Meta-thinking in cRPGs – part 2

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Part 1

Categories and Forms of Meta-thinking in cRPG’s

Meta-thinking, however subtle it may be, can be traced to several parts (in varying degrees of intensity) of a cRPG, some of which are mentioned and discussed below. This is definitely not an exhausting list of “all things meta-thinking,” but rather a quick glance upon the subject.

The options menu, especially the game preferences one, is occasionally a source of meta-thinking pollution. In it the Player, as a divine entity, can sometimes choose the difficulty level of the challenges presented to him. In fact, even from the keyboard configuration one’s experience can be “polluted” by meta-thinking viruses; the existence of a key for jump or crawl can make the player change his mental image of the game, even before he starts it, sculpting it according to other similar games with which he has past experience. If for instance there is no key assigned to jumping, one may well deduce that the game is more on the tactical side of the spectrum rather than the action one, having in his mind associated jumping with more action-oriented RPGs.

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The existence of Jump, Sprint, & Sneak keys in Skyrim may well make the Player suspect the existence of an action element in the game

 

-Meta-thinking and achievements.

Since the arrival of platforms such as Steam, achievements have been a large part of the gaming experience (though they were certainly in existence before), and one more lens through which we see games and through which our experience of the game is shaped. The description of them – for some of them visible to the player before their objective is achieved – provides knowledge about the game, which otherwise would not be accessible. Reading, for example, that one must kill a certain amount of creatures to gain a certain achievement bestows a sort of quest that comes from outside of the game world, and creates a need in the player’s mind which may influence one’s in-game actions (one may adopt a more violent attitude towards the game world and its denizens for instance). Also, the Player is informed of the existence of a number of creatures of that type in the game-world, at least equal to the achievement’s one. Another example: if there is a yet unachieved achievement that says “discover 70 locations of interest,” one’s attitude towards game space is different from when no concrete number is present, leading to continuous scrutiny of the environment, backtracking, a holistic approach to the game regions, in which these locations may be, etc. One final example: Legend of Grimrock 2 has an achievement that reads: “Kill a monster with a single blow.” This may push the Player towards min-maxing, in order to maximize the damage output, or it can lead him to backtrack later on to starter levels, in which weak monsters will be accessible.

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The Legend of Grimrock 2 Steam achievements inform us of the existence of armour sets, as well as of certain enemies, even before the game begins

 

-The stats of character creation, of classes and races, create in-game stereotypical opinions in the player, meta-thinking ones, since if they existed not, and only a flavour description was provided, the player would have to find out in-game what are the characteristics of each professional and especially racial aspect, and then only in a vaguely qualitative way in the case of not overtly apparent statistics. Character creation is, in a nutshell, Player shaping all aspects of the Character, in a lesser or greater degree, depending upon the weight of randomness. Moreover, the compartmentalization of a being in a set of stats is an approach that breaks it down to measurable parts, usually with no interaction among themselves, leading to our apprehension of it as a mechanical set of functions and numbers, as a table and not as a whole being per se. This is not a schizoanalytical (according to Deleuze and Guattari) approach that goes contrary to the illusionary unity of consciousness, striving towards constant transformation through the conjunctive synthesis, since we are not talking about a fluid entity. It’s not even an individuating (according to Jung) approach, but rather, it is pure mechanical rationalism, the attempt of total enumeration of a being’s aspects.

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Character Class (races are part of them) description in the manual of Realms of Arkania 3. The stat requirements, as well as the descriptions shape the Player’s image of them, creating stereotypes

