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Video Games

What Your Favorite Video Game Genre Says About Your Moral Character

My friends play a lot of video games, and I sometimes join them, but more often I just observe. And over the years of observing, I’ve noticed a few things worth sharing.

Every video game is somewhat different and the lines can sometimes be a bit blurry, but with a few exceptions, the concept of a video game’s genre is mostly obvious and consistent to most consumers.

What’s not always clear or obvious to many gamers is the values and beliefs that their favorite video game genres reinforce through the gameplay experience. Let’s look at a few examples first, then I have a broader point to make.

Values and Beliefs of Genres

MMORPGs

Art by LindseyVi

Massively-multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) are games where you choose a specialty or job and then join other players to act out some story and tackle challenges.

MMORPGs almost always have a system where players can create or join guilds of other players (usually friends) to help organize their activities together.

At a superficial level, the values and beliefs reinforced by MMORPGs should be teamwork, cooperation, and role specialization.

However, the gameplay experience of an MMORPG is usually: Rush to the current season’s level/power cap, then grind out activities hunting for better gear to make your character stronger so you can participate in more challenging group activities.

Your character doesn’t usually actually gain strength, they only gain better gear which gives them bigger power boosts.

To wit: A naked level-cap character of a particular {race, class, gender} is almost always mathematically indistinguishable from every other character of the same basic configuration.

Your gear is your power, but you still need to work together to win.

Single-Player RPGs

Art by VixNdwnq

In a typical single-layer role-playing game, you control a cast of heroes out to save the world from some threat; often a villain or supernatural force.

Though the setting can vary, RPGs tend to offer lots of ways to customize your protagonist and their allies. This can be through gear (as with MMORPGs), but usually there’s one or more “skill tree” system that lets you unlock new abilities and/or boost your character’s core attributes.

Additionally, many single-player RPGs offer rare items that permanently increase one of your character’s attributes, thereby making the character stronger even with the weakest gear in the game. (For example: the herbs in the Tales Of franchise.)

The superficial values of a single-player RPG are curiosity, focusing on interpersonal relationships, and individual growth.

However, the gameplay experience of a single-player RPG is usually: Learn the systems in place in the virtual world you inhabit, and then take advantage of them until you steamroll through challenges.

Not strong enough to take on that boss? Go kill weaker enemies until your level increases, thereby giving you more HP and DPS.

The world levels up with you? Use whatever boon leveling up gives you to make your characters more efficient at dealing and mitigating damage. Or grind money for that unattainably-expensive equipment that will give you the edge in that encounter.

Unlike MMORPGs, where the leveling experience is an obstacle to the fun, in single-player RPGs, the leveling experience is the fun!

First-Person Shooters

This is broader than a single defined genre, but bear with me.

If there is a single-player mode at all, FPS games tend to fall into one of three categories:

  1. The writing team could very well have written an RPG instead, and we’d be none the wiser. (Mass Effect, Borderlands, etc.)
  2. War re-enactments with a ton of creative liberty and anachronisms. (Call of Duty, Battlefield, etc.)
  3. Zombie/demon/monster killin’ fun-times. (Doom!)

But more often than not, a lot of players aren’t interested in a story/campaign mode. They’re playing for the competitive multiplayer experience!

The superficial values of a first-person shooter are focus, tactics and strategy, and resource budgeting.

However, the gameplay experience of an FPS is usually: Join a lobby, compete against the other team for survival, compete against your teammates for eliteness, unlocking shiny rewards for bragging rights, and general machismo.

Battle Royale Games

Fight each other until one of you can claim superiority over the rest (usually, the survivor(s)). Then rinse and repeat.

If you were expecting depth, you’re looking in the wrong genre for that. The developers for these games don’t even bother with AI programming or a compelling story.

The developer’s incentive is to make the game as superficially balanced as they can, while still allowing popular Twitch/YouTube content creators to get their kill complication videos and boost their own following, in hopes of gleaning some revenue from the panopticon of surveillance capitalism that’s slowly strangling us all.

Competitive Games Are Overdone and Breed Toxicity

I cringe a little when a Twitch streamer yells “Toxic!” while playing a competitive game (sarcastic or not), because the entire point of these game modes is to be zero-sum and guarantee a loser.

Zero-sum games create perverse incentives that lead to toxic behavior.

However, the economics of game development favor competitive gameplay:

  1. If you cut NPC enemies and AI out of the game, they’re way cheaper to develop.
  2. Competition leads to gamers who like competition playing these games, and including some streamers.
  3. Streamers are free marketing for competitive games.
  4. If a streamer unlocks a cool skin, some of their fans will pay for loot-boxes in the hopes of acquiring the same skin (or a complementary one), so they can in turn get attention from someone they look up to.

However, these incentives are short-sighted and always lead to a Tragedy of the Commons situation where the good players get better, and the bad players leave for other games.

You can see this in action when big competitive streamers decry a lack of “fresh blood” in competitive PvP.

The simple truth is, they don’t want fresh blood for the sake of sharing experiences of their favorite game with a diverse pool of newcomers. They just want more n00bs to score points on and inflate their own importance within the scene.

How do I know this? Because that’s what gives them the dopamine hit; and more often, that’s what gets them money.

Death Stranding is a Breath of Fresh Air

Hideo Kojima– love him or hate him– was absolutely brilliant when he directed the development of a single-player game where you can benefit from the nonviolent, cooperative efforts of other players.

The game industry needs more cooperative multiplayer gaming.

Soatok is HYPED!!!
Three cheers for playing with people, rather than against them, for a change! (Art by Swizz)

And while I have your attention, I have one self-serving request for any game developers out there: Please allow arbitrary party sizes.

If I have 6 other friends, and the number of players involved in an activity is hard-locked at 4 or 5, someone’s sitting out and that kills the fun.

You can give it a range (as dictated by resource constraints; I doubt you need 100 players to kill the weakest boss in the game), but if you make it flexible, you’ll win over a huge untapped market of consumers.

By Soatok

Security engineer with a fursona. Ask me about dholes or Diffie-Hellman!

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