178: The Game of Giving

The Game of Giving

Giving a gift can be satisfying, tedious or just plain awkward - but can it be fun? L.B. Jeffries ponders the gameplay possibilities of gift-giving.

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Hey there L.B.,

It's great to see a full article out of you. I've enjoyed your comments for a long time, so this piece is a real treat.

My experience with Japanese gift-giving games begins and ends with Dead or Alive Xtreme Volleyball and its sequel. In the case of these games, the randomness of the gifting scheme is exacerbated by time of day: certain girls prefer to receive gifts at certain times of day. Even better, the whole point of the game is to get the girls to accept gifts they don't like, namely extremely skimpy swimsuits, which you then get to see them wear.

The upshot is that the DOAX games are extremely difficult to complete. It takes hundreds of hours of play to purchase and give all of the naughtiest swimsuits to all of the girls. And, really, there's barely any pay-off: if the point is to ogle the chicks, well, you're doing that already. Winning the game means simply a slight uptick in the raciness of the gameplay you're already experiencing.

It's madness!

Ray Huling:
Hey there L.B.,

It's great to see a full article out of you. I've enjoyed your comments for a long time, so this piece is a real treat.

My experience with Japanese gift-giving games begins and ends with Dead or Alive Xtreme Volleyball and its sequel. In the case of these games, the randomness of the gifting scheme is exacerbated by time of day: certain girls prefer to receive gifts at certain times of day. Even better, the whole point of the game is to get the girls to accept gifts they don't like, namely extremely skimpy swimsuits, which you then get to see them wear.

The upshot is that the DOAX games are extremely difficult to complete. It takes hundreds of hours of play to purchase and give all of the naughtiest swimsuits to all of the girls. And, really, there's barely any pay-off: if the point is to ogle the chicks, well, you're doing that already. Winning the game means simply a slight uptick in the raciness of the gameplay you're already experiencing.

It's madness!

Whoa, thanks man. I've been digging your stuff since that article you wrote about Mass Effect not really talking about space beyond the soap opera conception. The one about Ripley and Aliens was badass.

If you click on my profile, it goes to my Popmatters profile. I've been writing game criticism, including a weekly blog column, for about a year now if you want to see my other articles. /shameless plug

I almost decided the Japanese Dating Sims would be an alright concession as something remotely achieving gift giving but...like you say, it's so intrinsically about seeing them scantily clad that it's hard to buy into that.

As a follow-up to this piece, Rohrer has since made a game that takes a decent stab at my argument. Between is a multi-player game where two players are both trying to build a tower. They generally have no interaction with one another except you can randomly send a block to the other player. At first this is irrelevant, but as you progress you eventually need the kind of blocks the other player is using to progress, so you have to literally sit and hope they give you one. They, in turn, get stuck needing blocks of your color. There's no way to communicate and nothing to do except hope they'll be considerate and give you blocks. I should've known Rohrer would prove me wrong as soon as we got done swapping e-mails. :)

http://www.esquire.com/features/best-and-brightest-2008/rohrer-game

Great article. I agree that it's a hard problem to model our Christmas season gift-giving in a video game. The depth of the characters our friends and family have is orders of magnitude more developed than anything any video game has ever displayed. Add to that the emotional attachment that drives us and rewards us for giving gifts, and games have a nearly insurmountable hurdle to overcome before they can even begin to reflect real world gift-giving.

Incidentally, I find this same problem myself every Christmas. I know I'm socially expected to give gifts to friends and family, but when my interaction with them is so sparse and base, I don't develop enough attachment or knowledge of them to want to give them gifts. When it comes time to give them something, I don't even know what to get. Instead of happily giving from my own desires, I begrudgingly purchase my wares as a man bearing the burden of gift-giving responsibility.

This may well be an argument for why it's impossible to make a gift-giving "game". If a game consists of a goal with well-defined rules of play, where the gift-giving is the responsibility placed upon the player, then they will approach the gift-giving in that same heartless, mathematical manner that I fulfill my responsibility every year. In order to truly reflect the unprovoked personal desire behind true altruism, there would have to be no "game" and no "goal", since true altruism comes without expectation, responsibility, or even reciporication.

