Breaking the Equilibria
If you read part II.5, the case study, I term-dropped ‘equilibria.’ Here’s what the deal with that is:
Suppose we have a game that we are in the process of Knowing. (We know all the rules, outcomes, and possible decisions, but have yet to analyze them and figure out a dominant strategy. The game is currently Unknown, at least to us, but is Knowable.)
John Nash says that there will be a Nash Equilibrium in this game: a dominant strategy. (And he’s a smart guy, having won a nobel prize and getting played by Russel Crowe and all.)
For a given outcome, neither player will want to change their decision, given the other player’s decision. Yeah, its wordy.
Let’s revist the Prisoner’s Dilemma. (The whole cooperation/competition thing.) If I have cooperated, no matter what you did, given a chance to betray you, I’m better off taking it. Likewise, if I’ve betrayed you, it’s a bad idea for me to switch to cooperating with you, even if I know for certain you’re cooperating with me.
That’s called a Pure Equilibrium. There is a single dominant, obvious strategy of a single choice and only a single choice; any deviation from this strategy causes one to be screwed. I posit that any game with a Pure Equilibrium will not be fun. Figuring out that Equilibrium may be enjoyable as a mental exercise, but the application will be an exercise in rote performance.
Mixed Equilibria are more interesting. That’s when there’s a dominant strategy, but it doesn’t consist of a single option. Paper Rock Scissors is a good example. Choosing randomly is the soundest strategy not because it’s always the best matchup against no matter what you face (consider: if your opponnent always picks rock, you should always pick paper), but because it gives the highest constant degree of success no matter what you face (consider: if you always pick rock, you’re hosed if someone who favors paper comes along.) I posit that any game with a Known Mixed Equilibrium will not be fun.
I can combine these two premises into the following theory:
Any game with an identifiable dominant strategy (i.e. Nash Equilibrium) will not be fun.
(Remember my definition of Known and Unknown back in part II? That whole dominant strategy part is a classic definition of a Known game. This means that any Known Game, played by people who know it, cannot be fun! Yikes!)
Analysis of said game can be tons of fun if you’re into that kind of thing, but once the analysis is all said and done, the honeymoon is over.
(I suspect that many players who suffer from ‘analysis paralysis’ and overanalyze their moves are having fun, however they are in the process of analyzing the game as they play and gradually changing it from Unknown to Known on a subconscious level.)
Remember all that stuff I said back in Part II about keeping your games Unknown?
With the exception of increasing uncertainty, all the others simply make the game more complex. Therein lies the last hope of fun for all gamers, whether they prefer rpgs, cards, boards, or videos: we are human, and we are imperfect.
We cannot always calculate the dominant strategy for a game. This is true the more complex the game is, and the less time we have to analyze it. Only by pushing the game out of the rational mind’s calculatory zone can we give the creative mind a chance to shine and imagine.
Consider the card game, collectible or otherwise: the act of shuffling exposes the players to constantly changing conditions. Each individual instance of play has its own unforseen starting conditions and continuing circumstances. One cannot analyze the entire field of decisions in advance, and with each new card draw, the field changes anew. With card games, I am forever venturing into the Unknown.