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The Ow in Mao - The Cover Story
October 2013
Thu, Mar. 4th, 2004 01:19 am
The Ow in Mao

So today I played a game called Mao with ultimatepsi and a few others in the Wedge. It was an interesting experience. Those of you who know me know how I play games, especially the first time around; I hit the game full-force, act as well as I know how, crash through the barriers before me, painfully, sometimes even dangerously, but as I move I learn.

The fundamental principle of Mao is that you are playing a variant of Crazy Eights with a long list of additional rules. Each time you break a rule, you take a penalty card. Since the goal of the game is to get rid of all your cards, taking a penalty card is an unfortunate thing. Suffice it to say I had taken three penalty cards before I had even picked up my hand.

Now, most people will feel anger when they have rules used to punish them before they even have been told such a rule exists. I am no exception to this rule. There were five people in this particular game, three of which (including me), had never played before. I had the honor of discovering every rule by breaking it. I could do nothing but blink, accept my card, try to figure out what I had done wrong, try to correct it, and keep eating penalties while other players were giggling.

The game was an interesting experience, and it gave me something to think about concerning the nature of anger and why I was feeling angry, but it also instilled a remarkable change in me; I got conservative. Really, really conservative. I stopped talking entirely during the game, except to announce which card I was playing. I ended up communicating exclusively through hand gestures and facial expressions. I didn't understand the eights, so I avoided them completely. I didn't touch my cards until everybody else had them in their hands. I somehow felt targeted, based on my disproportionate bad luck (of course, it didn't help that later in the game a rule was made specifically to target me). Overall, it gave me the opportunity to examine first-hand the impact of emotional state on play style, and how I personally deal with opposition concentrated on me (intentional or otherwise).

Thinking about being put upon by an outstanding opposing force lead me to the game of Diplomacy I'm playing in currently. The rules are not important for this discussion, but suffice it to say I am currently staring at who opponents both of whom are operating in conjunction to eliminate me from the game. Fortunately, one of those opponents has recently turned on the other and an engagement between the two seems imminent, however, it easily could have been another way. Now, I admit, my first impulse when I'm teamed up on is outrage, especially if nobody else is on my side and I had no clear advantage. I am, of course, used to having a number of opponents team up to beat me, but I often can emerge victorious by playing an aggressive game, and letting exponential power work to my advantage. As has often been said, I play all games this way. The sum total of my gaming experience has taught me a basic algorithm, and I employ it with impunity.

So now I return to the question, of why did I get angry when I was simply being pounded in Mao this evening? Certainly, the assault was not my fault, nor was it to be blamed on the person enforcing the rules, and yet I felt rage welling up inside me, aimed directly at the person enforcing the rules and meting out punishment. Not only was my anger directed at that person, but it was easily swayed to a new target. Despite the fact I was given a reason for each penalty I took, I still felt like a student who is continuously kicked in the hallway and feels powerless to stop it.

This feeling of powerlessness is also an interesting emotion for me to come across. Anybody who hangs out with me much knows I am not an anti-authoritarian figure; I embrace authority, and support it if possible. For me its like the golden rule; obey others as you would have them obey you. Yet I still felt I was being unjustly punished for my actions, as I had never had the rules explained to me. Now, I realized that game transcended the individual round, and taking a penalty card was not that important in the grand scheme, but still I felt put upon and humiliated, as if I should've known what was happening. I finally thought about it, and realized the inherent balance that I've come to expect of most games was upset; not only was the game benefiting those more skilled, it was actively penalizing the new players, which is a sure way to loose players early. I thought some more about the way the game was arranged; that cards were called penalties, and the unceremonious way they were handed out, a card shoved before you and a brief error message reporting the transgression. More so than anything else, it was this disregard for basic respect that struck me and caused my rage. I was not being taught, I was being treated as if I were supposed to know what I was doing, when I obviously didn't; the game failed to recognize my newbie status. I was equal, and I did not wish to be, or I wished to be made equal before being treated as such. So, my anger grew.

Of course, I learned the rules relatively quickly (and the other two players quickly learned from my mistakes), and I got a handle on the situation and calmed down. Of course, a new rule was added each round (and again, without fail, I was the lucky "winner" when it came to discovering them). It gave me a great deal of insight into game balance, design, and more than those, the proper way to deal with players being introduced, and why some players get frustrated and put down a game before they've fully learned it. I'll have to analyze the game and my reactions more, of course, but I learned a great deal besides a set of obscure rules tonight, and for that, I am grateful.

Current Mood: contemplative contemplative


Thu, Mar. 4th, 2004 08:41 am (UTC)

So today I played a game called Mao

This was your first mistake.