Lack of control is unfun

Just a quick precisation since I bumped into this article at F13 about the missing rates in combat.

It’s not “missing” to be unfun. If it’s the critical strike to be frequent, the combat will have a similar degree of frustration. A “miss” is an “odd”. These odds are extremely unfun when they become a significant part of the gameplay. In every game.

At the origin of this mechanic there’s the lack of control. In a combat we try to determine the best pattern, try to fight at best. A miss is an odd, something that may happen or not. Something that isn’t under your direct control. If you die in a combat you want to know what you did wrong, and you want to have a possibility to try something different and improve. So that the loss can be turned into a victory. If this cannot happen, the game is dead.

If every combat situation has 50% of possibility to finish in a loss or a victory, the game is frustrating. Because you can just stare and see the dice rolls, hoping they go well. You have no control, you have no responsibility and you have no way to improve. It’s like gambling but even gambling becomes more fun when you have a choice that can influence the outcome.

And this has nothing to do with “players want to be heroes”.

RPGs have always relied by a certain amount on random rolls. The point is to not let the fortuitousness take the lead and make it stay in its role: adding a variance without overflowing player’s choices. The best games are those that you can master with the practice and intuition, those that bring you near to lose all hopes, till when you find the “trick” that makes what you thought impossible, trivial. Those that offer you multiple patterns to experiment so that you can continue to try something instead of giving up.

Permeable barriers.

There’s always the desire to have more “skill” in these games. But “skill” is just a way to obtain a choice. A way to have more control over what happens. A way to manipulate the game’s patterns more “viscerally”. Immersion and free will.

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