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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 68 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Jenga - competitive play switching to cooperative mode  (Read 2049 times)
Filip Luszczyk
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« on: June 16, 2006, 05:20:32 PM »

This is not a role-playing AP, but the issue is valid, I think.

Jenga. I played it at a convention. The game is incredibly simple and incredibly addictive. Players build a block tower. Every turn, player takes one of the blocks from the tower and places it at the top. If the next player ruins the Jenga, you win.

Basically, rules of the game encourage competition, based on affecting the structure of the tower so that the next player botched. After reading the rules I played exactly that way. And suddenly I am scolded by everyone at the table "You will ruin our Jenga!". Turns out, the game is commonly played in cooperative mode, absolutely not hinted at by the rules. People go boasting about how many levels they managed to build. After some games, I admit that it was definitely more rewarding to watch the Jenga rising as high as possible.

So, there is a common rules drift - win conditions are intuitively changed from "If the next player ruins the Jenga, you win" to "If the group playing manages to build higher Jenga than the previous recordist, they won. And whoever ruins the Jenga sucks.".

Now, I think the drift process here is worth exploring. What comes to my mind:

1.There is probably some terrible design flaw in the game, since it is quite commonly, intuitively drifted from overtly competitive, PvP mode suggested in the rules, to cooperative "beat a record" mode.

2.The drift might be simply affected by the environment. In one group someone started socially reward others for cooperation, it turned out to be stronger than the default Step on Up, and the thing quickly spread around the convention.

3.This might also prove that competition with cooperative elements is simply more rewarding than overt, aggressive competition.

Comments? Thoughts?
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2006, 05:23:05 PM »

And since it's late here, I forgot. Counting levels is immensely rewarding in itself. Definitely more than screwing other players. This might be the reason of the design flaw.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2006, 06:03:49 AM »

Hi Filip,

I think your #1-2 are exactly correct.

Your #3 is problematic, for a couple of reasons. "Prove" is not a useful concept in this case, I think - perhaps "demonstrate that cooperative competition is fun" is better. Not because it's a softer or nicer comment, but because it makes more sense.

Also, when it comes to games, there really isn't any kind of "pure aggressive competition" model. I think that's a fear-concept, at least as stated by those I've spoken with in the past.

I'll give two non-RPG examples.

"Kill the guy with the ball," or less happily, "Smear the queer": I have fond memories of this childhood game. One person throws the (American) football high in the air; someone catches it; everyone tries to tackle him. When he is tackled, he throws the ball up in the air ... and the game repeats indefinitely. There is no scoring.

Hearts: this card game relies strictly on individual, ruthless advantage. It is the single most cutthroat card game I know; alliance with other players is absent (no, not even in preventing someone from shooting the moon; you're protecting yourself when you do that).

I'm not including two-player games, but rather group games in which far less ruthless/individual principles can be observed for related games (rugby and bridge, respectively).

Now, considering these games, it should be clear that massive, committed, 100% cooperation is necessary among the whole group to play them at all. In the first, no one randomly tackles just anyone, or punctures the ball with scissors to "win." In the second, no one suddenly turns to the person next to them and promises money or sexual favors to get them to play an advantageous card. There are rules and lines and agreements underlying the highly-focused, highly-clear competition.

So with Jenga, I'm seeing two things in your example.

1. The baseline of cooperation is now serving to permit a different refined point of interest. In other words, it's not that cooperation wasn't there to start, but now it's serving a different ultimate goal.

2. That refined point of interest may be purely aesthetic ... or what I'm seeing in your post is, it may entail group-level competition against other groups and what they have achieved.

Competition against other groups (entailing extreme teamwork within the group) is still competition - and may itself still be very aggressive. I suggest that recordists in Jenga would be those who can combine outwardly-directed, team-loving aggression the most effectively.

Best, Ron

P.S. Note - I anticipate about 40%, maybe 50% comprehension of this post out there in internet-response land, based on discussions of this type in the past. The very word "competition" frightens and upsets a lot of people in gaming.
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Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2006, 06:32:09 AM »

This might be going somewhat astray, but I think at the core of all not-survival-based* competitive impulses is vanity.  Call it pride, or honor, or whatever that makes is sound nicer but I think the root of competition lies as much (or IMO more) in winning the admiration of others as it does in any self satisfaction (in many cases I think the notion of "self satisfaction" is what we tell ourselves to pretend we're not doing it for vanity).