Let’s see two typical, indicative stereotypes that are created through race and class descriptions and statistics, both in table-top and virtual sub-genres. Humans are the great adventurers, those that, due to their short life-spans are the most restless spirits, the balanced-out race (or rather the most basic one, variations on which are the other ones), the jacks of all trades one could say, usually being eligible for all sorts of career activities. This anthropocentrism goes back to the first tabletop RPGs, and though it seems logical on a surface level, it conceals some layers of depreciation of the Other or at the very least trying to make up for the supposed advantages of the Other in comparison to the self, by creating irrational privileges (in earlier D&D versions, as well as in several PC-Games directly or indirectly influenced by them, we humans can be whatever class we want, since we are disadvantaged in comparison to the other races). It is an interesting and not so innocent division between “us” and “them”, which has some psychological and social ramifications that are beyond the scope of this text. But as far as the Player’s gaze upon the world is concerned it surely is affected, especially if these stereotypes are reinforced by NPC behaviour. As far as class is concerned, fighters, for example, are usually stat-wise more physique-oriented, less intelligent (thus more easily manipulated than say such mental powerhouses such as wizards) and are even considered the worst party member to be in charge as far as dialogue options are concerned. To cut a long story short, the Player knows vaguely what to expect from certain NPCs’ behaviour due to this meta-knowledge about races and/or classes which is acquired through both previously played games and fantasy genre in general, as well as through something as seemingly innocent as the statistics of the character creation. Even space is not untouched by this, since, for example, a forest settlement of dwarves may be considered something of a paradox by a Player, worthy of closer attention and scrutiny rather than what would be turned towards an elven settlement on the same spot.

-Meta-thinking in game geography/topography.

In dungeons, and buildings in general, via mapping help, one can hypothetize about the existence of secret rooms, corridors, etc. This is an activity that can be performed by an on-spot person in the real world, so this cannot be said to constitute a meta-gaming action. Meta-gaming is more evident in how the player perceives and thinks about towns, villages, and the whole positioning of points of interest on the world map, the assumptions he makes about them (see the above example of the dwarven forest settlement). A good example concerning the points of interest is the visibility on the map of the quest goal, something of a default feature nowadays in the vast majority of cRPGs. This, as well as the separation of doors-of-interest in a city from decorative ones (namely clickable/interactable from unclickable/uninteractable ones), creates a world in which places fall qualitatively in two categories: utility and décor, a thing not really applicable to a real world, at the very least as far as the totality of highlighting via key pressing is concerned. Moreover, in games implementing level-dependent enemies one can wander wherever he wants without much fear, but in non-level-dependent enemies games, one is bound to be cautious to where he ventures. In the latter type of game, distance usually equals to danger, at least until the end-game. Relative to this, content gating*, both soft and hard, and the acknowledgement of it, shape the Player’s (hence the Character’s also) image of the game-world geography, though neither is a blatant meta-thinking feature if it is cleverly implemented (roads can be closed and ship routes may well be unavailable for transportation to an island).

*Content gating is the demarcation of a game area or areas, and the exclusion of the Character from these areas until some condition is met – a certain Character level, the completion of a quest, etc. In soft gating the area restriction is enforced rather subtly through impossible-difficulty monsters, but the Character can access the area in question, though it usually is fatal to do so. In hard gating the area is completely off-limits, usually navigationally (closed roads, unavailability of ships for naval transportation, etc).

-Meta-thinking and experience-point-based or skill-based character advancement.

Knowing that a game’s character advancement is skill-based instead of experience-point-based can lead to a pretty different gameplay, either more obsessive and repetitive, non-linear, or more focused on a certain type of activity than others. For example, in Elder Scrolls, up to Oblivion, character advancement was tied to the major and minor character class skills, thus it was obvious that you had to engage in activity that honed these skills. If the Player knew that the Elder Scrolls were experience-point-based instead, then her activity could well be different. The same point can certainly be made in cases of experience-point-based character advancement, if one contrasts games with XP rewards from combat, and those that reward only quest completion and other activities, just like in Pillars of Eternity.

-In game worlds where resurrection is possible, taking advantage of this resurrection fact (for instance keep on fighting though it is evident that at least one party member will certainly die) lies in a shadowy border between meta- and normal-thinking. It all boils down to the supposed attitude of the Character’s personality and attitude towards death, dying, and what it is to undergo such an experience (what is known about afterlife, how well established it is, etc), the communal bonds between the party, etc.

