Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Analysis Paralysis in Games

Maybe you've waited an hour for a person to make their move in a board game, or perhaps you yourself stopped playing a video game because you couldn't decide what to do with the rare material you found. Whatever the case may be, you can blame AP, or analysis paralysis...and it can put a real damper in your gaming life.

Before you stop reading, I'm not going into any details on AP, or its scientific reasonings. I'm a gamer, and to me, you're just taking too long to decide what to do next. Why? Let's look at some examples.

AP in Board Games

Most board games are simple to pick up, but some almost require a class or two to understand. Games that offer much more strategy, more steps, and more interaction will often almost make you cross-eyed just learning how to play the game! But I won't go heavily into instruction manuals...that's for another post, another day.

What makes the games themselves vulnerable to analysis paralysis is that they offer you SO MUCH to do on your turn, and a lot of what you can do affect other things, which affect other things, and so on and so on. While it's interesting to see our choices sway other people's choices, the sheer overload of possibilities can put us in a nearly catatonic state.

Take Pandemic, for example. Pandemic's a board game where everyone can experience AP at once. Making a choice depends on a lot of factors - what cards everyone else has, what cities have been infected, what cities WILL be infected, what cities are left to be infected that haven't appeared, how much of the player's deck is left, who will be doing what in their next and subsequent turns. Even if it's not your turn, your hand management is dependent on the current player's actions, since everyone is working together to eradicate the virus threat! Who's nearest to a research facility, and do they have the cards to deliver the cure? Quick, you air-lift him to this city, where I can send him this card, and on that guy's turn, he can make the moves to the lab and cure the red plague!! Yeah, this game can put the brakes hard and fast for any player.

AP in Video Game, RPG Specifically

I target RPG games in particular because they're notoriously known for micromanagement. You have your typical player stats to constantly upgrade and mod, plenty of equipment to assign, and a lot of item management to deal with. And that's just the basics. If the game incorporates some item creation system, you'll inevitably collect rare materials that you have to painfully decide where to apply its one-time use. Or maybe the game has some storyline-relevant decisions that will go one way or the other, and you can't decide. Or the RPG will kill off characters if you progress further. Or everything above. Unless you don't give a fuck, RPGs will sit there on your shelf either half-played, or half-attempted.

Personally, my most serious case of AP was in Final Fantasy VII at the last cave before the final boss. You're given one save point to drop anywhere you want, but, without a strategy guide, you don't know how long the cave is. If you throw it out too prematurely, then you'll go further down the cave and further away from your precious save point. However, if you hold on to it for later, you're playing a deadly game of enemy chicken, pushing your luck to see how far you can last before you throw that save point down. And even when you're near-death, you hesitate throwing it down; maybe you just had a bad run against enemies, or maybe you're not even halfway through the cave. Do you put it down where you are? Do you??

Suffice to say, I never finished that game. Or many other RPGs after that.

How to Overcome AP

In the above situations, it can be hard to overcome analysis paralysis, but it's really quite simple - decide. Make a choice, and stick with it. And if that's not easily done in the above situations, play games that give you practically no time to even experience AP.

A good board game that destroys AP is Curse: Escape from the Temple. Each game is precisely 10 minutes because the audio track is ONLY 10 minutes. You literally don't have time to sit there and decide what's the best move, because you'll be constantly exploring and running around, trying desperately to find that temple exit.

In video games, TowerFall works well. A simple retro fighter where up to 4 players are in a confined arena shooting arrows at each other. Everything's so dynamic and happening all at once at such speed. You won't have time to figure out the best course of action, because you're probably dead already from a stray arrow. And scoring is simple, direct, and quick...and before you know it, you're starting the next round.

But, in either a video or board game, the key factor is to make the choice and power on through. There are too many games out there, and to get stuck by just one will only prevent you from playing more games. So make a choice, move your token, select that option, and move on!
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