DeconstructionCraft: Luck of the Gamer

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            In Demon’s Souls, souls are used as a currency to repair items, buy goods, and perhaps most importantly, to level up. When you level up in Demon’s Souls, you exchange a certain number of souls to increase one stat, such as strength or intelligence, by one point, but Luck, somewhat unique to Demon’s Souls, is also one of the stats that you can increase. By increasing Luck, the drop rate of items is increased and subsequently the drop rate of rarer items is increased as well. This is similar to the drop system of Diablo II and III and magic-find, but you use equipment and charms to increase your magic-find rather than as a core component of your character. Points into Luck in Demon’s Souls, however, cannot be refunded whereas equipment in Diablo games can be swapped anytime, and this becomes an issue as levels become seemingly exponentially more expensive eventually: are better drops worth less HP or stamina? Once a character in Demon’s Souls has collected the items they need and loot becomes superfluous, Luck becomes a detriment as the difficulty increases and the player wishes they had put the points elsewhere. This seems counterintuitive though. Wouldn’t everyone always want to have the Luck of the Irish or Lady Luck on their side while playing a game? If luck does not behave the same way in video games as it does in reality, then there are some questions to answer about luck itself.

            First, we should establish a definition or understanding of what luck is before we discuss its nature in videogames. A standard and simple view of luck is that it is a serendipitous event that is not foreseeable and is outside of a causal chain. If a moment of luck were foreseeable, then it would be akin more to fortunetelling or divining, and if luck operated within causal chains, then it should follow that we could study those causal chains and show that luck is really just a positive surprise spawned from a lack of information or that it truly is indeterminate. With this view in mind, it becomes obvious that luck in videogames, by nature of being a luck system, is not the same luck we discuss for reality. In this view, luck may never be authentically reproducible in videogames simply because videogames are programmed and must operate within their programming. A counterpoint could be the altered treasure of some of the Resident Evil games in which the contents of the boxes you open are not determined meaning that a box at the beginning of the game may contain goods from the end of the game, but this is still an operation within a system: the luck of the loot is still determined by the loot pool. This is more comparable to a shuffling of a deck of cards rather than a moment of luck. Even if we refer to the luck of events rather than loot, we are still left with the same issue. Moments in videogames where a truck narrowly misses running over the main character is programmed rather than authentic luck, but it would be amusing to see a game in which the travel time of the truck was random so that the main character is not preprogrammed to survive. Besides a corrupt save, it’s difficult to imagine a worse way to end a file…

            Despite the inability of a videogame to truly capture luck within its programming, it’s doubtful that anyone expects games to, but when we turn off the console, we are still left with the question of what exactly luck is. If our reality is anything like a game, a hard determinist reality for instance, then it is just as impossible for luck to exist in reality as it is to exist in a videogame. The reality most compatible with luck would be a purely indeterminist system in which random events would be decided to be events of good or bad luck ex post facto, but this is merely a subjective view on chaos. Questions and answers about the true nature of luck aside, it is easy to say that gamers, and their interactions with preprogrammed serendipity and luck systems, get the best out of luck and are the luckiest.

            Following Mr. Rickman’s distinction of luck in games only being a programmed sense of serendipity we understand that true luck could only exist in chaotic universe. A very different universe from games. So if games do not truly have random factors, why do we use the term “luck” for games. If chance can be statistically quantified, instead of asking the question of the nature of chance itself, let’s ask about the nature of our labeling chance as “luck”. Players approach a game of chance knowing there are odds underneath but still fall back upon old labels of good or bad luck on favorable or unfavorable outcomes. The word luck is used in a blanket term for the consequent of things unknown to us. The farther distanced from an understanding of the causality the more stake we place in the idea of luck.

            Lets look at a case less scripted by programming. Consider accidental or chance kills in a multiplayer game. In Call of Duty: Black Ops player 1 starts the match and without a thought throws a knife out of a window, the knife arcs and then lands square in a players chest, killing player 2. In the same match player 1 jumps from behind cover and blindly shoots, despite not knowing if there was enemy or not in his path, player 2 is hit in the head just as they round the corner. Moments of multiplayer are filled with these instances, where skill or reflexes were not in question but simple probability turned out in favor of one over the other. But notice if the knife landed outside of the map or the blind shots did not result in a kill then we wouldn’t consider that unlucky for the player. Why is that?

            Instances of luck seem to operate as, what is called in game theory, a zero-sum game. Zero-sum games are instances where within the game the win values of one participant are exactly balanced by the gains or losses by the opponent. Take a game of checkers, your singular win can only result in the opponents singular loss. The value in the game remains the same. In poker imagine that four player bring twenty five dollars. While some number of the players out of four will loose money, and others gain it, the end value at the table will always be one hundred dollars. Each win is balance by an equal loss on the other side. In noting this we can can see that an aspect of what makes what we call luck is what is perceived as a direct win vs a direct loss. This strengthens the notion of luck as a fiction. When someone wins the lotto they “Beat the odds.” If a person walking down a road raises their hand and an apple falls from a tree at that exact moment into their hand they “won.” Luck is a thing that can only happen if it’s happening too something sentient and possibly conscious of the fiction itself.

            We consider certain people in instances to be lucky, in the past people prayed to gods to be blessed with good fortune as if luck is a thing someone can have or an aspect that’s incorporated into their every action. It is the characterization of a unexpected phenomena as an essence whose antagonist is the lack of itself. We use luck as a means to not only blanket that we don’t understand, but to project a claim of comprehension onto the future and past. To create a fiction that gives understanding to the phenomenon of consciousness, It is us against the unfathomable, the I opposed to the other. It is one of mankind’s many tools in working out the unanswerable question of death, life, the universe, and everything.

            This was DeconstructionCraft wishing everyone good-luck on the midterms.

 

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