How Games Matter to Reality

Sara Jensen has a great blurb about an aspect of “game balance”, as I interpret it at least.  She is responding to “Nerf, Nerf, Nerf” on Terra Nova (by Joshua Fairfield).  Here’s what Sara says:

I’ve done PvP balance for a long time. I eventually discovered a secret to making changes that feel responsive, rather than change-for-the-sake-of-change or an attempt to jerk players around: wait until the last minute to commit changes. Producers hate it, QA complains, but if you fix a perceived problem and sit on it for two months, nine times out of ten that’s enough time for player ingenuity to solve the problem on their own….  assuming that the game mechanics allow for sufficient emergent behavior.

The part that’s jumped out at me is the “…nine time out of ten that’s enough time for player ingenuity to solve the problem on their own.”  The ingenuity of the masses is something oft ignored- as Joshua put it:

For those of you who don’t play WoW, I’ll just claim that there are quite difficult to find solutions to combat problems, and players move to those solutions with frightening rapidity.

If players have enough tools that allow enough emergent gameplay, most “balance issues” will no longer be issues.  That’s one of my bold proclamations;)  The players themselves will figure out a workaround, and that workaround will be better than any “dev-imposed” one.  And it will be better because it’s not a workaround perse, but rather it is what amounts to an economic development- it will simply be a valid solution to a very real problem.  But, again, that will only work if “the game mechanics allow for sufficient emergent behavior.”

So, how does this matter to reality?  I think if you look at any current hot issue- climate change, health care, energy, etc. the best response from the “devs” (read governement lawmakers) will quite possibly be to do nothing.  Let the masses figure it out.  The real life mechanics most certainly allow for sufficient emergent behavior.  The same people who find combat solutions in WoW with frightening rapdidity are members of those masses.

Maybe that’s a bit trite.  But I think it’s at least pointing toward a valid principle.  I think it will be games, especially MMOs that will allow the results of such “governmental/dev inaction” to be observed and even tested.  I assume MMOs will continue to allow for ever-more emergent behavior- to me that’s the move toward how I use the term “virtual world” (I’m trying to commandeer it back from the likes of Linden Labs 🙂

I will remain open to the possibility that I’m misguided in my opinion on this “principle of government inaction”, but I am relatively confident it will be shown true.  And I think games will play a significant part in that verification [or debunking].