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[DiscussiON] What makes someone good at games?

Gandalf_the_CrazedGandalf_the_Crazed VigiloConfidoRegistered User regular
edited March 2009 in Critical Failures
I was talking with a friend last night, and she remarked on the fact that I seem to devote an inordinate amount of thought to the games I play and would like to play. I realized she's right; I am constantly trying to break down the elements of games that I play, looking for isolated mechanics and analyzing the ways in which they interact with one another. It just fascinates me, in the same way that chemical reactions fascinate some folks and economic conditions fascinate others.

One question that I keep coming back to, as I watch my younger sister start to experiment with more complex games, is: What makes some people just plain better at games than others?

The main factor I've been able to articulate to myself is that games are like cars. It is undeniable that some folks are more natural drivers than others. These people, generally speaking, are the ones who are able to most effectively assimilate themselves into the workings of the car, such that the steering wheel is more than a tool, it is an extension of the person's hand. When an unexpected situation arises on the road, this driver is more likely to react in an instinctual way to avoid disaster, because the capabilities and limitations of the car are more thoroughly integrated into his awareness.

In the same way, there are some people who are just natural gamers. They are able to absorb the rules of the game, and integrate those rules into their awareness in such a way that there is less need for conscious strategizing -- optimal plans just present themselves readily to the natural gamer's mind. Because of this, a natural gamer is more likely to easily slip into a new system of rules and utilize them in ways which are nuanced and varied. It's a very particular type of mind, and it absolutely amazes me to see it in action.

(Note: I am not saying that I am such a person. I very much suspect I am in the "average" range of this area. Still, I enjoy observing it.)

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Posts

  • Hahnsoo1Hahnsoo1 Make Ready. We Hunt.Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    So... car sales metaphors in the G&T Video Games Sales thread and now this in Crit Failures? :-P What is it with these forums and cars, anyway?

    Honestly, I don't think the car/driver metaphor is a particularly good one. For one thing, people in today's culture are, for the most part, lousy drivers (the difference between a commute and competitive racing, for example). Games, in general, don't have the same safety concerns and certainly don't have the utility factor built-in. Any farvergnugen that people have while driving is certainly outweighed by the millions of motorists stuck in traffic on a daily basis... to borrow the eating idiom, you "drive to live" rather than "live to drive." Games, in general, are made for joy and entertainment... you don't need games to work and live on a daily basis (although there is something to be said for the human emotional need for entertainment in general).

    I don't think there are any folks who are "natural gamers." Gaming is far too diverse and broad to have someone who can naturally "have the skillz" for everything, so to speak. I would call someone a "natural gamer" just as soon as I'd call someone a natural stamp collector or a natural Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. Memorizing minutiae is more of a factor of mental health, good sleep, and a fanatic interest in whatever it is that you like to do.

    There is an appeal behind systems and numbers, but assuming that the end goal of the game is to have fun (whether through competition, puzzle solving, co-operation, or any other means), the way to achieve this "fun" varies from game to game. Some games, it's just as entertaining to lose as it is to win (or perhaps, lose in the most spectacular fashion). Some games don't have really any victory conditions (Victorian Parlor games come to mind, a pre-cursor to roleplaying games).

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  • Jam WarriorJam Warrior Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    I'd say anybody fully compos mentis is capable of the deeper game mechanics understanding you talk about. The difference comes in whether people enjoy the process of thinking about such and so are willing to devote their time to it purely for entertainment, or not. Further to this is of course the old 'practice makes perfect'. Enjoy more games, play more games, do better at more games.

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  • TerrendosTerrendos Decorative Monocle Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    I was thinking about this a few nights ago. Watching Valkun's LP of Zelda Master Quest in the G&T forums, he was stuck on a puzzle and spent ~15 minutes continually trying the wrong path to solve it. From the second he entered the room, I thought the answer was pretty clear.

    This is probably the result of several things. First and foremost, games like Zelda tend to have similar puzzles, some of which you practically expect to see in any given game. For instance, if there's an unlit torch it's a safe bet you want to light it. I call it "Zelda Sense" but really it's just pattern recognition: we see an unlit torch, we recall from previous experience that lighting the torch is good, and we are rewarded for that recollection with success.

    However, there's something else to it. The person or people who created the game often create the puzzle so that it is solved on their terms. People think in varied ways, and if you happen to think along the same lines as the programmer or designer that made the puzzle you have a distinct edge. If you happen to think like, say, an artist, you might have a more difficult time than if you were to think like an engineer or programmer. I can't offer substantial proof of this, other than the fact that my dad and I think very similarly, and we have problems in the same areas.

    Then that's aside from the muscle memory and such that makes people good at FPS games. Not that there's no skill involved, of course, as there certainly is, and muscle memory is an integral aspect of learning to play any game.

    Terrendos on
  • Gandalf_the_CrazedGandalf_the_Crazed Vigilo ConfidoRegistered User regular
    edited March 2009
    So a person's similarity to the original designer(s) of the game aids in their grasp of that game. That makes sense and explains why some individuals, who are normally quite intelligent and quick-learning at games in general, "just don't get it" when faced with specific games.

