One of the stupidest things I’ve ever read about games was written by David Sirlin, a very smart game designer. He wrote it in a book that I picked up out of curiosity, and early on I encountered this quote.
I believe there is a great deal more of this “fun” to be had while playing to win than while only playing casually, but there is no use in entering that debate now.David Sirlin
This was the quote where I put his book down, because it speaks to me of a fundamental misunderstanding about human beings. I’m going go through a fair number of anecdotes here, but I think every single one of them demonstrates that his point is wrong. They illustrate a variety of examples where Sirlin has completely ignored human behavior.
If you had board games or video games as a child, and had younger siblings, you likely had to play games with them. And if you did, you likely chose to throw games to keep them happy. Perhaps David Sirlin likes making his siblings cry. I didn’t. There’s no fun in crushing, or being crushed. This brings me to my second example.
In college, the dorm I lived in had Wii-U in the communal space, and it was used primarily for two things: Smash Bros and Just Dance. There was a set of two players who were simply much, much better at the game then everyone else present, and would often play against each other. At one point, one of them moved out, after which a funny thing happened: virtually no one wanted to play against that second player. The gap was simply too wide.
We often played Magic, AKA M:TG, in the dorm. Quite a few people played, and many had a variety of decks. One of the more popular formats was commander. I remember one particular game with 8 players, in which I got the following combo out.
For anyone keeping score at home: this combo destroys every single other card each player had in play, and would continue doing it every turn until someone stopped it.
Unsurprisingly, everyone scooped, and started a new game. I would not describe it as very “Fun”.
A few more quick ones: games like Diablo Immortal, where “Winning” is temporary, and based on spending cash. Playing games against newer players who you’re trying to introduce to the game.
There’s a reason that the Magic: The Gathering personas are Timmy, Jimmy, and Spike. Not every player is going to derive satisfaction from winning all the time. Sirlin’s thesis seems to be that “Every player should strive to be a Spike” which is one of the stupidest fucking things I’ve ever heard.
So why am ranting about this now? Sirlin’s book is 20 years old, there’s a zero percent chance anyone ever reads this post, and it’s not like any of this is relevant.
Well, I’m mostly ranting about this because of something someone said to me recently. I’ve been making Historic Brawl decks while trying to use every possible legal commander as a commander, and I got some feedback that I should make fewer decks, and more “good” decks. To this I have two responses.
First off, yes. Part of the reason I’m doing this is that it makes “easy” content. It’s much less effort to sit down, build a deck over a day or two, and then live stream myself playing it to YouTube 5 times a week than it is to spend a month tweaking and tuning a single good deck. Because guess what? I’ve spent two years writing things for this blog, doing interesting interviews, and here’s the sad truth: no one reads it.
I can play an entire fascinating indie game, spend a week doing a writeup, post it, tweet it, and it makes not GOD DAMN iota of difference. Nobody fucking wants good content. Everyone wants easy consistent content. We’d all rather have grey sludge every day than chocolate chip cookies once a week.
So yeah, if making shitty Magic decks every day and posting about them is what it takes to get an audience, I’ll do it. I started this blog so that I could avoid being shafted at conventions because I’m not an “influencer.” Don’t think for a second I’m not super passionate about games. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t still be writing this.
My grey slurry is making historic brawl decks with cards that aren’t good historic brawl commanders.
And secondly, some cards are just BAD. I ranted about how much I hate Jaxis as a commander recently. I’m currently trying to make a deck with Korlessa, Scale Singer. Not counting Korlessa, there are 26 TOTAL dragon cards in green/blue/colorless. Of those 26, maybe 6 are actually worth playing as bombs in Historic Brawl. So congrats, you go make a “good” deck based around a commander that offers absolutely nothing except the ability to see the top card of your deck, and do nothing with it.
I’d be in favor of arguing that Korlessa is just a worst version of Falco Spara, in both colors, statline, and abilities. There’s not even any REAL reason outside of flavor for Korelssa to be legendary. What are two copies gonna give you, two 1/4’s?
So when I encounter Korlessa, I have two choices. I can build a deck with those 26 dragons, and Maskwood Nexus/Whir of Invention, and I can try to do something interesting to show people.
Or I can build slurry. I can stuff the deck so full land ramp, return to hand, and counterspells that you could swap out commander to be Gretchen Titchwillow, and there would be literally no difference in playing the deck, except it would be better, because guess what, Gretchen Titchwillow is a better commander!
At which point, why bother? It’s not a Korlessa deck. It’s blue/green good stuff.
In conclusion: Winning is not always fun. Winning is not necessarily good content. David Sirlin is much smarter then me, a very good game designer, and his book reads like the 80 page manifesto at the end of Atlas Shrugged in terms of its relationship to a majority of the population.