Why Can’t Fun Be Tense?

Overall, I’ve been pretty excited about all of the news that has been releasing thus far on Guild Wars 2. ArenaNet has a well-deserved reputation for taking mechanics considered “standard” and turning them on their head – in a very good way.

I’m even pretty pleased with the recent article about Healing (sorry, Support!) and Death in the game. As a player with limited time, taking some of the “punishment” out of death, and rethinking the holy trinity of Tank/Healer/DPS, can only be good. Greater flexibility in character classes and skills, a little more self-reliance within each class, and some streamlining of grouping and questing means that I spend more of my limited gaming time having fun. Not “preparing to have fun” as the article puts it; waiting for the right combination can be a hassle.

This is one thing that’s never made sense to me: when building the “holy trinity”, why is there only one class that can fill such a critical role? Granted, in LotRO there is more than one class that can heal, but out of nine total classes, only one is a true healer. WoW has one class (maybe two) out of ten. The Old Republic presumably has two out of eight (or sixteen). The list goes on. For a role that is so critical, you’d think developers would create more options.

I loved the “last stand” mechanic of Borderlands (and the Left 4 Dead games); when you’re reduced to near-death, the game gives you a few moments to rally. In Borderlands, if you can defeat any enemy within that half-minute-or-so, you’re restored to working health and can continue fighting. In Left 4 Dead, it’s up to your teammates to help you out, but you can still fire your pistols when downed, contributing something to the fight. Guild Wars 2 will apparently take a similar approach, and I’m all for this. A dynamic scale of effectiveness, as in decreased ability when one’s health/morale approaches zero, is a great idea. I can definitely see how it will add a new layer to combat. Rubi Bayer puts it perfectly in her article on Massively: “If you’ve got an enemy at 10% HP, why is he still fighting and casting at full strength?”.

However, Mr. Peter’s (or maybe I should say the game’s) attitude towards death doesn’t sit quite right with me. One particular statement really stuck with me (emphasis added): “Death penalties make death in-game a more tense experience. It just isn’t fun. We want to get you back into the action (fun) as quickly as possible.” The association seems to be that Tension = Not Fun.

While I’m all for maximizing fun, it seems like ArenaNet has missed the point here. At the least, I think they’ve taken their philosophy of “no mechanic is sacred” a bit too far. A death penalty isn’t just a way for the developers to slap a “Suck” sticker on our foreheads. It’s a part of the Risk-Reward game lends meaning to our actions, and pretty much sits at the core of all gaming. Sure, combat is fun (it better be for how much time we spend fighting!), but being in combat for the sake of combat is just shallow. The possibility of failure, even when the penalty is relatively mild, lends some depth and challenge to combat. And yes, some tension. Why can’t fun be tense? Why is tension anathema to enjoyment? I think many fans of horror movies would have something to say here.

It’s not a huge thing. Considering that we’ve yet to learn all there is to Guild Wars 2, it could be a very small thing. But it’s indiciative of ArenaNet’s thinking. And it’s the first thing I’ve learned about Guild Wars 2 that’s given me a moment of pause, and doubt.

7 responses to “Why Can’t Fun Be Tense?

  1. I have nothing against death penalties as long as they’re not too ridiculous. I’m with you with regards to Risk-Reward; there has to be some risk involved to make things more exciting (and yes, fun). Okay, so maybe losing a ship you worked so hard to get in EVE can = no fun, but that’s a pretty extreme example. But having no death penalty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either, I can still remember playing STO before they added injuries to the game feeling completely unconcerned about how careful I played.

    • Exactly. I remember STO that way too. Who cared what you did? There was no consequence, so you just kept running into it until you managed to take down all the bad guys. It’s like beating your head against the wall.

      Losing my first Tier 2 ship in EVE was pretty hard to swallow though. The only thing I can say about EVE is that there is (or should realistically be) an expectation that you will go through many ships.

      EVE has always been a bit odd for me in that respect; your ship is your avatar and yet it’s hard to create and maintain a connection with your avatar, because it changes so often. And the portrait in the corner just doesn’t cut it. I think this is one of the reasons I had trouble getting into EVE.

      Okay, almost completely off topic!

  2. I’ll just post here what I wrote in a comment on my own blog regarding my vehement opposition to death penalties:

    I can understand on some level where death-penalty proponents are coming from; if defeat is not scary for you, you need something else to be scary for you, to give you pause and give your encounter meaning. But for me, failure is terrifying. If I can’t accomplish a task I set out to do when I sit down to play, it ruins my day. (Figuratively.)

    This does not mean that I want to be handed a gold star just for showing up (a common accusation)! But I don’t need to be beat over the head with “YOU FAILED, YOU FAILED, HERE HAVE THIS *@&# SANDWICH AS A PARTING GIFT” you know?

    TL;DR version: some people need external tension applied in order to feel tension, while others bring their own tension to the table and absolutely do not require additional tension to be applied.

    • I definitely agree, and I definitely hadn’t thought about it that way. I guess I’m one of those people who sit in the middle – I bring some “tension” to the situation in the form of self-motivation, but at the same time, I want the game to have some kind of consequence. Otherwise, it becomes a zerg rush until the big baddie gets worn down, and all strategy and thinking goes out the window.

      I’m not in favor of the old-school, painful death penalties nor am I in favor of WoW’s “death penalty”. The concern I had after reading that article is that ArenaNet seems to be stripping a lot of consequence, and hence motivation, from the game for “the sake of fun”. Shallow combat without consequence isn’t fun for me, just like fighting for the sake of fighting isn’t fun – then it approaches the worst of the MMO grindfests.Kill kill kill. Even if you have a great story, that’s just pointless.

    • Fair enough! Though, remember that in the article they also say that with repeated deaths defeats, the amount of time it takes to revive will get longer and longer, so in a sense there is a form of consequence right there since it seems there will come a point where it is no longer possible to simply throw a badly-playing group at an encounter over and over until it’s won.

      I do see your point and I hope however the game actually plays, there’s something satisfying from everyone’s angle.

  3. i don’t think the gw2 lack of DP really annoys me but I do agree with you. Fear of dying should be a part of any game. I guess the question is, do harsh penalties create the fear is it the fear of failure. I’m not sure I know the answer to that, yet.

    • Also a good point, and I think the answer to that question – is it the game’s penalty or your own desire to succeed that creates a better death penalty – is entirely personal. I think nearly every gamer would have a slightly different answer.

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