593042 is a quasi-random number.

Games VS. Conflict, Part 2: Player vs. Player

July 21, 2002 essay

Part 1

Player vs. Player conflicts are the easiest to categorize so, naturally, we begin here. This conflict comes from the direct competition of two (or more) players. We’ll go over symmetric and asymmetric conflicts, then go through the different types of games (video games, table games, and sports) and define three different categories of P vs. P conflicts: parallel, simultaneous, and alternating.

The players in conflict don’t always have to be equally equipped for a match. These types of competitions are asymmetric conflicts. In fact, many multiplayer games, especially fighters, work on this system of inequality. All fighters offer a range of characters with varied strengths and weaknesses. Players are challenged to discover those traits and use that knowledge to their advantage. War games often involve scenarios where one player controls a vast, powerful army while the second commands a small, relatively weak party. This asymmetry is resolved by giving the players different objectives: for example, the larger army must destroy the weaker one, whereas the smaller army must simply stay alive a set number of turns.

Conversely, first-person shooters generally include multiplayer “deathmatches” where players typically begin with equal statistics. Instead of pitting different character skills against each other, this style of combat levels the playing field, to use the expression, specifically to judge who can last longest. The idea is that if stats are otherwise equal, then the only variable is player skill. This is symmetric conflict. The players are given equal resources and statistics by the game.

Of course, Player vs. Player is not always a physical competition. In many instances it is less obvious. Sometimes more mental. Puzzle games like Tetris offer multiplayer competition which generally comes down to Highest Score or Last Remaining. Sometimes designers like to get “clever” and add battle elements to this type of competition. For instance, puzzle games like Puyo Puyo (and its offspring, such as Kirby’s Avalanche) offer a player a way to “attack” the opponent by performing well, even though the two players’ playing fields are otherwise separate. And there is naturally Player vs. Player competition in card games. A game like Rummy offers virtually no offensive/defensive style of play. Poker is fairly similar. Of course, where cards are concerned, most games are generally a matter of the shuffle. Power players are typically very aware of this. Players playing Five Card Stud will use a lot of psychological tricks to get the advantage… tricks outside the rules of the games, themselves, but not necessarily disallowed by them.

We’ve covered video games and table games. Now we’ve got sports left to look at. Sports can be very aggressive — football or tennis — to very… um… passive, like golf. There isn’t a great deal different between sports and combat-style video games, as far as conflict is concerned. The biggest difference is that in sports, you’re hopefully not seeking to kill your opponent. Team sports is an interesting beast because Player vs. Player becomes Team vs. Team. The team dynamic basically becomes its own entity. But very often, that entity still breaks apart into its constituent pieces; we are very aware, for example, of what the quarterback or the pitcher is doing, while at the same time we are observing the team as a whole.

Golf goes back to the situation presented with Tetris. Players play parallel to one another, but generally they do not interact. In fact, that’s what we’ll call this form of Player vs. Player conflict: parallel. We’ll classify two more: simultaneous involves, of course, two or more players directly engaging each other in “real time”. The third and final category of Player vs. Player will be alternating conflict. This relates to all games where players must take turns, such as Scrabble or role-playing strategy games. And yeah, technically golf is both parallel and alternating.

Now that we’ve covered three kinds of Player vs. Player conflict using three different kinds of games, we can move on to an overview of the remaining categories of game conflicts: Player vs. Game System, Player vs. Game Designer, and the elusive Player vs. Self.

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