-Quests that are failed or are unobtainable add to a game’s replayability, but, via meta-thinking, trim the sense of a player’s completion of the game, if the case is that you cannot complete all quests in a single playthrough. What this means is, that from the point of view of an entity inside the world, the possibility of leaving some things to lie undiscovered or uncompleted is absolutely acceptable and realistic (one cannot know the Whole of the world), but from a certain player’s standpoint (namely shifting of point of view from character to player mentality), it is somewhat unfair of the game, to not providing this opportunity. And let’s also be realistic: a second playthrough of a 40-60 hours game is beyond the reach of a respectable portion of the player population, especially if it means seeing just a bunch of different quests.

-Meta-thinking in game economy.

In cRPGs which implement shopkeepers with a finite amount of money it is customary for the Player to be able to see the remaining amount, something obviously not usually happening in real-world situations. Beyond that, the fact that merchants will gladly accept any quantity of relevant to their trade items, restricted only by their purse (if they have a finite amount of gold), is certainly non-realistic. If one did not have previous knowledge from other games, the looting upon looting of enemy armours and weapons (carrying limits permitting) would probably be considered illogical, since how many of these items would a merchant buy?

-Finally, MMORPG instances are among the most extreme meta-thinking examples, for they demand of the Players to repeatedly try the challenges contained therein until they manage, through successive Character deaths and the knowledge they acquire from them, to rise to the ability level of being able to surpass these challenges. And more so, after the challenge completion, the Players are able to return and repeat the same dungeon/instance (hence the instance characterization). In essentia, a kind of reincarnation is implemented in the challenge mechanics, demanding, as a sort of popularized eastern philosophy, the return of the being(s) again and again, until they hone their abilities to such a degree that they are able to break through this mandatory reincarnation cycle and claim the spoils of ordeal.

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Meta-thinking in cRPGs – part 1

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Part 1: Introduction, definitions, the Save/Load/Restart mechanisms, the Player as the meta-thinking accumulator of knowledge, & min-maxers as modernity incarnated

Terminology:

       Player: The real-world aspect of a person playing a game

       Character: The Player’s in-game representation

       Meta-thinking: Thinking about the game as a Player, not as a Character


Introduction

In Age of Decadence [1], a 2015 RPG, before you even create your character, you are informed by the game itself, that “it is a very different game from what you are used to. Its world is hard and unforgiving, and it really doesn’t take much to end up dead. In fact, it’s painfully easy[to die], especially if you try to play the game the way you normally play RPGs, when you role-play Superman, able to handle any challenge and smite evildoers by the dozens.” This portion of the whole statement (which is quite interesting in its entirety as an object of analysis) makes certain suppositions, namely that:
1. The player is used to a certain type of computer role-playing games, all of which are very different from AoD.
2. Those games feature worlds that are not hard and unforgiving, in contrast to that of AoD.
3. In the other games it is not easy for the Character to die.
4. There is a certain way to play those other RPGs, and their players follow this way of playing. This way of playing, however, is not further analyzed in the statement, though it is implied in the assumption that in all other RPGs you role-play something akin to Superman, namely a character extremely more powerful than all the others in the world, that overcomes both challenges and enemies without breaking a sweat.
5. In other games you fight and slay evildoers, creatures that engage in evil acts.

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Those assumptions/suppositions suggest a certain level of elitism on the writer’s side, as well as a sense of scorn for “nowadays RPGs”. Elitism is evident as the writer groups indiscriminately all modern RPGs in a category which he endows with a host of general characteristics that are obviously repellent to him, and though they are only implied, are assumed to be common knowledge for RPG players. Beyond stuffing all modern RPGs in a category, the writer assumes that the players of those games are forced to a certain way of playing them, implying that there is no other way for them to be played (though the way is not made explicit beyond the vaguest references and allusions), that their easiness is so compelling that players are helpless to resist this unspecified mode of going through the game world.

