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  1. #1
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    The Peter Principle in gaming

    The Peter Principle is a proposition that states that the members of an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability. The principle is commonly phrased, "Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence." (wikipedia)

    There seems to be something like that at work in gaming as well. How often does it happen that you start playing a game, leave it for a bit, and then come back to find that you no longer have a clue of what to do? Most games cannot be completed in one session. Combine this with the fact that many games show a linear progression throughout, starting with a weak character and a limited amount of simple tools facing obvious challenges, they ramp up throughout building up numbers, adding skills and getting more and more complex. However, when played in smaller bursts, this means that as a player you tend to rise to the level where between sessions you no longer remember the controls, what to do or have no longer trained the skills required.

    This can be remedied by cleverer design, more intuitive UIs, etc., but wouldn't it be nice to do away with that kind of progression and let our heroes develop in more human ways? Maybe the things we look forward to in a game shouldn't be the fantasy of more power and bigger numbers, but rather the revelation or resolution of a story, or a variation in ideas rather than a ramping up of existing ones.

  2. #2
    Network Hub Peter Radiator Full Pig's Avatar
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    I think your linking of the Peter Principle to forgetting controls in a game is a bit force, but lets go with it.
    It wouldnt be nice to do away with the kind of progression you talk about, but breaks now and then would be good.

    Story is hard in games, whilst keeping them games. Games are a medium about interaction, so either the person has no interaction with the story (Which most stories need to be well written) and thus the story would be in any medium that isnt games. This would mean the story you give isnt really true to medium in its delivery.
    Or you let the player change the outcome, in which case it becomes and undirected multiending deal that would be incredibly hard to write, and still make the story a person feels is worthwhile.
    The same problem applies with heroes developing in a human way. Hard to simulate humanity. If someone can do it, i say go for it.

    Also, most games people really enjoy do have a variation in ideas, that what ramping up existing ones is. Listen to the developer commentary of the portal games. (Or is there just commentary for one of them?) and youll see how they intorduce an idea is a clear manner, make you utilise the idea, and eventually either combine the idea, or make you use it in a way you hadnt considered.

  3. #3
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    Another manner in which players - or the characters they represent - could "progress" in video game narratives or the worlds video games create, is through recognition of their deeds. Lets take Skyrim, for instance. If you remove the levels and perks from the game - which are empty, soulless holdovers from P&P games anyway - what sense of progression remains? Only the progression offered by your progress through the main narrative or any number of side stories.

    In other words...nothing you could not achieve through the reading of a book or short story. Or the watching of a movie. Without those levels and perks, Skyrim offers nothing in terms of progression that is at all unique to the medium it inhabits.

    But what if the NPC's of the world recognize your deeds. Perhaps, after your fourth or fifth time killing bandits for a Jarl, he and his men make you an honorary town guard. As such, you enjoy discounts on food and drink in towns. Or perhaps people comment on your sudden rise to fame and your new status.

    Perhaps once you've killed your 25th or 50th person in such games, NPC's could become nervous around you. They could cross the street, give you a wide berth, as you pass by. Some merchants, and most temples, would shun you, or attempt to drive you away with higher prices and rude commentary. Recognizing you as a cold blooded killer, these people would try their best to have as little interaction with you as possible, and some would outright refuse to do so. Some bandits would begin surrendering, while others hunted you to make a name for themselves. Your progression is now marked not by empty, hollow numbers crunched in the background, but in real, dynamic ways.

    Such dynamic player progression fulfills two important roles. First, it provides a dynamic progression readily visible to - and even directly affecting the game play of - the player. Changing the player's experience based on decisions made by the player "progresses" the world in irrevocable ways, making the place where you are in the world following a long break, different from the place where you started when first approaching the game. That this is not happening in larger, open world games, makes them follow hollow and empty in my opinion.

    The second purpose of dynamic, visible progression is simpler still. Such progression is unique to video gaming. Or at least to gaming as a medium. Barring the ancient - and now sadly defunct - "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, movies and novels simply cannot offer dynamic progression of this sort. Certainly the "world" of a book or movie changes as the tale progresses. However, it does not change in a manner visible to the player - at least not in books. In neither medium does it change based on the choices/actions of the observer (or player, where games are concerned.)