Perhaps the best platform for a gift-giving game is a donation button on a website. Post your own desires on your favorite developer's forums, then donate to show them your appreciation for their work. Not only will you have rewarded them with no expectation of reciporication, but if they feel so inclined, they now know what gift to give you.

Right, im not going to write an awful lot. And thus, will be the odd one out. Just wanted to say that it was an awesome article especially considering all the chatter going on about Christmas gift giving.

Keep it up ; )

That was a really thought provoking article. I took it as a challenge to come up with an idea for a good, gift-giving game. Here's my idea as a gift for this holiday season.

What if you had a stealth type game based on the mythos that Santa sneaks into kids' houses at night to deliver the presents. You could base the game off of sneaking upstairs, or around the house, to see what the kids have in their rooms (to determine their interests) and sneaking back downstairs to leave the presents for them. All without waking the parents. Milk and cookies could regenerate health (or a stamina bar - sneaking around uses a lot of constant tension on the muscles, you know).

There could be a mechanic for "Christmas Magic" that comes in pinches and dashes for taking care of wary pets or escaping the parents if you're caught - if you don't have enough magic left, you are hauled away for breaking and entering and trespassing as a nut dressed in a Santa suit. A pinch of magic could also silence squeaky floorboards or door hinges. The Magic is replenished after you complete a house based on time spent, present choice for each kid, and a small random factor. As Santa is supposed to go around the world, an international flavor can be readily added with not all the houses being American in style, decoration, etc.

An overall timer, ala Impossible Mission, can determine when the game, or the round, ends, Christmas morning. If the game needs any more length than that, using excess Christmas magic to unlock different, international Santa styles, making available more Christmas presents the next Christmas Eve (thus inserting a limited resources mechanic for shorter Christmas Eve runs), or upgrading the magic in the reindeer, making less time lost between houses (represented as a loading screen with Santa's sleigh flying across dropping presents out the back into chimneys).

ReverseEngineered:
This may well be an argument for why it's impossible to make a gift-giving "game". If a game consists of a goal with well-defined rules of play, where the gift-giving is the responsibility placed upon the player, then they will approach the gift-giving in that same heartless, mathematical manner that I fulfill my responsibility every year. In order to truly reflect the unprovoked personal desire behind true altruism, there would have to be no "game" and no "goal", since true altruism comes without expectation, responsibility, or even reciporication.

The key to your quote is the phrase "well-defined". SimCity is an example of a game that has rule mechanics that aren't well defined, but is infinitely replayable because of its vagueness. Yes there are strategies to avoid complete failure of your city, but there is a random element involved deep within the complex equations used to make up the city's inner workings.

I agree that true altruism may indeed be impossible to capture in a video game - any upgrades that a player gets "for his game character" is only used at the player's request and for the player's benefit (to complete the game easier), not the character's. On the other hand, including a game mechanic where the character gives stuff to the player is almost inherently random in nature, or could be easily manipulated by the player if they knew the method of selection.

However, people don't play video games normally for altruistic intentions. If they were truly altruistic, they would spend their time volunteering or doing other helpful activities for the benefit of strangers in real life, not playing a game. Only MMO games could approach altruism, but as true altruism has no reciprocol effect, having a game reward the behavior works against its concept.

Heh, I was playing a game today. I was about to leave (lunchtime was over) and I automatically went to use my "dead" med pack on the lowest health person.
The game in question is Left4Dead, so seeing that i'm replaced by quite an altruistic AI character kinda detracts from my parting gift.
However, in most FPS where it's a team game, my guns/equipment disappear with me (there is no AI replacement and a player replacement starts with default loadouts normally). So in the majority of FPS games, altruistic parting gifts are just that.

