September 23, 2005
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Flanking Fire

One headache that City of Heroes (and, I think, other current MMRPG games) poses for ludologists seems to have gone unremarked. If play is the essence, why are the players so bad at it?

In a ludological reading, City of Heroes is a series of exciting combat sequences, strung together by a narrative pretext. You spend most of your time crime-fighting, or traveling to the scene of the crime, or shopping for better super powers so you can arrest tougher criminals. And a lot of the game design is slanted toward getting teams of heroes to work together.

But -- at least for the low and midrange milieu my character inhabits, the tactical skill of the other players is unimpressive. They've got lots of experience, most of them -- they seem to have played the game a lot, they know exactly where to go and how to move, so they race around with blinding speed. But it seems to me they generally fight thoughtlessly, inefficiently.

It's not an issue of realism -- this is a City Of Heroes. But, if combat were really the point, wouldn't players work harder at doing it well?

Now, this is a very preliminary observation based on some arbitrary playing. I might have stumbled across some inept players. Or, the players who understand tactics may rush through the lower levels quickly while the inept kids pile up. At some stage, I understand, you start getting players who have bought rank outside the game, and so they have lots of power and no idea what to do with it: perhaps I'm already seeing some of that, too.

But if the ludic core of City of Heroes was the key, you'd think people who play a lot would be better at it than they are.