills before they get killed! They camp and let the other guy get killed. In other words, camping is a reminder of the real world, a breakdown of the suspension of disbelief or or what academics call the "magic circle". It reminds players how utterly ridiculous and unrealistic shooters are--because there's no fear or death.

Shooter designers try to stamp out camping by showing someone who has just died who killed him, where they are, and what they've been doing. I'd think this is even more a breakdown of the magic circle, but since it helps players reinforce by celebration that they "pwned" the just-killed character, people don't seem to mind.

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