Overpowered vs. Misunderstood

Why the system isn't usually to blame

Nobody likes losing. But there's a dark secret most competitors want close guarded, no matter what the scale or importance of the contest. It's a secret players will go to incredible lengths to keep hidden. It defines not just how they handle a defeat but often their very identity is altered to protect this secret from discovery. It's an irony that traces through the lives of all but the most brilliant and the least self-forgiving. It transforms the mere game into real test of character, transcending game role; a test whose bite sometimes takes a little time to penetrate but once felt and seen for what it is - and in a game like Avalon, realisation soon dawns that would be competitive players to true of competition you enter where the opposition is real and you give. How one handles defeat often defines future progress; reviewing performance and identifying weakness are natural consequences. It would stand to reason that taking measures to improve would be the next step.

The multiplayer gaming world is an example of one such competitive environment yet it is plagued by a phenomenon that seems distinctly unique to this format, namely the willingness of the players or competitors to deflect responsibility away from themselves and instead blame the system for their underperformance or defeat. The phrase "a bad workman blames his tools" is a trite cliche yet remains a relevant one; the sportsman does not blame the game when he loses any more than a student blames the exam for not knowing an answer. Yet, in an age of blockbuster MMORPGs and passion-provoking text based games where the industry encompasses more players than ever in its relatively short history, this "blame the system" culture rages on.

Why blame the system at all?

Ironically, the answer to this question is the simplest of all yet the most difficult of all to accept: that blaming the system is invariably easier than accepting responsibility or confronting the simple fact that, on this occasion, you just were not good enough. You were outplayed. Defeated. Out -manouevred. Your opponent was better.

A fundamental rule of multiplayer PVP is that balance must reign supreme. This is often a process that is somewhat in flux (particularly during periods of development) yet it remains as a constant to determine the boundaries of the system that ultimately is there to be mastered. "Balance" means exactly this: that when played in absolutely the best way possible, every class / profession / set of skills is on a more or less equal footing to every other. It is and must be the prerogative of any designer to balance not around the mediocre "blame the system for my failure" style of play but around the best possible use of the system they have created.

The fundamental question

In the face of any loss or defeat, the fundamental question that must be asked is this: "Did I do everything I possibly could have, in the best way possible?"

In reality, this is almost never the case. Improvement and honing is - at least in Avalon: The Legend Lives - a constant, ongoing quest for better results. This is something that the mediocre player can never appreciate; they reach a plateau of competence whereupon they are able to defeat those beneath them yet this "middle of the road" tends to bring with it a self certainty that is in fact its own worst enemy. It is the anathema to further improvement because the middle of the ladder is a comfortable vantage point for bullying the less competent. It is a path of least resistance that is only disturbed by the mediocre's worst fear: The Skilled Player.

The Skilled Player knows they are responsible for their own success. The Skilled Player appreciates that the system is there to be mastered and makes their best effort to do so - heedless of the inevitable losses or setbacks along the way. The Skilled Player knows the system, knows how to best approach their opponents, knows how to maximise their strengths and minimise their weaknesses because effort has been put towards doing just that. They rarely blame the system and as a result the energy that might otherwise be put into complaining is instead directed towards progress. (And indeed their feedback on such a gamesystem is often more valued as a result).

This type of player is often the catalyst for complaints; whether out of subconscious envy ("Why can they do what I cannot?", although this is rarely ever admitted) or a more direct "something they are doing is overpowered" approach which is the very nature of this article. The latter response is often the first one. It is the path of least resistance and at its core an excuse to avoid the effort (and potential setback) of attempting to improve. It almost always stems from a misunderstanding - a nuance or idiosyncracy of an ability, perhaps used in a novel, creative way that by dint of its unfamiliarity to the poor mediocre victim cannot be explained away by any means except a blanket dismissal of "nope, must be overpowered."

Approaching any competitive gamesystem in this way will only ever have one result: a self fulfilling prophecy of defeat, refusal to improve and permanent ignorance of (or perhaps an unwilling fear to admit) one's weaknesses. Blaming the system is a poor excuse for poor performance and misconception. Those who break the mould know that when skill is the determining factor in success and you are losing, in 99% of cases, you only have yourself to blame.

Sam Kendall / Elmaethor, god of the stars, formerly known as Salvador - endless source of complaints just like these.