There is much to be criticised about this stance, but such a thing is beyond the scope of this text. What I want to accentuate here is the fact that the game recognizes and directly addresses the player as a gamer, as a person that has played other RPGs, and beyond that, it explicitly recognizes the existence of a universe of other games (the meta-game) and elaborates on it, a thing going contrary to what more other RPGs try to avoid, namely the breaking of player immersion via direct reference to his Player ontological status.

Beyond that, as it becomes evident during play, AoD requires the player to proceed through the game as a meta-gaming entity, namely, it is almost mandatory for the player to know beforehand what choices to make as far as both stat/skill point distribution and dialogue choices are concerned. In order to have this knowledge, the player must either use a large number of save files, or restart the game a number of times, so as to know what to expect, and what are the viable choices she can make. It is a (from first-hand experience) fact that if you don’t make the right point distribution in skills you can easily face dead-end situations (combat and other skill checks that are impossible to beat), not only during the first part of the game, but also much later on, in which case you either load a much older save and replay a large part of the game with a more optimized build, or you just restart. If one does not want to frequently reload/restart, he is forced with two options: either check a walkthrough guide, or use cheating. The game’s structure is such that it leaves no space (apart from improbable luck) for not using a meta-gaming tool: the save/load/restart routine, the out-of-game walkthrough, and/or a trainer hack. One may argue that the save/load/restart routine is an in-game feature, but that does not prevent it from being a meta-gaming tool when it is used as a mandatory-for-overcoming-challenges one. More will be written later on the status of the save/load/restart mechanisms.

Meta-thinking and RPGs

Meta-thinking in RPGs, in the context of this text, is the thinking «outside the game world frame” of the person who plays the game, namely thinking as a Player and not as an internal part of the game world, as a Character. I will briefly elaborate on the impossibility (at least for the moment) of tautological (on an ontological level) identification between Player and Character (which differs from what is referred to as total immersion in Brown & Cairns or spatial presence in Wirth et.al., as will be discussed below).

If, hypothetically, one was completely identified with his in-game representation, then some things are to be mentioned, depending on the game world’s universal (physical, social, mental, etc) laws:
-If the game world was presupposed as being a world in which some general facts of our reality were also dominant there (namely the irreversible existence of consequences for an act, them being legal repercussions (incarceration, execution), social (isolation, scorn), emotional, physical, mental, and so on) then if the Player was completely identified with the Character, he would experience this kind of gaming as a real-life activity that would create in him the same reactions and thoughts, in the same degree, as if he experienced the in-game situations in our world – anxiety, real fear, major excitement, etc. In fact, it would not be trivial for someone to choose to start playing, having in mind the experience-to-come, as well as the possible (real-life to him) consequences.
-If, on the other hand, the game world was ruled by other laws of cause and effect, or not ruled by them at all, then the completely identified player would have to undergo a radical change of mind in order to be totally immersed in it, accepting the reality of totally alien cosmological laws.

In either case, the Player would have to forget the existence of the real world (and consequently its rules, if they were not similar to our own world’s), or at least to push it back to an imaginary domain, accepting the reality of the game world and also, in the second case, its different set of natural and social rules as real. Once in the game, the mindset would be perhaps akin to that of dreaming, if total identification is to be expected. Like in dreaming, one could sometimes be vaguely aware that this world/reality is not the real one, but in most cases this feeling would be hidden beyond direct consciousness. In both hypothetical instances mentioned, the gaming experience -as we now know it- is transcended/discarded, in favour of a much more intense real-life experience, on which we can only hypothesize for the moment. Thus, a Player cannot be completely identified with the Character, unless he undergoes a radical thought and perception change, which for the moment is unattainable, as far as contemporary digital entertainment is concerned.

Meta-thinking thus, up to a certain degree, is a normal and essential part of the gaming experience as we currently know it. Most of us enjoy the fact that we can try and do things in-game that we are hesitant or just unable to do in the real world, and (most importantly) with almost non-existent consequences in the case of failure, virtual apprehension, death, etc. It is true that one could argue that if she could live such an experience, she may well choose to undergo it, but as pointed out above, this would be a real-life one, transcending the gaming genre. The fact remains that meta-thinking is something we all do in a certain degree, be it the acknowledgement of the Save/Load/Restart mechanisms, or just the knowledge that we play a game. It is true also that there are gradual stages to it, quantitative and qualitative variances, which may well shape (or undermine one could claim) the gaming experience, in varied degrees.

