I’ve rattled around the idea for an article like this for quite some time but I wasn’t sure how to put it together. I’m still not sure it’s going to be put together well but at least I finally have a direction for it so we’ll see where this goes.
If there’s one fundamental thing I’ve learned with a lifetime of gaming it’s that a game is only as good as the players. A game is only ever as balanced as the players allow it to be. Now, that’s a pretty broad statement. There are some games, some systems, that are inherently more balanced than others and I do not argue that. However, even the most balanced of games can be ruined by the players and then that carefully crafted balance accounts for nothing in the eyes of a player.
Let’s take chess as an example. Chess is considered a balanced game as both players are given the same pieces to play with. Let’s say I’m a new player wanting to learn chess and I find someone to teach me. The person teaching me decides to just destroy me in a few turns and continues to do it game after game. He’s not trying to teach me, instead he’s taking it as an opportunity to just win games. Here I am playing a balanced game and having a negative experience because of a player. In turn I might come to hate the game. It’s not the fault of the game that I dislike it, it’s the fault of the person teaching me the game, but it doesn’t matter at that point because of my horrible experience with the game.
I also find that within balanced games there exists room for aggravation just as with any game. It’s not that something is unbalanced but that a player chooses to play the game in a certain way that annoys other players. Maybe with chess it’s that the player always opens the same way every single game. With an FPS game it could be that some guy always camps in the same spot all the time. The reasons are limitless really. These people aren’t breaking the game but they might be ruining your experience, making the game less fun.
On the other hand, really great players can make the most mundane games fun and give balance to a game that has little of it through shared expectations. Every game has flaws, some larger than others, but if you can play with like-minded individuals then you can have an amazing time regardless. My fondest memories gaming have always been with games that are far from perfect but played with the right people. If you find a community that shares your view on what makes a game fun then even the most unbalanced game becomes balanced because you all want the same experience out of the game.
As I said, my greatest memories come from games that aren’t necessarily balanced and often times it’s because of that. I personally find games that are perfectly balanced dull and predictable. I know how to play chess; I played it for years and years but it’s just boring to me. There isn’t much that can’t be predicted if you’re a good enough player. Your opponent may surprise you but ultimately it’s a game of finite moves and strategies. Games that don’t aim for perfect balance I find offer more creativity in how they are played and are seemingly limitless in potential. It’s the creativity that makes it interesting to me and offers the players a way to play their own way and not in a defined manner. The caveat being it also opens the game up to exploits and undesired player behavior. Again, this is why finding the right community of players to enjoy a game with is crucial.
My whole point with this is that people should not judge a game by its rules but by the experience you have with the game amongst those you play with. The most amazing game ever invented could draw a huge crowd of douchebags and ruin it for everyone else. Who cares it’s the best game ever created when your fun comes second to your opponent’s desire to win? Why does it matter that the game you enjoy has some serious balance issues and the internet rages about it amongst a competitive community you don’t even participate in? Do you like the game? Do you enjoy playing it with your friends? Good because that’s all that matters despite what anyone else says.