What it means to outdo someone

“Dodge this.”

This idea of dueling that has received plenty of positive feedback. It will be receiving expansion in some form. Promise.

I’ve brought the idea to some friends who had great ideas for how to deepen the system and what makes sense to add while keeping it all simple (stay tuned).

I’ve also had a couple of students test the system, first by themselves, then paired off in competition.

There’s a good feeling to walking up and introducing a short, simple, addicting game.

“Get as close to 10 seconds as possible without going under.”

“Okay.” *Click*

Pause.

Eyes widen.

*Click*

“CRAP! Just under!”

“…”

“…Okay wait, lemme try again.”

I had a handful of students trying to perfect their game. Some students were genuinely concerned about how fast they were counting (a fun insight). But then, they wanted to get better.

Which brings me to a point that was brought up a couple of times when I wrote this system down on a proverbial napkin that is the internet:

“Does this system discriminate against players?”

Dicey topic.

First, the system measures precision, not speed. It’s not about mastering inputs or combos like in a fighting video game like Mortal Kombat or Smash Ultimate. It’s about counting accurately and being patient.

(I found out today that a LOT of my kids think time moves faster than it actually does…)

Second, it’s one button, not two or ten. If using a physical input discriminates, then any sort of competitive video game does too. And lots of people, I mean LOTS of people play video games against their friends, parents, lovers, kids, siblings, you name it.

Stopping the stopwatch takes only a click of a button, just as using a dice roller online does.

(I had my kids click a spacebar, an incredibly slick and mobile option.)

So in that regard, it works. The bar for this game is lower than 99.9% of video games, which are, as I keep pointing out, very popular.

But there is a question beneath this question that deserves a closer look:

“Does this system discriminate between players?”

And the answer is yes.

Some students that play-tested were (on average) better than others.

The question becomes what you as a player do about it, not how to fix it.

I repeat, this is a feature, not a bug.

It happens in fiction all the time. There are characters that cannot be beaten in duels. They just can’t. They must be outplayed or outsmarted.

And don’t we just looooooooooooove underdog stories?

(Now, if you think that duels will be the only way to resolve things in the final version of the game, you got another thing coming.)

Diceless violence is this way too. That isn’t to say that just because this system uses stopwatches instead of dice that “it’s diceless.” Rather, there’s nothing left to chance. It’s about player skill and player choice.

Maybe that’s not for you.

Some RPGs like DND and others are moving more towards role-playing as exercises in self-expression and self-exploration instead of problem-solving. All players are considered equal in all aspects. In games of that nature, you can be whoever or do whatever with fewer restrictions. And that’s fine. It is literally the act of playing a role that is not your own. There are RPGs that are more suited to problem-solving and scenario play that will continue to offer challenges in a variety of ways. And this is one of them.

Yes, in this game, you can lose to the person seated across the table from you. In fact, you may never beat them in a hundred tries.

So, uh, better question: why are you trying to fight them?

Doesn’t “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” come to mind? Or maybe the extended version “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em until you find the perfect situation that you can turn against them and win?”

Does this not also highlight that you should be playing games with people you actually like? Losing to strangers stinks in some ways, but losing to antagonistic people? That burns. If I seriously had to choose between losing to a friend and losing to an enemy, I’ll pick the friend nine times out of ten (I’m sticking my tongue out at my friend on the last one).

Choose the right game, choose the right people.

Closing thoughts

This isn’t malicious design.

I’ve made plenty of games (like Adventure Hour) that are all generally aimed at players with low understanding/computation skills (see also kids and also see also: ME). I run games for kids as a job. I’ve run summer day camp games with a wide diversity of talents and abilities (You try balancing an game of dodgeball and see how it goes!). I work with students with intellectual disabilities every day. They probably wouldn’t take to this game. I also wouldn’t put Smash Ultimate or Settlers of Catan in front of them. But will they do bowling or even basketball? Heck yeah, let’s do it.

Right games for the right people.

You wouldn’t play Call of Cthulhu if you cannot stand getting frighten (even just a little bit).

If you find gnomes off-putting as a GM, don’t run games with gnomes.

Sci-fi not for you? Put that copy of Stars Without Number down.

Embrace the freedom to choose the game you want to play.

Not every game is for everyone, though the design goal of meeting the needs of as many players as possible is worthwhile and indeed admirable. This includes writing clear rules, making procedures streamlined, making the color palette accessible, etc.

Not every game CAN be for everyone, otherwise we’d all just be playing DND… or card games instead of role-playing ones… Or *gasp* sports.

Embrace the freedom of choosing the game you want to run or play.

To figure out if this game IS for you, just try it.

Try getting ten seconds flat without going over.

Open a timer, look away, hit the button. Pause. Count.

*Click.*

Did you get it?

Or are you like me?

“CRAP.”

“…”

“Okay, lemme try again.”

“I can do better.”

5 thoughts on “What it means to outdo someone

  1. Wise words, Dreaming Dragon Slayer! Loved your dicey pun! 😁 Isn’t it great we all have different interests and abilities, and that we can design our games accordingly? What a great space to practice life skills like perseverance, patience, and grace in both success and failure.

  2. I genuinely think that this method is something that anyone can improve at, anyone can (theoretically) beat anyone else. All it takes is patience, willpower, and nerve. Well done!

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