So, playstyles exist?

There “was” a thread at Grimwell where we started, once again, to discuss about playstyles. Something I hate because I don’t like strict models that kill any kind of creativity in the design process.

But it’s not important what I believe. Raph’s reply to Darniaq is extremely interesting and deep. Something I really cannot comment or criticize because it goes beyond my possibilities and because I also consider it true.

Here it is:

I try not to get comfortable (first reaction is denial), because I trully feel the only constant is change (second is acceptance ). More so now with a 2 year old. Whether an EQ nerf, an unexpected job relocation or loss, or a car accident, way over 99% of the world is far beyond my ability to control. What’s left is adaptation.

Adaptation and the human ability to rewire the brain this way is a key evolutionary trait (and most importantly, doing it through mental modeling). This is, fundamentally, why I think games even exist.

Which is why I wonder about those external factors.

We’ve all heard stories of people whose mental models and mental inflexibility could not handle unusual situations, and they “broke.” heck, some great movies have been made about that :)

Now, all playstyles are is a predisposition towards some of the following:

– particular learning models (visual? auditory? verbal? spatial? there’s a bunch that psych types have identified)
– bias towards tools which they have applied in the past successfully
– predisposition towards tools that fit their learning modes.

In other words, someone who is verbally predisposed, and is a fast talker, and has used that strength to get out of scrapes their whole life, and who is most powerful when using their verbal ability, well, heck, they are likely to come at the game with a playstyle that is social. Why should we be surprised? They are merely trying to maximize their success.

And if the game doesn’t give a flip about that, because the only successful strategies it allows are ones that involve spatial reckoning, well, that person may well not like the game over the long term, because they may

* fail to get positive feedback because they
– get beaten too much
– reach a cap in their spatial reckoning skills, and realize they cannot improve
* try to play the game in unusual ways and go outside the ruleset for satisfaction by
– holding weddings in Quake
– spending more time on the forums than behind a rocket launcher
* quit

I can see people getting comfortable in a play style; however, I still don’t know how long that comfort lasts. How many new Warcraft knock-offs can a fan of RTS games take? Do they not eventually get bored with the entire genre and seek more action through RPGs or more cerebral gaming with turn-based strategy? You feel age is partly a function, to which I’d agree, but will someone in their 40s stick with EQ forever with so many other options?

They can take a lot as long as the curve of game complexity offered up is on a steady curve that they can follow. That would be the Total Annihilation fan. Of course, the Total Annihilation fan is (sorry) a freak of nature, someone who happens to be heavily adapted to RTS games. Someone highly specialized. The result is that the average person cannot play Total Annihilation anymore than they can fly a fighter jet. The game selects for a base level of competency in the skill set–which includes knowledge of the “literature” as well.

If the TA fan comes to Warcraft III and says “I think I get it, all the differences from TA are really minor and I can apply my entire mental model… huh, there’s nothing new here,” then they may not choose to play.

Or is playstyle independent of a game and a genre? Perhaps it is. Maybe the reason players, particularly veterans, bounce around games so much they haven’t yet found the best outlet for their preference. Or maybe they’ve found it but are uncomfortable with their comfort (And Alexander wept, for he had no new worlds to conquer)?

I think it is definitely broader than game and genre. In the book I am working on I have one page which has drawings of four different avatars from four different hypothetical MMORPGs. All four are instantly recognizable as the same person. This is a very very common phenomenon, we’ve all seen it.

And yet, we can also see in certain people gameplay tendencies that go beyond one genre. My grandmother plays both poker and Scrabble in rather similar ways. I think it’s because of who she is, and how she thinks.

And more importantly, is there a way to capitalize on this?

Games can train you in new cognitive skills. That is what they are FOR, at their core. It’s why the young of all ages play. But new cognitive skills are a tough sell on people, particularly older people. Games that call only on old cognitive skills tend to pall among those who are familiar with the mental models required.

So to capitalize, the formula is simple (and impossible): deliver fresh cognitive puzzles and new mental models of the world, but make them so easy to get into that nobody realizes they are learning whole new modes of perception and thought.

Piece o’ cake. But most games rely on very basic, hind-brain sorts of mental models, like territoriality, force projection, visual similarity and difference, and so on. That right there is why it is so hard to invent a truly new game.

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