Re: Real Life Power Gamers

From: Sandy Petersen (
Date: Thu 22 Feb 1996 - 17:50:51 EET

Pierce in reply to Martin Laurie's complaint said
>In real life, neither the rules or the numbers are written down. As a
>result, it's harder to tell when and if the techniques you are
using to improve
>yourself are really helping you.
        I think he has completely missed the boat here. In point of
fact, people generally are quite good at evaluating our chances of
success or failure at various activities. We understand
interpersonal relationships keenly, and sense very subtle nuances.
People _do_ minimax successfully and correctly all the time. BUT our
minimaxing is far far different from that in games. And here's why
(read on, if you care to -- I _do_ relate this to gaming in the last

Martin Laurie
> This used to baffle me because I could never understand how anyone
> playing couldn't and wouldn't use everything in the world to their
> advantage if they could. After all who doesn't in real life?
        No one does. Real life is more complicated than a game and
for almost _everything_ you do, there is a penalty and a value
decision to be made. Is it better to have kids, or not? Is it better
to be married or stay single? Since being a game designer is more
fun than being an accountant, why are there still accountants? Why
do I eat food that costs more than the bare minimum? I would be just
as well-fed on fish-sticks and cheese sandwiches as I am on oyster
stew and Mu Shu pork. Certainly many _characters_ try to get by with
only buying the cheapest type of food in the game. Why should I
waste a good chunk of my life playing RPGs or posting rantings about
an imaginary subject (i.e., Glorantha) on the net? Why the hell did
I read that biography of Cardinal Richelieu? I'm never going to
meet him. Why don't I have sex with every woman I lust after?
Because I believe it would harm my soul (and hers!), and because my
wife trusts me. All three are reasons that wouldn't matter in a
minimaxing campaigns -- the character has no soul (he's just a PC),
the woman doesn't matter (she's an NPC), and in which characters are
almost never married.
        Now, in what way does this apply to gaming? IMO.
        The complexity of the real world means that _everything_
has a cost and a payoff. Almost any activity you name that anyone
might perform, from committing suicide to blowing up the Oklahoma
govt bldg, to giving millions of dollars to charity, to devoting
your life to administer to lepers, has a trade-off. A perceived good
in exchange for another perceived good. Even disturbed teenage girl
who scarifies her arms with broken lightbulbs is getting a pay-off
for her actions, but because her perceptions are defective, her
attempt to get attention is aberrant.
        The more complex and "realistic" a game world is, the more
a minimaxer is thwarted. Or rather, the more he is forced to _play_,
rather than just follow his formulae. Let's take the crudest

example possible. In the very first ancient D&D games we played, we
never considered any social mores at all. When you beat the monsters
in a fight, they were all dead. When the monsters beat you, _you_
were all dead. It didn't occur to us for quite a while how weird
this was -- we were helped in this mindset by D&D itself, in which
the losers of a fight generally _are_ dead, HP reduced to 0. But
when we started playing RQ, suddenly players could be knocked out of
a fight _without_ being dead. Now players were saddled with the
problem of what to do with captured enemies. In a very simplistic
campaign, a minimaxer would just kill them. But if all you add to
your campaign is the nigh-trivial ability for NPCs to have memories
of previous actions (this is a major leap forward from my earliest
D&D games, trust me), suddenly the PCs face a trade-off -- a
        MINDLESS MINIMAXER: Okay, time to cut all the prisoners'
        PLAYER WITH HALF A BRAIN: Wait. If we do that, we'll get a
reputation as never taking prisoners.
        MM: So?
        PLAYER: So if _we_ ever lose a fight, won't anyone who's
heard of us just slaughter us out of hand?
        MM (the light dawns): You mean ... things that we do now
... could make a difference in _other_ people's choices? Wow!
(retires to think about this)

As another example, in one of the old-fashioned campaigns in which
PCs have no family, no cultural background, and boast names like
"Bill's Cleric" -- where they meet in the local bar, then set off
cross-country to adventure, a minimaxer is _rewarded_ when he
ambushes and loots a merchant's caravan. Some bleeding-heart-liberal
wimp player (probably a woman, too) might leave that money and
goods untouched, but not he. In a simple campaign, he'd be right.
        In a more complex campaign, the merchant was presumably
going to trade with someone in town, or else was traveling _from_
the town, suddenly there is a trade-off. "Isn't this the owner of
the Player-Character Tavern in town?"

        These are really trivial examples, but I'm sure you can all
see my point. If your campaign includes family members ("Please
don't get drunk at the feast tonight, you'll embarrass me."),
_trusted_ religious leaders as opposed to cardboard spellteaching
NPCs, and bad guys with their own culture, motivations, families,
and friends, then more and more PC activities become value

decisions, rather than being simple calculations.
        A minimaxer who refrains from attacking the caravan does so
because he has concluded that the odds of being beaten by the
caravan guards exceeds the potential rewards. Once the PCs pass into
the realm of thinking about what they do, instead of totting up
chances, you can achieve true roleplaying.

Sandy P.


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