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Wednesday 29/03/2017: Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink

December 9, 2013

Why So Many Luck Games And Mini-Games?

Whether you like it or not, a lot of games are partly based on luck. The ever-famous Snakes or Ladders is based entirely on luck, as the outcome of the game depends solely on the numbers you roll and the spaces you land on. Luckily, most board and card games avert being entirely luck-based by adding a portion of strategy. Uno requires you to have a bit of luck, as you can't tell what the opponents will play against you; nor can they tell what you can use against them, so you can build your strategy. Poker is all about bluff, and Monopoly is a board game with dozens of strategies and ways to win - or lose.

Which is why I'm always ENRAGED when I play a video game and luck plays against me. Or rather, when there's just the right mix of luck and strategy, but my bad luck completely screws my strategies. (Just the other day, I tried ten times to catch Rayquaza in Pokémon HeartGold; more than half the times it offed itself because of Outrage-induced confusion.) When you play a video game, very often you'll have to rely on luck at least a little. However, the most enraging is the games - or rather, mini-games - that require luck and nothing else. I'm not in a god damn casino, I'm playing a freaking game! Yeah, I keep wondering: Why are there so many luck games and mini-games?

Well, for starters, I know I'm not an expert in video game programming (I do have a few bases, but nothing really great). I don't know how to program luck beyond the simplest fractions: 1/2, 1/4, 1/8... Luck is a very tedious mechanism to create in most games, so I respect those who take the time to program it. However, I'd much prefer if luck was only part of the extra material to a game. What do I mean by this? 

Again, nothing I've lived. Just making
sure you know.
I'll take a real-life example, which is in no way based on a problem I had with one of my games. Let's say you're playing a game that already requires some luck. Maybe, um... There, Mario Party. The DS one. You're winning for the moment, and then BAM! Luck mini-game. You lose the mini-game. If the stakes were low, it's not that bad, but imagine for a moment that the stakes were one, or worse even, TWO stars. You can go from first to final place in a single thirty seconds. I repeat, it's not based on anything I lived, even though it eerily sounds like a situation I've been in.

Luckily, most games don't rely too much on luck. There's always the risk that you'll need to gamble your way to get the last collectibles in the game. Even worse is when your odds of winning are slight, so you have to save and reset the game to try again. I don't usually agree with this method, but I'm softer towards that "try again" approach when it's freaking luck we're dealing with. It's not your fault, it's the game. There's always that little quest that requires a lot of luck and leaves little place for strategy. Notice I didn't say "side-quest"; I meant "quest" as in "needed to finish the game".

As for the side-quests, since some of them are really not needed to finish the game, the developers will put in some extra effort to extract curse words out of you. Of course, they will argue that "they're not needed to reach the end credits". Still, for completionists it's just another way to get them to say the dreaded 4-letter words. Which, for the sake of politeness, I'll avoid here.

Then there's the mini-games. Those that are completely unnecessary to beat the game, and whose only purpose is sometimes to reward you with a lot of in-game currency, which you can then use to buy stuff that will bring you to other side-quests. I have nothing against those. If I could choose what involves luck in video games, I'd only pick those mini-games that don't affect the regular game to an extreme. And the world would be great. Sadly, devious developers or programmers feel the need to anger a few gamers.

So, why so many luck games and mini-games? The reason can't just be to instill rage in the public. No, there has to be a reason. I'd go for three reasons, actually.

One, luck is a major element of life. Many occurrences, many events in life would not have happened if you hadn't had a bit of luck. Or if some coincidences hadn't come together. As such, some of those luck-based games try to replicate the reality of luck, something you'll come across multiple times in your life.

Two, luck games can and will make you lose, but at the same time, losing is also part of life; and sometimes, when you get too good at a game, bad luck can be one of the ways to deflate your ego.

Three, while luck might test your ability to endure loss (or rather, your ability to reset a game if you're impatient), it also shows you the dark side of luck: That in many cases, the odds are against you. It's like a warning against luck game-based enterprises, such as casinos. How many people are out there, staying inside a casino, pulling the slot machine's lever again and again until they're too broke to even LIVE? By playing luck games from which you suffer no real loss (as in, you didn't bet true cash), and you lose extremely often because of the luck factor, then you're feeling the same anger felt by those whose pockets are emptied by Gambling Hell. With the added bonus that unlike gamblers, you didn't lose anything. It's like being in a casino in which you never pay to play, except the entrance cost (the game's price).

In this light, luck games and luck missions can be seen in a positive way; they reflect one of the harsher realities out there. There's always going to be luck-based things in video games, it's one of the things that can be programmed; of course developers are going to use it. By the end, even if luck is the core idea behind some moments in video games, it is your choice to keep trying or give up. Which is the exact same dilemma lived by adults stuck in casinos, except they keep believing the money will come back someday. You're playing without the promise of monetary gain to encourage you to keep trying; you can stop at any moment. You can stop playing a game when you feel like you've run out of luck, and go back to it later.

Which is not to say you can always blame bad luck when you lose a multiplayer game; the steps from being a good loser and a sore loser is thin.