    @Hahnsoo1: I'm not convinced that there's no such thing as a meaningfully natural gamer. It's true that games encompass a wide variety of mechanics, but that's actually kind of the point; the natural gamer is the one who is able to easily adopt new ways of thinking in a more integrated fashion than the average bear.

    I was hasty in using a car as the overarching metaphor, I think. I would say, now, that games are like cars to those who are not natural gamers -- they are fully capable of understanding the mechanics, and of satisfactory operation of those mechanics, especially given practice. To the natural gamer, however, games are like gloves -- just slip 'em on and go.

    An example: I was playing BSG with some friends one night. Of course, I had read through some of the PbP games here, so I was already acquainted with some of the more common screw-overs that occur when Cylons reveal. A situation came up where the President was considering playing an XO, and I said, "Yeah, if you trust him." She asked me what he could do, if he was a Cylon, to turn the XO against us. I proceeded to list off a few things (like using Communications to endanger the civilian ships). While the President hadn't considered these possibilities, a couple of the other players responded like, "Yeah, I was worried about that."

    It's not a simple matter of intelligence, because all of the people I was playing with are highly intelligent individuals. There is some extra ingredient, a special kind of resourcefulness, which those players possessed, while the President did not.

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  • ThemindtakerThemindtaker Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    It's not a simple matter of intelligence, because all of the people I was playing with are highly intelligent individuals. There is some extra ingredient, a special kind of resourcefulness, which those players possessed, while the President did not.

    Or their brains were just in the right place at the right time.

    Just like when you can't come up with the word that's hanging on the tip of your tongue, or can't remember the next line to a song you've heard a thousand times, these people may be fully capable of the same strategies as you, but their thought process had taken them down a different avenue. With many games, being "innately good" at them is just being able to get your train of thought on the optimum set of tracks for the game at hand.

    I'm not saying you're wrong at all; my experience has convinced me that some people are more adaptible than others, which supports at least one of your theories. I'm just saying that, especially if you were the only one with prior exposure to the game, that wasn't a very convincing example of your point. Now, if you play 8 considerably different games, all new to all involved, and the same guy doesnt pick up on strategies in any, while someone else is able to perform well in, if not win, all of them, obviously you have a more interesting result, and one worth analysis.

    That's just my two cents.

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  • Gandalf_the_CrazedGandalf_the_Crazed Vigilo ConfidoRegistered User regular
    edited March 2009
    My point wasn't related to my awareness of the strategies; as both of us pointed out, I had prior exposure to the game. My point was that some of the new players had already sussed out those dangers, while others (like the President) hadn't considered those possibilities.

    Yeah, I don't really think I'm one of the natural gamers I'm talking about. But I've seen 'em. ;-)

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  • Hahnsoo1Hahnsoo1 Make Ready. We Hunt.Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    To put it another way: The kind of person who can organize and successfully run a Victorian Age LARP (which is a kind of game) isn't likely to be the same kind of gamer that is naturally good at Scrabble. Nor is the person likely to be the same kind of gamer who plays a "natural leader" in a roleplaying game. And this doesn't even touch the wide variety of video games out there. Would a "natural" Pac Man player possess the same talents and skill set to play Street Fighter competitively? Or Boggle?

    Are you talking about "natural statisticians"? Or "natural strategists"? Because while these kind of talents may or may not exist (I believe this is just simple pattern recognition... a "natural" still needs some environmental factors to develop), this is just a tiny, tiny aspect of gaming in general. There is such thing as serendipity, too... sometimes, people just get lucky and become inspired.

    Here is an example of cultural similarity, i.e. the idea that people who like a certain kind of game (say, Monopoly) are likely to be the ones to develop similar games with similar mechanics that appeal to them (Hotels, LIFE), which in turn will appeal to other folks with a similar mindset. Let's talk about Sports Odds, a major gaming element. Determining the odds of a winning team are so prevalent, it's a game that's both moneymaking and professional (not so much as gambling, which is gaming as well, but the fact that there's a whole industry of commentators and broadcasters invested in it). The March Madness brackets are here, and this resonates with a diverse and widespread group of people, a group that grew up watching and perhaps playing basketball. While the "game" changes every year slightly, these people invest themselves in the minutiae and keep up with it. Very few people who draw up a correct bracket will do it out of ignorance, and still fewer will figure out who's going to win by sheer luck alone. Those that do, I still wouldn't call "naturals" at NCAA Basketball Prognostication. It is true that a novice who did not grow up learning how to fill out a bracket, how to watch teams, how to determine which teams are underdogs and favorites, will have a difficult time of it. But that doesn't mean those who have learned this process are talented at it.

    EDIT: And more importantly, people who draw up completely wrong brackets can still have fun doing it. Thus, the real objective of the game is met without necessarily obtaining the victory condition.

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