    That games can offer this sense of dynamic, unique progression is their greatest advantage over books and movies. Why they seek to emulate another medium as opposed to take full advantage of their own still baffles me.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by BjolkeDeBjeer View Post
    How often does it happen that you start playing a game, leave it for a bit, and then come back to find that you no longer have a clue of what to do?
    Um, Never? What are you talking about?
    Are you one of those "gamers" that constantly asks "what do I do?" and needs a walkthrough to get through any game?

  5. #5
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus c-Row's Avatar
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    Story isn't too much of a problem, but having to relearn the controls after a longer break is something that occurred to me every now and then. I still haven't finished the last Prince Of Persia game for that exact matter since I don't want to start all over despite me enjoying the game. FPS games seem to avoid this problem since there seems to be an established control scheme most games of the genre employ, while at the same time this tells something about the number of different actions you can (or can't) trigger.


    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcompany View Post
    ...
    I want to play that game.
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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by BjolkeDeBjeer View Post
    There seems to be something like that at work in gaming as well. How often does it happen that you start playing a game, leave it for a bit, and then come back to find that you no longer have a clue of what to do?
    Only on some type of games.

    Specially console games that depend on the control pad.. Remember what Y B X A do is a pain in the ass.


  7. #7
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Heliocentric's Avatar
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    I think leveling up is an over compensation for this problem. Grind so your play becomes redundantly simple and your brain switches off.

    Blah... I'm essentially so ploughed with hate for 'progression' in the form of leveling I'm posting in auto pilot. What was I saying?

    Yes, some gamers playing some games you hit the wall of there ability, then they stop playing.

    Mostly, that's not me.
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  8. #8
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus gwathdring's Avatar
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    I don't know that I've ever over-progressed in a game beyond my skill level. That doesn't really make any sense to me. I've certainly gotten stuck, and if I like the game I keep going until I'm unstuck. I don't get how it's worth mentioning that this is progressing past my point of competence. I should hope I progress past my point of confidence in any game expect those in which I'm explicitly trying to avoid a proper challenge. Same with my chosen career. If I don't get stuck and have to learn new things to keep up, I'll end up feeling stagnant, bored. Some people don't feel this way. To each their own. I don't buy the existence of this peter principle thing in any case.

    As to comments folks have made about progression in games:

    The classic XP-based leveling system is almost always crap in practice, but I don't think it's crap in theory. Earning power as you go is fun, as is facing greater difficulty. As such having the character increase in ability even as the surrounding challenges increase in difficulty is great so long as the surrounding difficulty increases fast enough to out-pace both the player's familiarity with the game systems and (more importantly) the character's rising power-level. Various bits of this can and should be adjusted for tone and taste. The problem is typically that leveling happens too slowly with overly arbitrary gating. Further, difficulty tends to be applied through bigger health bars and more enemies rather than interesting new abilities and behaviors--Borderlands 2 is a nice counter-example off the top of my head. Facing wave after wave of identical enemies is interesting in some contexts, but many games really screw this up, padding the space between interesting fights and set-pieces with action-oriented drudgery as opposed to mood-setting dialog or peace or what-have-you. A lot of action games forget how to use space. I think these problems kill games a lot faster than bad leveling systems though the two often go together becasue what's better for gaining XP than a constant drip-feed of easy kills?

    That said, games often forget the value of getting good at using the skills you have. You'll be handed a new gadget or power or what-ever every six seconds and you never really need to master any one tactic or ability--most of them are too situational and the others are so blunt they don't require mastery. As such, progressing never really feels like going anywhere. You don't feel like you're gaining ability--just collecting junk and button combos. Difficulty starts becoming about remembering which situational thing gets applied where rather than applying it well or in creative ways. Or difficulty never really changes at all--you just get new toys and tougher enemies in relatively similar proportion so that the whole thing washes out uselessly.

    I think every progression philosophy has it's place, but most games don't apply their progression of choices with any care and attention to the rhythm it creates in their game. Rather than classic PnP leveling being a bad fit for video games, it's just poorly implemented a lot of the time and it's not a fit for many games that use it. Mass Effect 3 is a great example of a game that would have benefited from the removal of progression or a more straightforward mission-by-mission award instead of XP award. Setting and then retraining abilities to taste would have been perfectly sufficient. The fiddliness of the XP system on top of the point system didn't match how stream-lined power upgrade trees were. This is a million times more the case in multiplayer. Grinding characters up in multiplayer is awful--especially when there's low server population and your level 12 character gets stuck with a bunch of level 20 folks facing difficult foes leaving you not only relatively useless but very often straight-up dead.
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  9. #9
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    Thought this thread would be about "idiots" rising to the top at monolithic companies like ea. The linking of in game progression to the peter principle seems tenuous.
    Last edited by karaquazian; 22-09-2013 at 01:20 PM.