It is obvious, that since we are not, as Players, parts of a game world’s society (or societies) for an amount of time large enough to make us knowledgeable about it, we must learn certain basic things about it, its physical laws and mechanisms on the very least, via out-of-the-game-world sources: the game manual, site or guides (though in the first two cases information may be disguised as documents belonging to the game world – letters, bestiaries, journals, etc), a tutorial (which is usually implemented via advice that comes “from outside” the game world – although certain games (like the Ultima series) suppose that the Character is a newcomer to the world, and thus implement the learning process from inside the game world), and the options menu (the key bindings in the case that no tutorial exists and the manual is not present or does not mention them). These sources are usually necessary in order to not being completely lost in the game world upon entrance in it. This, along with our knowledge/experience from previous, similar games (which is the deeper level of meta-knowledge, one we cannot consciously discard from our being), consists the most basic meta-thinking level, one that is almost impossible for a game to be rid of. From there on, however, all other meta-knowledge of the game world is (or at least should be) optional, as far as the Player’s experience of the game is. This means that ideally one should not be forced to the use of knowledge gained via meta-thinking mechanisms, even Save/Load/Restart ones, in order to successfully navigate the whole, or at least the main part of the game. While most of us have learned to avert our eyes to the meta-thinking nature (which will be analyzed below) of the Save/Load/Restart mechanisms, this does not mean that it is not there. The fact that one can learn of the outcome of a decision and then use it to make this decision, is (almost universally) outside the logic of any game world.

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A book containing lore about the empire of Tamriel, presented as originating from the game world (from Elder Scrolls: Oblivion special edition)


Immersion and Meta-thinking

Ernest Adams refers to the term “suspension of disbelief, as used by the game industry, that has come to mean immersion: losing track of the outside world. Immersion is the feeling of being submerged in a form of entertainment, or rather, being unaware that you are experiencing an artificial world. When you are immersed in a book, movie, or game, you devote all your attention to it and it seems real. You have lost track of the boundaries of the magic circle. The pretended reality in which you are immersed seems as real as, or at least as meaningful as, the real world.”. I will add that you never lose track of the realness of the real world, something implied in the “as real as, or at least as meaningful as, the real world” part. He then demarcates (at least) 3 types of gaming immersion: tactical, strategical, and narrative. By immersion I mostly mean in this text narrative immersion, which is “the feeling of being inside a story, completely involved and accepting the world and events of the story as real. It is the same immersion as that produced by a good book or movie, but in video games, the player is also an actor within the story”[2].

Brown & Cairns on the other hand do not go for a strict, narrow definition of immersion, but approach it as a dynamic, three-leveled procedure, which consists in the Player’s engagement, engrossment, and total immersion [3]. What is of interest here is total immersion, which is defined as Presence. Wirth et.al. regard Spatial Presence as “a two-dimensional construct. [Its] core dimension is the sensation of being physically situated within the spatial environment portrayed by the medium (“self-location”). The second dimension refers to the perceived possibilities to act: An individual who is experiencing Spatial Presence will perceive only those action possibilities that are relevant to the mediated space, but will not be aware of actions that are linked to her/his real environment [the manipulation of game controls]. However, the list of phenomena defining Spatial Presence does not need to include the user’s experience of nonmediation, i.e., the deactivation of cognitive information that defines a given situation as a media exposure [in other words the acknowledgement that we play a game is compatible with Spatial Presence]”[4].

Moving on from these definitions, the fact remains that the immersion of the player as a (usually advertised) feature of games is in opposite terms to, and negatively influenced by meta-thinking (i.e. thinking as a being outside the game world). As was explained above, total, tautological-level immersion is contrary to the contemporary concept of video-gaming, as well as our machines’ capabilities.