Point being that playing Jenga by the rules can win you the admiration of the other people at the table (assuming everyone is playing cut throat).

Playing Jenga in its drifted form can win you not only the admiration of the other people at the table (who witness your tower building prowess) but also the admiration of all the other Jenga players who recognize your record breaking accomplishment.

Competition, I think, naturally steers in the direction of acquiring maximum admiration...i.e. pursuit of maximum vanity.  So it doesn't surprise me to hear that your Jenga game drifted in that direction.

I think this phenomenon is similarly behind the popularity of ladders and rankings for online computer games.  Beating a shooter game in single player mode might win the admiration of your friends who can't get passed the water level.  But being fatal1ty the online shooter game celebrity wins admiration from thousands.

Since, as a general rule, the success of a group can reach a larger circle of potential admirers than the success of an individual, competition naturally trends towards including a mix of coorperative elements.  You have to be skilled at coorperating with the group (i.e. a team player...even in individual sports where the team doesn't necessarily share the field with you) in order to maximize your chance for gaining maximum admiration.

Cooperation and Competition I don't see as being all that different.  They are both thoroughly entwined together and often largely interchangeable.  I think this is fundamentally at the root of Universalis's success.  It mixes Cooperation and Competition together pretty completely and overtly.


*I could actually make a case for survival based competition being rooted in vanity also, but that would be even farther astray.
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Thunder_God
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« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2006, 07:26:52 AM »

There is always the Tribal arguement, of "We Versus them", so you always try to find a "We", while "Them" is easy. There's also the arguement that competition is for vanity because vanity IS a survival issue, for finding mates.

I don't know what to say yet, except for my own experience with the game:
When you play and win, you won, game ended, yay.

When you play for "highest" AND win(as we do here), you get to play for far longer, and besides for winning, you also get the record. Also, it shows mad skillZ to not lose when the goings get tough. Getting someone else to lose is easier than not losing, and still not losing. Look at the picture you provided, so many levels with only one brick. To lose there is easy, the trick is to not lose, which individual victory stops from continuing.
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Guy Shalev.

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Blankshield
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« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2006, 02:47:03 PM »

There's a couple other things relevent that contribute to this, which nobody has directly mentioned yet.  One, and this is directly applicable to Jenga, but probably applies more broadly, is how it is presented.  I've never read the rules for Jenga, but as far back as I can remember, the commercials and advertising for it are all stuff like "How high can you go?" and "Carefully, carefully don't break the tower!".  So aside from the written rules, it's presented as a co-operative challenge.

The second part is that, after a few times of playing it "cutthroat", Jenga gets boring.  Put bluntly, trying to build a really tall Jenga tower is more of a challenge.  In much the same way that kids eventually figure out that Snakes and Ladders is pretty much complete random chance, and stop playing, people figure out that winning Jenga early is easier than not losing.  So the challenge of the game isn't to win.  It's to keep playing.

James
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #6 on: June 24, 2006, 09:10:48 AM »

Valamir - what about "an adrenaline rush" thing often connected with competition? Don't you think that a desire for the thrill can be another possible reason here? Unless it's intertwined with the vanity issue.

There certainly is this "adrenaline rush" in playing Jenga. I suppose overt, "cutthroat" competitiveness can potentially generate stronger "rush" in general (you know you can't count on anyone but yourself), but in this particular case social pressure, or desire not to lose, turn to be stronger. Also, as Blankshield pointed out, the higher the Jenga, the greater the challenge, and thus stronger "rush".

Blankshield - I don't think the commercials actually affected people gaming in this particular environment. For some years there is a tradition of "gaming rooms" on Polish conventions. In gaming room a number of board games is available for anyone interested to play, 24 hours a day. People usually go there if there is nothing better to do at the moment, and in fact only a handfull of them normally demonstrate any strong interest in board games. Consequently, the majority of them is not exposed to commercials.

Another issue - I think there is a lesson here for everyone designing a competitive game. Making it possible to track your doings with the results of recordists could prolong player's interest in the game. Objective scoring criteria (like levels in Jenga) can be usefull. Hmm... the only competitive RPG that actually uses explicit scoring that comes to my mind at the moment, apart from my own Threads, is Great Ork Gods.
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