What does this have to do with gaming or anything else this site is usually about? Well, it’s a little-known fact that I moonlight on occasion as a blogger, and a frequent technique many bloggers rely on when they query their brain-computer for article ideas and come up empty is to rely heavily on metaphor.
If you are still reading this, you are my special friend.
It occurred to me today that progressive enhancement has been around for quite some time in video games. No big surprise there, it is not a web-only idea. It has been a good usability practice since there have been user interfaces and non-identical computers. You can see a form of it when you select “use optimal settings” in the graphics settings for some games. You can wish it was there on some games that were clearly designed for HD televisions. (Ever try Dead Rising or Every Extend Extra Extreme on a standard definition TV? It’s like an illiteracy simulator.) I suppose if you really wanted to reach a little bit, you could make a case that skill settings in games are a form of progressive enhancement. You have a core game that anyone can play (like Rock Band 2’s no-fail mode), and if the player has the ability to try the harder modes, then they can. Of course, this made me wonder if a skilled hardcore gamer basically has a “mad skills” graphics card installed OH GOD CATASTROPHIC METAPHOR FAILURE EJECT EJECT EJECT.
After the smoke cleared and I came back online, I started to think (marginally) more useful thoughts. Thoughts like “if I glued all of my spare WoWTCG and M:tG commons together, could I make a throne for myself, and would it have adequate lumbar support?”. Also, I started to wonder if progressive enhancement could be leveraged when planning one’s tabletop roleplaying game.
At first, I decided to approach this idea as if combat and other “crunch” mechanics were the base functionality of the game. It did not seem an unreasonable assumption at first blush. D&D’s roots do involve a lot of tromping around a dungeon, no questions asked, with very little regard for the devastating effects the party’s actions will have on the dungeon’s delicate ecosystem. If you have these things, then surely you can layer some “fluff” atop them and every conceivable player will have an optimal gaming experience. Right? RIGHT?!!
It is a rare occasion that I realize that I am full of crap before anyone else does. This was one such occasion, triggered by the realization that I personally prefer my roleplaying experience to be about 90% storytelling and 10% senseless violence. My algorithm was flawed, like Achilles’ decision to wear sandals to battle, and my own decision to use that as an example without checking to make sure Achilles was aware of his only weakness before making footwear choices. So, what could I do? Scrapping the idea completely would be boring. So I flipped it on its head. Storytelling was now the core functionality of the game, and game mechanics were now features that could be disabled if the players weren’t compatible with them. This, unfortunately, made sense too. So many times we have seen “the rules are just a guideline”. So many times have we seen house rules implemented to suit a particular group of players. But this too didn’t work out. What if you have a group that doesn’t much care for story and just likes the stabbing and the immolating? Besides, I just scientifically proved not one paragraph ago that you could base a game off of crunchy mechanical stuff. What gives?
Those of you smarter (and less long-winded) than myself have no doubt come to the conclusion at which I eventually arrived: crunch and fluff are not the core of the game. A bunch of people sitting around the table having fun is the core of the game. (It also helps if you are all pretending as a team, but if you’ve figured out some way around that, please let me know.) The crunch and the fluff are the features that don’t show up if your players aren’t compatible with them. You figure out what works best and what causes everyone to have the most fun, and you do that. It might not be the textbook example of progressive enhancement, but if everybody is having a good time, I suppose that’s OK. Here I was, thinking that I was going to revolutionize gaming, and I just wind up with the same old stupid advice we always give out. Ugh. How frustrating.
I have to salvage this somehow, or at the very least cause you all enough brain damage to forget any of this ever happened. Let’s see, how about this: I’m going to write a book to help the self-esteem of PC’s who get level drained. After all, their core functionality always exists even at level 1, and all the abilities they accumulate over time by levelling are just superfluous. Therefore, when a wight gives them a hug, it really doesn’t mean anything at all. Heck, it just means that monsters above that character’s level don’t really exist because they’re not compatible. Or is it that the player isn’t compatible. Or the adventure OH GOD I’M LOSING THEM QUICK THINK OF SOMETHING!!!!
Wait! I have it! Anybody else want to level a Progressive Enhancement spec Shaman with me with Cataclysm drops? Anyone?
Thank you, thank you. I’m here all night.