Today we will discuss the propriety of competition in games.
This might seem like an odd topic in relation to games. The word “game” for most people conjures up the vision of some contest, whether it is attempting to outmaneuver one’s fellow capitalists at Monopoly or attempting to put the ball in the hole in fewer strokes than any of the other golfers on the course. But it becomes a contentious subject between players of video games, especially social or multiplayer games.
In many ways, competition is the cancer that is killing video games. Every time a moron screams “BOOM HAEDSHOT!!!1!!” (yes, it is possible to hear bad spelling online) through an Xbox 360 headset, Satan kills another puppy and roasts its corpse on the fires that spring eternally from Peter Molyneaux’s festering soul. The pathetic little man-children that thrill not on the pride of excellence and skill but rather the domination of others represent the negative side of competition.
In other ways, competition is what drives people to greater and greater heights of excellence. Without competition, without a goal to overcome, without the ability to test our skill not only against the rote logic of the machine but against other players, we lose something important.
However, to many gamers (who are members of the “geek” subculture), competition fosters dissension rather than unity, and provides a means of ostracism, which is universally regarded as bad. We tend to shy away from competition, lest we be seen as overbearing, arrogant or callous in our regard for those we are beating.
Other times, we might self-indulgently revel in our prowess, taking the time to gloat over the corpse of a fallen enemy.
The proper limits to competitiveness, I submit to you, are therefore not necessarily in direct competition against others (though such player-versus-player action can be thrilling, whether in an FPS, Mario Kart or an MMO), but rather, in structured competition against common goals. Think of something like the time trials at a track event or downhill skiing. The environment, the surroundings, provide the challenge to the participant, and players compete only indirectly against one another. This type of play compels the player (or group thereof) to seek out greater and greater success while avoiding the sort of animosity that direct competition can often foster.
What say you, constant readers?