Monday, September 14, 2009

Stop Crying

A few weeks ago my kid started playing Mafia Wars on Facebook. Until then I'd ignored it, just like everyone else, but I figured at least I could sign up and help him passively. I had a bit of a poke around, clicking on a few things, but it didn't make much sense. My kid was generous enough to help me. The days went on, and I was surprised by how complex a game it was. It didn't make much sense. I'd managed to buy a few properties and get some income going, and I helped my kid when I could. Then I got robbed.

I mean, some other BASTARD attacked me and damaged my properties and reduced their income. I couldn't believe someone could be so mean. I was ready to give the game up. I consulted with a couple of mates who also play it, and they didn't think that me being robbed was very exciting news. I repaired the damage and thought about it.

Eventually I went to the Zynga forums (Zynga is the company that makes the game). I found an article written by a poster called "Stop Crying", and it was his guide to how to play the game. His basic point was, when something bad happens, stop crying and play better. Suddenly I got it. After a week or so playing, I finally understood the game.

Very soon I was cruising the streets of New York looking for someone to beat up. I got good advice on how tough was tough, and set about making myself that way. A couple of weeks later I was almost invincible, for my level. And I was nasty... I started robbing myself, working on the hypothesis that the weak must suffer for the strong to prosper. That's what the game is about.

Of course, I'm only strong for my level. I'm level 80 and the toughest player I know of is just over level 1000. That's amazing. He could wipe me out without breaking a sweat. Of course, I'm so insignificant as to be below his attention, which is why it doesn't happen. Mafia Wars encourages players to interact with others at about their level, so of equivalent strength.

It turns out to be a very good game. The most fun is when you rob someone so badly they put you on the hit-list, and then when you've recovered from being killed you go rob them again. Because the correct response to being robbed is not to provoke the robber, it's to get tougher so he can't do it. Or else to ignore him so he goes away.

Does the "stop crying" principle apply to confrontational board games? Not so much, I don't think. Mafia Wars has the benefit that damage you receive can be repaired - you heal automatically, you can save up to repair your properties, and the bad guys just can't take your stuff at all. Board games are generally less merciful - when someone destroys your stuff in Twilight Imperium, it's gone, and you're hosed. Board games also work on the principle that all players are equal, whereas Mafia Wars somewhat segregates players of different strengths. Furthermore, board games have only one winner, and the others can be reasonably called LOSERS. Mafia Wars doesn't even have an end, so although there's necessarily less emotional involvement in the outcome, there's no point at which it's ascertained that you're a loser.

Anyway, please excuse me, MarshmallowBear keeps hit-listing me, and I'm gonna go rip him off some more.

1 comment:

Kevin S. O'Brien said...

Good article, John. But your rationalisations of why the idea doesn't apply to boardgames are not entirely on target. Just because you think you have something to cry about, doesn't mean that you should be crying. The same answer still applies: stop crying and play better; make yourself tougher.