Hey, so this is super embarrassing - I have no idea what the name of this game is anymore! I played it a few years ago, but couldn't find the exact game online. Huh. If you know what it is by the description, please let me know. Because of this, generic screenshots, and placeholder images. You all like those, right?
Have you ever played a game that opened your eyes? A game that truly changed your perspective, and shocked your world view? The Save State blog has often talked about moments that have messed with our perception of games, storytelling, and mentioned times in games that have tugged at our heartstring, but today, I wanted to cover a game that really made me think.
Now, oftentimes, the best games are hidden gems. It is rare that a AAA game has an incredible lesson, although games such as Spec Ops and Bioshock Infinite have offered an interesting treat. But no, we are not talking about AAA games. So surely, this must be a game like Thomas Was Alone, or perhaps Braid, right? No, today I wanted to talk about a flash game. A flash game that on the surface has no apparent depth, but when you peel away the layers, explains more than you could ever imagine. Of course, I am talking about GAMENAMEHERE.
You can play GAMENAMEHERE at URLHERE.
No, you dolt, its a parable about the dangers of unfettered immigration. Jesus, how do you not get that!
At it’s core, GAMENAMEHERE is a very, very simple soccer simulator. You have anywhere between 4 and 10 people playing on different teams. Each player is a circle, the teams are different colors, and the ball is a 3rd color. This game is not advanced. The goal of the game is exactly the same as soccer: at the end of a predetermined time period, have more points than your opponent. It’s incredibly simple, right?
The controls are just as simplistic. WASD controls movement of your character, and touching the ‘ball’ makes you dribble the ball, in that it is in front of you until someone steals it away by touching it. Pressing spaces allows you to move the ball in your current forward trajectory as a pass or a shot on goal. This game boils down the entire sport of soccer into five buttons, which is beautiful for reasons I will soon explain.
Further touches on the game include displaying the nationality of the player - not for a fake team, but of the actual person controlling the circle. As much as I would like to believe I was only dealing with eagle loving, blue blooded, commie hating Americans, the games were actually pretty diverse, although countries well known for a love of soccer are well represented. As an aside, I am American so it is soccer, or at the very least “freedom ball”. The nationality of the player is displayed, along with a chat window. The chat is usually inactive in game, but used for only the most basic “gg” in the game, or if your team lost, the chance to yell at your players for not guarding the goal..
The areas in red being people who are correct.
Communication in the game is often non verbal - If you see two or three people rushing for a ball and one isn’t you, then you are on defense. If your opponents have the ball, you get between them and the goal, with one person hanging back on offense in case the ball comes back. The positions of an individual player can change through the course of the game (there are no rules enforced). Most of the time, any semblance of strategy just falls into place.
So why am I making such a big deal out of the game?
Sadly, this is not a Frog Fractions moment, where GAMENAMEHERE suddenly turns into a match of Call of Duty with one player playing DDR. No, it sadly remains as a soccer game. But the interesting part is which team wins. As you take a pool of people from the internet with varying levels of experience in the game, eventually a dominant strategy occurs. You notice that if a team adopts a certain strategy, they win more games, so your team attempts to use the same strategy to beat the opposing team. You try to rally every future team you are with into using this single, defining strategy of the game.
As I played round after round, different teams attempted different tactics to outwit the opposition. Occasionally, we could get away with a power play - everyone attempts to play offense. Many teams were left on the back foot, leaving all of their team members on defense. Many times this involved all of the players of a team crowding the goal in an attempt to stop anyone from scoring a goal. None of these strategies compared to the winning strategy.
The winning strategy was: a goalie. Half the remaining players took offense. The other half took defense. If the remainder was uneven, one player would follow the ball.
Videogames, game theory, and qwantz, in a blog at one time? I am so proud of myself right now
Typically, this strategy started with someone taking goal, and it seems counter intuitive at first. This guy, instead of playing offense or defense, is instead just sitting in the goal. Player instinct screams to run to the ball. Similarly, sitting on defense when the ball is on the other side of the court is just as frustrating. Just imagine then how the offense must feel watching their defense crumble. If only they had another man! But after a certain amount of games, you know that this is the best strategy.
If you let people play soccer online, turns out, they will play soccer. Mind. Blown.
Pictured above: A revelation
“Taterchimp, thats dumb. Soccer players use that strategy all the time” EXACTLY. That’s amazing! When you put an infinite number of players into a virtual arena with the rules of soccer (X players on each team, score goals to win), the combination that wins the most is the reason why the players are set up in that way! It is beautiful to see!
Think back to the invention of the very game of soccer, when two groups of people had a ball, and someone said: I bet you I can get it into the net more than you guys can. For years and years people played this game trying to figure out the optimal configuration of players, and gamers came to the exact conclusion with a simplified version of the game! It proves that the rules for the team do not exist to restrict the teams, but it is to guide new players that it is the most optimal way to play the game.
Above: Non optimal play
I feel like here I have to tell you why I find this so special. For the past 4 years I have worked in a Six Sigma department at a well rated company. My job day in and day out requires me to identify flaws in processes and try and fix them to reduce the defects to a minimal level. My company doesn’t produce widgets like a factory would, so my job is basically identifying process improvement capabilities - where can we reduce manual processes and improve overall efficiencies? So I definitely have a keen eye for things like this, and I might be slightly biased/over excited when I notice something like this.
Consider any other permutation of a team - too much offense means that your defense has an enormous gap should the opposing offense get the ball on your side of the field. No goalie means that you cannot stop an offense. A single player on offense means you cannot hope to escape a defensive rush. Players are better off not switching sides in the heat of the moment, and maintain their position in case of a change in possession. It is the most optimal way of playing the game.
Reference all the things!
At its core, this reminds me of the scientific experiments that use nature to fix problems that programmers have spent hours upon hours to program. One such program was to find the most optimal path between a series of points (the traveling salesman problem). The example I have read the most on is for public transit - what is the most optimal organization of subway lines between cities? Model after model produced the optimal solution for how everything should be laid out, and thus the entire system was based off of these calculations. But the same results could be replicated more or less exactly by making each city a food supply for mold
, and watching how the mold recreates the path. All the math, logic, and calculations, reduced to simply asking nature what the best way to do it is. Nature, truly, does find a way. There is such a beauty in being able to watch players come up with the best way to play a sport organically, with no rules to bind them, with no instructions, and no penalties.
As for the personal impact, as soon as I realized what was happening, my mind was kind of blown. I found myself using the chat function to assign players as goalies, determining if someone should stay on offense or defense. After realizing that every team should have a plan, it stopped being reactionary to a team having a ball, and started to be a matter of holding our positions. Then I took myself out of this game, and out of soccer: this applies to every sport. Baseball. Basketball. Football. We do not have these rules and regulations because someone wrote them down that way, we have them because it is the best possible way to play the sport. And because of this, teams aren’t judged by their strategy, but are instead judged by their skill (mostly - there are of course different formations and plays that can be used, but the core configuration remains consistent).
Now, think about how this applies to video games that we play. When you play Street Fighter and choose Ryu or Ken, are you picking the cheap character, or the best character for the sport? Are the best players the one’s who use their skills, or the ones who adhere to what the most optimal way to play the game is? In DOTA or Counter Strike, is there a single optimal strategy that would lead to victory? Have hours upon hours of playing the game with millions upon millions of people discovered the optimal strategy yet, or are we still playing those games ‘wrong’?
And all that comes from a single, simple, flash game...