Immersion vs. #’s, p2

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Part 2 of 3, by Brian Kindregan

An example and a question for you!

So do I avoid looking at the numbers? Unfortunately, no. If they’re easily available in game, I have to look. Sometimes I try not to… but they’re right there! So I’ll take an example of a hard fight I did on two separate play throughs of Mass Effect. (I did not work on the first game so it was all fresh and new to me.) The Matriarch Benezia fight is generally considered tough. The first time I played the game on the regular difficulty setting, I wasn’t looking at numbers carefully. This was the extent of my numerology: “Oh this thing makes my bullets do more damage. So does that one but it has a IV after the name… I’ll use that one.” It was a tough fight, and frustrating. I had to try different strategies, some madcap schemes and even a few hail-maries. (Hail Mary +2!) Finally I downed her and moved on with my game, secure in the illusion that this was all real. The second time through, on veteran difficulty, I one shotted her. (In the sense that Shepard and both of my squad members each did one action then she was dead. Maybe that’s three shotting.) The difference? I’d looked at all the numbers carefully and designed a strategy around that. (The second play through was months later, so I didn’t remember what had worked the first time.) Did that make it less satisfying? No. But did it make it more satisfying? No. I still killed her the same. I couldn’t win more than I had the other way, just quicker. (And, uh, with no reloads.) But I didn’t think any of it was real. Benezia was a boss at the end of a level.

So am I saying that those who look at numbers are robbing themselves of enjoyment? No, because it’s your game, you paid for it, you should play it the way you that brings you the most fun. There is certainly no “right” way to play an RPG. But it made me wonder, have you (yes you! The one reading this!) ever tried switching your modus operandi?

Have you, the immersion player, ever tried dissecting the numbers, min-maxing, maxing out and generally upping your pwnage attribute? Attacked it like a puzzle? Decided that you will make your character/party a force of nature? (Er, if nature were a collection of really good numbers that is.)

Have you, the numbers player, ever tried playing the RPG game like a story? Stressed out about what will happen to the hostage if you fail this quest? Done things that didn’t bring you more XP because it was what your character would really do? Or what (gasp) you would really do? Reacted with more emotion than calculation?

Are they mutually exclusive?

Brian Kindregan served in 7th Special Ops group of the US military before working as a director and storyboard artist in the film business in Los Angeles, CA, for 15 years. He is a Senior Writer on the Mass Effect franchise, and wrote on Jade Empire.