Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Who's the Best?" An essay by Doug Hancox

I was hanging out at home, playing Starcraft, when a friend of mine came over. He had never played before, but thought it looked like fun, so he wanted to try out a local multiplayer match. I installed a spawn of the game on his laptop and hooked it up to my PC, setting the two systems up back-to-back on my desk. We connected to the LAN and set up the game. I picked Terran because it's the race I've had the most experience with. As I waited for him to pick, he looked over at me and asked, "Who's the best?"

I punched him in the face.

There is something so wrong about this simple question that begs an explanation as to why it even exists. In the interest of competitive spirit, I can understand wanting to be the best. But when you're starting out in a game, you're likely going to get your ass kicked no matter how much of an advantage you have.

I've been asked this question numerous times in various settings. I'd be showing my Magic cards to friends and one of them would ask "What's the best card in the game?" A question like this is not only pointless, but unanswerable. How do you define "best"? and for that matter, wouldn't it simply be one player's opinion in the first place? A card that is good in one deck might be completely useless in another. Or if you get a generally less useful card when the situation begs for you to use it, that's a whole different matter altogether.

The worst insinuation this question makes is that there actually is an answer to it. The primary reason Starcraft is so popular is that it is so wonderfully balanced. There is no "best race." Every race has distinct advantages and disadvantages over the others. Trying to determine the best is folly. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

You should be wary of any game where a player CAN answer this question without thinking about it. In a game like Clayfighter, it doesn't take any thought to pick Blob, because he's just broken as hell. This is indicative of the poor balance in the game, and makes the game that much less fun.

If he were to ask a question like "Who's the easiest to use?" or "Who's the best for beginners?" that would be a much more acceptable query. It shows he doesn't want to be overwhelmed. In Brawl, you don't want to start with a character like Jigglypuff, Olimar, or Luigi, because all of their little nuances require some experience to use effectively. Or in the case of Magic, using a Blue permission deck takes more strategy and knowledge of the game than using a Red spitfire deck or a Green overrun deck.

People who ask "Who's the best?" Almost seem to expect that simply by picking the best character in the game, it can overcome their lack of skill and experience. They don't want to learn anything about the game, they just want to win. They don't want to work to win either, they just want it handed to them.

It's not even a matter of giving the beginner an advantage over the more skilled player to even the playing field, like when I let my friend use Minion in Twisted Metal II. They want to pick the best character because they don't want to waste their time learning any strategies of the lower-tier characters. If they can't be the best, it's not worth their time to even bother playing. This same thing happens in the console wars. People who are only going to buy one system want to buy the best one. But in reality, they can have plenty of fun with any system. There are plenty of enjoyable games available for any system on the market, including the DS and the PSP. If you're a true gamer, you don't let should-haves and might-have-beens get in your way of just enjoying the game.

(Besides, everyone knows the Zerg is the best.)

1 comment:

  1. To be fair (though this kinda doesn't apply to your argument entirely), in the cruel world of online games a newbie may be convinced there is a superior "something" when they get utterly owned. Ex: I only took a passing interest in Gears of War. As a result, I can not hold my own in either of the two games available online. I'm destroyed (both in game and confidence wise) by the competition and can not enjoy this major feature of a popular game. Epic realizes this distinction in the skill of the Gears population and have promised to include a temporary health/damage aid to all newcomers in Gears 3 (they pick and choose who based on your online achievements from the first two games). My point then-obviously at this point-is that it is a task to be taken on by the developer as well.

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