You've already mentioned the not grabbing the "loot". But in Left4Dead, there are some very altruistic actions. Heck, they even put achievements in for em. "Dead Giveaway", or "BACK 2 HELP" - Leaving the safe house to successfully rescue an incapacitated player...
Of course it does help the score in the Versus campaign, but they'll respawn anyway on the next map load anyway, and damn those hunters are agressive.... :-)

Awesome article L.B.J.! You just made me think about this whole X-mas stuff, I've been putting that off for a month now. I wanted write an article about it, but I missed the deadline, and, heck, yours is better anyway :)

ReverseEngineered:
Incidentally, I find this same problem myself every Christmas. I know I'm socially expected to give gifts to friends and family, but when my interaction with them is so sparse and base, I don't develop enough attachment or knowledge of them to want to give them gifts. When it comes time to give them something, I don't even know what to get. Instead of happily giving from my own desires, I begrudgingly purchase my wares as a man bearing the burden of gift-giving responsibility.

I totally agree. For years now, I don't really connect with my parents and relatives, so getting them presents for X-mas feels more like a chore than an act of selfless kindness. And I don't really want them to give me presents, because it makes me feel like an ass for not connecting with them so often.

As Dr. House said, "...See, this is why no one likes you people. The notion to pick one time of the year, to be decent to other people, is obscene, because it's actually validating the notion to be miserable wretches the rest of the year..." I agree with the guy. Being "nice" to our friends and family for one day a year makes many people feel awful, because it's reminds them of being asses the rest of the time. That contrast is the problem. And there are people with no family. No wonder suicide rates spike when the Holidays come.

At X-mas, you are really "required" to be nice, because the rules of the Holidays "demand" it. Much like in games, you are required to complete certain tasks, that can be fun, entertaining, boring, or feel like a chore. Healing your party members or rezing people in MMO's are not really considered "nice" per say, because why the hell would you not heal them, or not rez your party members? If you are their cleric and you are in fact NOT healing the party, that is considered douchebagerry, because you are required to be "nice" to them, and that nullifies the "feel good about it" notion entirely.

But when you are not required to be nice by the rules, but you are, some people are nice to you when they are not required to, THAT will make you feel good. I played Anarchy Online a few years ago, and I was a very rookie player, lvl 2 or 3, I don't really remember, and I had problem using a terminal. There was a guy in a full white armor, and I asked him for help. He not only explained how to use the terminal, but gave me a suit of armor, an implant and huge load of cash "to get you started" he said. As it turned out, he was a top level character. He wasn't required to help me, but he did, and didn't ask anything in return, just wished me a good game. THAT is what nice is. Years later, I returned the favor in RF Online, when I was a top level character. A guy was asking around for help in HQ, and everyone seemed to ignore him. I talked with him for a while, and he seemed decent enough, so I gave him a suit of armor, some powerups and a wad of cash "to get you started" I said. He was jumpin up and down in extasy, he couldn't believe it. ^_^ Some months later, he wrote me a PM, and sent me a top level weapon unique to my class with the note "You helped me when I was in need. Now I'm high level enough to do the same thing, helping others. Thanks for showing me there are good people in MMOs." ^_^

I never felt better in my entire MMO life. ^_^

When you are required to be nice, and your are not, you are considered an ass. But when you are, in fact, not required to be nice, and yet you are, that makes people happy, and maybe nudge them to do the same thing. IMHO.

videogames are one of my favorites to give and get

I too have spent time on the gift-giving in DoA:XBV and DoAX2. I think the entire game is something like a dating sim, with the goal being to build friendships between the girls, even if the whole point is to cajole them into wearing the skimpiest swimsuits imaginable, and to watch them rolling around on the beach together.

There is also the Harvest Moon games, in which you build friendships by figuring out what people like and giving them gifts. However, it's actually much simpler than the other game, since you don't have a difficult end goal, the only point is to make friends with people. Also the mechanic itself isn't very complex, some might even call it simplistic. But it's still there.

There are a few other games that contain giving things. In some RPGs, particularly Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, there are several characters you can go back and visit who will give you rare and powerful items if you give them enough of various more common items. Those are little side quests and/or mini-games, but they're still there.

I'd ask if saving the life of an NPC that you don't actually need to save (some of the more "mature" RPGs) can count as a gift, but I understand if that's not the point. ;-)

 

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