How Games Bring Out the Worst in Us, Part 1

Games are supposed to be fun and not make people feel angry after playing. Sometimes, our competitive spirit just bring out the absolute worst in us. Time and again, you will see these lists of games that make people angry or ruin friendships. Dice Tower and Kotaku give some excellent examples. In a discussion with one of my primary testers, we talked about what things in games that make us feel uncomfortable. This can be upsetting scenarios that occur frequently or an annoying main mechanic of the game.  This post begins a multi-part discussion on how games  bring out the worst in us.

The first way a game can bring out the worst in us is…

 1. Encourage teaming up on other players.

This happens when players have about the same magnitude of a resource, and that resource is required to win the game.  One player begins pulling ahead. When this happens, it will immediately generate enough attention or hate (in MMO terms) on the leading player. Since no one player alone can overwhelm the winning player, all remaining players will then team up on the leading player in order to prevent him or her from winning. What is the crime of the winning player? Simply for playing the game well. There is nothing that the winning player can do to prevent this, and has to sit there and take it.

Having said all this, scenes from childhood (or recent) games of Risk (or equally cutthroat alternative) should come to mind. For this reason, Risk is one of the most cited games to have ruined friendships. When such teaming up occurs, it isn’t because the winning players have made wrong moves. Quite contrary, they made the right moves. They can do nothing to protect themselves and what small lead they have against the imminent onslaught. They simply get dethroned. This frustration of helplessness can make any player feel upset. Some people even take it personally. Definitely don’t want to play games with those types of people…

It does not end here. The now dethroned player can no longer win the game. He has a choice of choosing the winner. Out of spite, he either chooses to help the player nicest to him to win the game, or maybe take down the player who brought upon their downfall.

All hail, the kingmaker!

In most games, the monarch maker is inherent to the mechanics, especially in games with high levels of confrontation.  This is because all players begin with on a leveled playing field and cannot take down others without help. It becomes necessary to use diplomacy and alliance to get ahead. Thus, people team up on others, and the victim is picked on. No one likes being picked on. At some point this has happened to each of us; even though it is a game, it can still leave a sour taste.

To prove the point, there was once a game of Citadels where I played with very close friends. I usually don’t get mad in games, but this time I lost it. I was winning and to stop my victory, they needed to figure out which role I was in order to have me assassinated. They began hinting at their own roles aloud to help with the process of elimination. “I am a church going man.” “I am a seafaring individual.” I got assassinated and my victory delayed one turn. I didn’t flip the table on them, but I did throw them the cards in my hand! And this is in a game where you cannot even team up easily without cheating the way they did! We still laugh about that incident whenever we played Citadels later and it has become a pleasant inside joke. But being picked on still isn’t pleasant.

Perhaps, there is a strategy in high confrontation games that require alliances to win. Don’t take the lead in the early game and creep around in second place. For some reason, second place draws much less hate from other players. Be a creeper, not a leader. Take the lead only when you can win.

At the end of the day, it’s just a game. It’s meant to be fun, and the way you behave in a game says a lot about your own character.

What are your thoughts on games that lead to monarch makers?

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