Monday, November 23, 2020

Stakes: Three Takes

One: The Judge

So what is the way of raising a child?

At a young age, said the judge, they should be put in a pit with wild dogs. They should be set to puzzle out from their proper clues the one of three doors that does not harbor wild lions. They should be made to run naked in the desert until …

Hold now, said Tobin. The question was put in all earnestness.

And the answer, said the judge. If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now? Wolves cull themselves, man. What other creature could? And is the race of man not more predacious yet? The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night. His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement. His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day. He loves games? Let him play for stakes.

--Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

Two:  Rob, co-founder of a big indie game company

Three: The Author of this Blog

My semi-educated guess is how you see stakes in games is probably related to whether "Talk to a stranger!" and "Be vulnerable!" actually do feel like high-stakes activities in real life to you.

I mean, I worked retail. Who didn't?





LUX said...

“The judge smiled. Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up game, player, all.

Suppose two men at cards with nothing to wager save their lives. Who has not heard such a tale? A turn of the card. The whole universe for such a player has labored clanking to this moment which will tell if he is to die at that man’s hand or that man at his. What more certain validation of a man’s worth could there be? This enhancement of the game to its ultimate state admits no argument concerning the notion of fate. The selection of one man over another is a preference absolute and irrevocable and it is a dull man indeed who could reckon so profound a decision without agency or significance either one. In such games as have for their stake the annihilation of the defeated the decisions are quite clear. This man holding this particular arrangement of cards in his hand is thereby removed from existence. This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification.”

— Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

In legend of the five rings there are duels, and these duels decide not just who wins or loses, who lives or dies, but it take hold the celestial order itself . Thus the duel determines the very nature of the ultimate reality. Say a PC stole some rice and is accused in caught, but the PC resist and says I didn’t steal anything, and so the accuser and the PC duel. The PC slays the accuser. Now it is such that the rice was never stolen. Reality restructures itself by the nature of the stakes. The duel is thus the game and the authority and the justification.

ᶘ ᵒ㉨ᵒᶅ Rusty James said...

Bloody Meridian was a great book. Too bad Ridley Scott couldn't get the movie made like others have tried. I just had a player lose an arm in a save or lose an arm situation in cube world pyramid.

Kyle T said...

It's not that I think low-stakes moments are bad, it's that I doubt the ability of players and designers to convey them in a compelling way around a table. Even highbrow academic litfic struggles with conveying the import of eating a really significant sandwich and it has the advantage of being able to craft prose however it likes and not having the moment ruined by somebody jumping in with a choice meme reference.

And discontinuity is good! Things are not always continuous. Plans are interrupted. People and characters adapt.

Trent B said...

@Kyle T I don't know man, in a game night before last (Cyberpunk Red), three of us (non netrunners) were just talking amongst ourselves in character while our netrunner was fighting some cyber dog in the internet. Then the netrunner's head caught fire, we put him out, and then went back to RPing.

It was compelling and fun and engaging and some of the most fun we had during the game. Literally no stakes, mechanically, and practically no stakes in the game or story at all.

Low stakes play is awesome because you can relax and take risks and be stupid and fun without sacrificing optimal play or character safety in exchange.