Cartoon owl holding a magnifying glass. Pixelated red background. Text: Games Have Taught Us - Unfortunate

What is it like being unfortunate?

A lot of articles that cover positive sides of gaming tend to focus on the question “what kind of skills can children learn by playing games”? The answers are usually things like cognitive skills, improved reaction time, coding and such.

But I believe a more important question would be: what are some concrete things that people have actually learned from gaming?

While last time I talked about taxes, this series of blog posts started with diving into the mindset of being rich. This time, let’s try to dive into the opposite end of the spectrum.

Defining “unfortunate”

I could have written this article just about being poor, as in, someone who owns very little money and other assets. But I think it’s more interesting to look at why some people feel like they are unsuccessful in life.

I find it hard to define an unfortunate person. Even if you have a bunch of unfortunate events in your life, you can still be very successful.

It’s very easy to look at some rugged homeless person on the street and categorize them as unfortunate. But is that really true or just a categorization you’ve done in your mind? That person may be close to or even equally as content in their life as you are.

Either way, it’s easier to find acceptable conditions for unfortunate events.

“You just had bad luck.”

“You hung out in the wrong crowd.”

“That person just happens to be better than you.”

“You were just born into a wrong place.”

Events where you feel like something is unfairly against you. You never had a chance.

Experiencing good fortune in games

We know what games are for: to have fun. What are some of the easiest ways to have fun?

Winning.

Defeating your opponents.

Being successful.

As a game designer, you want your players to experience those positive feelings. There’s just one problem.

Computer AI is really good at beating the players.

(There are actually several problems, but let’s focus on just this one for now.)

Whenever the player presses a button to do an action, the game knows immediately. (It has to, so that it can actually execute the move the player inputted.) But this also means that the computer AI knows and can react to the player’s actions immediately.

The AI can also calculate the best possible moves to defeat the player. It can easily execute combo attacks that would require complicated inputs from a player.

To fix these problems, the game programmers often need to dumb down the computer AI. Make it purposefully make mistakes, even if it knows what the best possible move is. Make it not react to player’s actions immediately etc.

Another way to fix the problem is to not have the player fight against computer AI. Puzzle games like Tetris and Picross simply pit you against puzzling gameplay. Visual novels and point and click games do a similar thing.

Then there are games that opt to make you fight other players. That choice brings its own problems. More on that later.

An example of unfair AI

I remember back in my high school we had two teachers who had a habit of playing fast chess during lunch break. (They would set a timer to make sure they would finish within 10-15 minutes so they still had time to eat.)

One of the teachers once sighed at me that he wished he had more people to play with. I asked him, why not play against the computer? I’m pretty sure most Windows computers back then had some kind of chess installed.

He said he doesn’t like playing against the computer because it’s too difficult.

I’m sure at that point I could have argued many things about choosing AI difficulty and such, but I didn’t. I understood too well the dissatisfaction of playing against an unfairly difficult AI.

It feels extremely unfair fighting against a computer AI that hasn’t been tuned to make mistakes and cannot be manipulated into making mistakes by the player.

Also sometimes, when making a game, the team doesn’t have enough time to make a really good AI. To compensate for the AI’s lack of intelligence, the computer opponent usually gets extra resources (money, more health, ammunition, villagers etc.). That is another way to make the computer have an unfair advantage.

Experiencing bad fortune in games

Like I mentioned before, unfortunate events are often categorized under things like “bad luck” or “hanging out in the wrong crowd” or “that person just happened to be better than you” or “you were just born into a wrong place”.

You can experience many of these situations in games.

You often feel like you were set for defeat when fighting against an AI that has a clear advantage over you. (Whether it’s because the AI is too intelligent or given an unfair amount of resources due to lack of intelligence.)

Same goes for when you’re playing against another player.

I’ve played a good share of Hearthstone, and I can say that’s a prime example of a game where you sometimes feel miserably unfortunate. Same with other card games, but Hearthstone specifically aims to have luck as one of its core gameplay mechanics:

  • Were you pitted against an opponent whose deck is especially strong against yours?
  • Is your opponent’s deck by default much stronger than yours?
  • Did you draw optimal cards at the start of the game?

When playing, there have been many situations where I could easily survive (or even outright win the match) if I had just one of 6 specific cards from my deck. But I didn’t.

Being unfortunate is…

…like having been dealt a bad hand in a card game, except that hand was dealt to you at the start of your life.

Maybe you were born with a disease, bad looks or some crazy disorder. Perhaps you belong to a minority (whether by race or sexual preferences or something else). Possibly you were born in a country at war, into a poor family or to abusive parents.

Or maybe you did something later in life that caused your whole house of cards to fall apart.

It’s about the same as playing a card game where your opponent has all the right cards to deal with anything you do at any given time.

Meanwhile, you keep drawing all the wrong cards.

There is nothing you can do to win.

The silver lining of being unfortunate in games vs. real life

Games let you simulate unfortunate situations.

However, the good thing is that your whole life isn’t defined by those situations.

  • You can always change the game’s settings to make it more fair.
  • You can always quit the game and play something else.

That’s the good part in games, but real life has its upsides, as well.

  • Unlike games, life isn’t a 1 vs. 1 match against an opponent where you can only win or lose.
  • Real life isn’t confined by rigid set of rules like games are – even if you’re born into unfortunate circumstances (ie. “have an obnoxiously bad hand of cards”), you can still always make something out of it.
  • You don’t have to “win” or “be #1” at something to enjoy and raise adequate wages for doing something. (Or if you do, you should probably change your job…)

There is no universal definition for “winning in life“. And even when you look at people who are “winners”, they too have their own troubles and their own ups and downs in life.

We live in a society that likes to pile having money and possessions as measurement for happiness. But the truth is, our happiness and unhappiness are actually mostly dictated by a few selected substances in our body (like stress and dopamine levels).

And the good news about that is that you really don’t need all that good cards to maintain those substances.

… Maybe I’ll talk about some body hacks in a future article, in case you’re interested in knowing how to improve your life.

Gheralf H. Swiftwar

Crazy owlmister. Eternally attemps to find ways to prove that his thousands of hours put into video and computer games has not been just an utter waste of time.

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