  10. #10
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus sinister agent's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by guitarxe View Post
    Um, Never? What are you talking about?
    Are you one of those "gamers" that constantly asks "what do I do?" and needs a walkthrough to get through any game?
    Oh, grow up.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by sinister agent View Post
    Oh, grow up.
    Here, on RPS? What's the point?

  12. #12
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    Please keep the condescension to yourself.

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  13. #13
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Sparkasaurusmex's Avatar
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    I don't really have this problem with controls, as I usually use a basic personal default for any game that allows customizing controls, and that is most of the games I play.
    But often in games with intricate mechanics I do get a bit lost if I reload an old save. I took a three month hiatus from Shogun 2 and when I came back to play I really had no idea what was going on in my campaign. Of course it is easy enough to restart a new campaign at that point, in fact that is more fun anyway.

    The same thing happens to me with Civ games, but it isn't the mechanics... if I stop even for a few days it is hard to remember exactly what I was planning when I return to the game. Of course a few turns brings it back...then I usually load the save again, armed with refreshed memory.

  14. #14
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    Whilst it's nothing to do with the Peter Principle and I don't get why the OP connects them - I'm a regular curser of games which don't include any sort of 'tutorial refresher' or 'hint page', because I'll often leave a game for long period (it took me over 5 YEARS to complete Half Life 2 for example).

    Some games are almost impossible just to 'drop back into' but that's down to the developer not realising people might just do what we do. If there are complex combos or obscure systems there should be some sort of refresher in any game - it's not cheating for a user to take a peek at a cribsheet because they forget you gave them an obscure move (key) required to kill this monster (lock) is it??

    I've restarted SO many games just to really replay the tutorial - hell in a lot of cases I've even stuck with the restarted game because I preferred my choices - but there are some games which remain incomplete because, frankly, I can't be bothered to relearn stuff...

  15. #15
    I pretty much won't play any game that doesn't have some form of stat based progression mechanic (Company of Heroes 1 and Dungeon Keeper 2) are two examples of games I've totally bounced off for this reason (also any RTS game which makes you rebuild your base each time you clear a map). I just have a complete need to see in some concrete terms that my characters are getting better and that that progress is never arbitrarily wiped out during the game.

    I guess the idea of taking a weak character/city whatever and making them stronger is the main joy I get out of gaming and I need that progress to be statistically expressed. So a huge "no" to the OP.

  16. #16
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Heliocentric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by iridescence View Post
    I pretty much won't play any game that doesn't have some form of stat based progression mechanic (Company of Heroes 1 and Dungeon Keeper 2) are two examples of games I've totally bounced off for this reason
    I find this revolting. But there is good news for you, the prevailing logic agrees with you everything is getting leveling up slapped on it whether it needs it or not.
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  17. #17
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Malawi Frontier Guard's Avatar
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    Does the increase of personal skill at the game do nothing for you to get that feeling? Maybe you have a condition.

    Edit: This thread is all over the place. I blame the title.

  18. #18
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Heliocentric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Malawi Frontier Guard View Post
    Edit: This thread is all over the place. I blame the title.
    I blame you.
    I'm failing to writing a blog, specifically about playing games the wrong way
    http://playingitwrong.wordpress.com/

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Malawi Frontier Guard View Post
    Does the increase of personal skill at the game do nothing for you to get that feeling? Maybe you have a condition.

    Edit: This thread is all over the place. I blame the title.
    In a multiplayer game, yes. I mainly play single player games though and in a single player game I want some tangible acknowledgement of what I've done previously in the game. I do kind of agree that it's a little weird how I just can't seem to enjoy games that don't give that to me. *shrug*

    Maybe it comes down to having played RPGs for many years?

  20. #20
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Heliocentric's Avatar
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    RPG, or JRPG?
    I'm failing to writing a blog, specifically about playing games the wrong way
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