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Olympics Links!

August 13, 2012

I know the Olympics are over, but in my usual timely reporting fashion, I thought I could squeeze in one more post, rounding up a handful of great links that I saw over the course of the games.

First, Deadspin had some great coverage of the games, but some of the highlights were in a series called “What the Hell is This Sport?“, a feature where they’ spot-lighting the history and rules for some of the more esoteric sports, including Rhythmic Gymnastics, Pentathalon, Race-walking, and Trampoline. It’s a series that I wish I had thought of, or that I had the skill and depth of knowledge to write. Unfortunately, it seems like it’s limited to just those four, but I could read articles like those all day long.

As I mentioned, Deadspin had a lot of great Olympics coverage, and also ran a feature making the case for video gaming as an Olympic sport. I think that it’s kind of an old chestnut in the game industry now, but this particular article has some nice quotes from some smart people, and does a good job of touching some of the more interesting concepts, such as spectatability, which I’ve touched on briefly. Frank Lantz also brings up the physical component in reference to Starcraft, and while I’m not sure I agree (see: Actions per Minute), it remains one of the most obvious distinctions. I’ve been working on a grand “definitional statement” for sports, and I suppose I’ll have to finish it someday, but there’s also a lot of other reasons I don’t think games are appropriate for the Olympics.

I also have David Sirlin’s take on the Badminton scandal that I posted about last week. I’ve mentioned Sirlin before, but he’s a competitive fighting game player and a great game designer, with a particularly harsh and somewhat unpopular opinion on competitive game design, encapsulated in his philosophies on “playing to win”. His game design writings have been a pretty big influence on my own, so it’s no surprise that his view isn’t that far from my own. An excerpt:

A player should be able to forfeit for any reason or no reason, and this must be make explicitly clear in the rules. Further, it should be explicit that if a player (or team) wants to forfeit, then they should NOT play a fake match. Playing a fake match is about the worst possible thing for a competition because of the impact on spectators. If the rules make it clear that simply forfeiting is far preferable to playing a fake match and that forfeiting comes with no penalty, then the rules will have stomped out 90% to 100% of fake matches right from the start. It’s just a lot more effort to play a fake match and there’d be no benefit over forfeiting.

That’s not the whole solution though, not even close. That’s just the failsafe you need in case there is any incentive to lose on purpose in the first place. It should be self-evident that if a tournament system ever gives players an incentive to lose, then it’s a problematic tournament system.

This is the core idea: the players are always going to play towards where their incentives lie. If their incentives are to lose, then that’s a failure of the designers to properly design those incentives. Adding spurious rules about “the spirit of the game” are just band-aids on that original failure.

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