CGD Podcast Episode 32: Contests of Understanding, and Questioning Gun Worship in Games


Hello everyone! A new episode, finally. This one is a distinct two-parter, coming in at about 45 minutes. I first talk about how games are better described as contests of understanding rather than contests of decisions. The “decisions” aspect of games tends to actually be a bit over-stated.

The second thing I talk about is a new IGN article that asks the question, “Are Guns In Video Games Holding The Medium Back?”

(Above is a screenshot from a new satirical VR game called The American Dream.)

Thanks for listening, and let me know what you think of the episode below.

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  • Fest

    I think that gameplay of Toribash is pretty close to what you describe. If you havent you should check that game out, its pretty unique. I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

  • hilbert90

    I like this idea of games being contests of understanding. I’ve always wondered why “cheese” or “trick” plays feel so bad to lose to (like, cannon rushing in SC2 or 5 move checkmate in chess). With your terminology, it is really easy to understand. Someone who memorizes some stupid trick is not demonstrating any understanding of the system at all, yet they still won with it.

  • Sina Shahbazi

    I think the joke you did at the end kinda illustrates why people do the whole pre-statement praise. We are social animals after all with a lot of attitudes hard-wired in us (hell, that’s how psychology exists) and looking from that perspective, it’s understandable that people, unless hearing from a close friend or relative don’t take criticism as critique and more as of an attack, or sometimes a mix of them between. It takes mental training/discipline to NOT take it like that. So people try to reassure that they have the good interest of the audience before/after their criticism so that they can take it both more seriously and less hostile. Specifically defending Extra Credits here, this I assume is why they praise objects of critique often, but also because I think they genuinely admire the works they’re pointing faults out at, which brings me to the next point and that’s the nuanced position that you can love and admire something and still call out its shortcomings where it fell shorts (this is what Extra Credits does the most). And there have been times where they were very merciless in their episodes against some games. While the bashing on Call of Juarez came at no surprise, they called God of War a series with no redeeming value. Just watching that episode alone makes me smile at the unintended jokes thrown at the game.

  • I totally understand this. But what’s baffling about EC and some others is that they put the “assurance” at the END! They start off with the good criticism, and then at the end basically try to say “but it doesn’t matter”. To me that’s really different than starting off by assuring people emotionally, and saying, “you know, I get it about this stuff, I’m one of you”, and then head into the questioning. There’s really a big difference between the two approaches in my mind. But with that said, I probably need to do more of the assuring overall.

  • True!

  • I am aware of it, but I haven’t played it. There’s long arcs in that? As a fighting game, I would think it would be all tactics, and probably too fast to allow players to input the way they want. And probably have output randomness (double-blind).

  • Fest

    Its turn based with around 20s per turn. You dont really have time to think about strategy but rather go by the feeling and understanding of the game mechanics or maybe I dont get it. It would be cool if you gave more examples of actual games while talking about your concepts even if they arent exactly what you mean.

  • Jake Forbes

    If you remove the hard and fast time aspirations, a good euro boardgame illustrates this very well. Rarely do turns/choices take place in a vacuum but typically each choice has a trajectory that informs future moves. A good produced now is a sell in the future. Taking wood now means fences or a room . An investment in military narrows future settle options, etc. As often as not, you know what your next move should be as soon as you take your current one. The things that could change that choice are typically introduced during other players’ turns as their choices come into conflict with your own or leave a windfall on the table. Again, by the time your turn comes around, an observant player will have had ample time to figure out if/how to adapt.

  • GX-Q7

    Attempting to end a
    strategy game quickly and denying complexity to build is demonstrating
    understanding of the system. I don’t like cheese but I would argue that’s because it deviates from the usual game experience in such a way that all of your previous understanding becomes irrelevant in face of the cheese.

  • Max Hospadaruk

    I think the actual issue is that we tend to lay the blame for the bad feels at the wrong feet. You’re right that it’s not the player using the cheese who’s at fault; understanding un-fun tactics that work is part of understanding the game system.

    People are right to be upset by these kinds of tactics, though: they should be upset at the developer. SC2 cannon rush was a failure of Blizzard’s game design and playtesting, *not* a failure of players to play the game “right.”

    This is part of what makes living games like LoL or HotS (for all their respective flaws) so engaging: sooner or later, it can be assumed that the worst cheese strategies will get patched out, while so-called “real” understanding of the game with continue to be valuable. So yes, use the cheese while it’s there, but make sure you pay attention to the rest of the game because once they nerf your OP champion (or whatever) you’ll need a plan B to fall back on.

  • BudgieInWA

    I’m curious about how the player’s learning of the game fits into this 8 second turn idea. When looking at turn time we’re looking at the human aspect of how the game is actually played – you mention comfort in execution and overall efficiency in time spent playing. A player will need to spend time learning the game: at first training their calculation but later forming theories about which heuristics are good and relating the current game state to what they have previously seen. It seems to me that these learning processes are what make games fun. After all, if your model of the game is not going to change, the only reason to continue to play is to prove that you’re good at it. So my question is, how should the rules around how a game is played allow for the thinking that the player does in order to get better at a game? Should turn timers be longer? Should players have a generous time bank? Or should players do this learning after the game (in the abstract, remembering positions or inventing hypothetical ones) so as not to waste the opponents time?

  • Isaac Shalev

    In a sense then, the “real understanding of the game” as you put it, is a pursuit that we, as players and developers have partnered on. Though as players our immediate object in playing is to have fun right now, you’re suggesting that there’s some meta-goal of helping to define the best version of the game possible. That’s an interesting idea!

  • Isaac Shalev

    I appreciate the distinction between decision-making and understanding, but it sounded like you were opposed to the idea of pressure on the skill of decision-making itself as being an interesting part of game design. Is that actually your position?

    I work in the tabletop space, and this episode, more than most, raised some distinctions. To my mind, decision-making is a different skill than the analytical skill that, when applied, yields understanding. To me, decision-making is the ability to detect and implement good choices in the face of limited resources, especially including those resources that are consumed by the decision-making process itself. This last point is critical. Making a difficult decision (difficult in the sense that the optimal choice is not clear, and the consequences of the decision are large) consumes resources, including time, attention,cognitive ability, willpower and stamina. The recent chess championships, for example, were so competitive because Karjakin was able to match Carlsen’s legendary stamina, and continued to make effective decisions deep into the tournament, after many grueling days of high-level, high-stakes chess.

    Consider the chess terms of inaccuracy, mistake and blunder. Inaccuracies are small errors, worth less than a pawn. Mistakes are somewhat larger, and blunders are typically worth a major piece, or even the game. At the grandmaster level, inaccuracies might be failures of understanding, but blunders are failures of decision-making. No grandmaster lacks the understanding of the game to not realize that the blunder is in fact a blunder, but in the course of play, they suffered a failure of their decision-making faculties. Game design should consider the resources that decision-making draws upon and design with that issue in mind.

  • hilbert90

    I don’t think this is true most of the time. It’s true that someone understood what they were doing to develop the cheese/rush strategy, but most people that execute it just look up a build order online, memorize it, then practice executing it. They actually don’t understand it at all.

  • Max Hospadaruk

    you put it very succinctly. In a way I see it as the players *responsibility* to discover the “cheap” tactics, see how far they can be exploited, and let the game makers know. If it is a living game (i.e: receiving patches) then it is the developer’s responsibility to take note and take action to keep the game as fun and interesting as possible.