Role-playing games in general are on especially bad terms with meta-thinking, since immersion in a role is a desired effect of engagement with the game, explicitly implied in the genre title. In fact, in tabletop RPGs, meta-thinking from players is frowned upon in many a rulebook. The fact, however, that computer RPGs implement on the very least the Restart mechanism, is the first crack in the immersion armor. From there on, whatever detracts from the Player’s suspension of disbelief (as the immersion in the game world can alternatively be called), obviously expands the cracks.

The interesting thing is that we consider meta-knowledge an enemy of immersion because we take the Character’s way of gathering knowledge to be similar to our own, and restricted by the same things. In other words, we tend to consider meta-knowledge about the game world to be “realistically” unobtainable by a Character, because a Player cannot obtain (to our knowledge at least) meta-knowledge about the world she lives in, namely the real world. She may well make assumptions made on probability, intuition, or any other kind of prediction, yet she can never be sure about some future actions, unless she performs them, unless they transform from future to past events. More important than the meta-knowledge content, however, is the mode of acquiring it. A Player (or a human in general) cannot acquire (to our knowledge at least) knowledge from a source that is not part of the real world; we probably cannot even think of a way of how this could happen, apart from nesting our world as a game world of a higher order “real world” (which only transfers the problem to another level, and does not solve it), or doing a similar correspondence. Thus, we tend to suppose that this kind of “knowledge-source” restriction applies also to the game world, mostly because we just cannot think of an out-of-the-world way that we can obtain it, and consequently, if our Character obtains knowledge through meta-thinking, our suspension of disbelief weakens.

The meta-thinking essence of Save/Load/Restart mechanisms

As mentioned above, the Save/Load/Restart mechanisms are one of the earlier and most integrated meta-thinking (“I know that I can try again and again, that this is a part of the game world’s structure”) features of electronic games. First and foremost, they are obviously grounded, in the purest sense, in replayability; if a game could not even be replayed it would be a product which is to be experienced only once, losing much in the way of long term value (imagine that you only have one try on the game – who would invest in an experience that could well end before you could get to know the basic mechanics?).

These mechanisms are integrated in the game, as behind-the-scenes mechanisms, ones that are non-perceivable by an entity belonging to the world in question, just like dice rolls, and exact numerical stats and skill values. Knowing that one can always load a previous version of the world, opens up possibilities to the player which are unimaginable to a denizen of a world that does not contain such mechanisms “in front of the scenes”. It is quite probable that human beings would behave much differently if they had the option of loading a previous version of the world, with them retaining the knowledge of what happened in the temporal space between save and load, taking more chances, optimizing (as far as their goals are concerned) their actions and choices. In a lesser degree, the knowledge of how other world mechanisms work would also affect the behaviour. Imagine that we knew what dice is rolled about the outcome of an action we can take in the real world, and what exact modifier would be the result of any supplementary action we could make to influence the result of that primary action.

Save/Load can be used in two ways: a. to break up the gaming experience in manageable temporal segments, in which case the course through the game is fragmented, but fragments do not overlap with one another, and b. to re-experience a temporal snapshot of the game world, in which case the the course through the game is again fragmented, but this time the fragments overlap with one another. The overlapping that occurs in the second case, can be translated into player meta-knowledge about the game world, a knowledge that is non-existent in a world of perceived objective temporal linearity.

Player as the meta-thinking accumulator of knowledge
In games with normal Save/Load/Restart mechanisms, accumulation of knowledge about the game world usually happens via successive “passes” of it with a multitude of Player incarnations. What I mean here with “incarnation” is the combination of in-game Player vessels (be it different Characters or just the same one being loaded again from a previous save file/point) and the Player personality, experience, and knowledge. An incarnation thus is the sum of: i. shell (the Character) and ii. driving force/invoked consciousness (the Player). The Player is an entity that by default can not interact directly with the game world, being able to do so only via the Character, which in the case of loading/restarting may, from the standpoint of an in-game entity, be the same being that existed in the pre-load/pre-restart game world state (since from in-game these mechanisms are imperceptible). But in fact, each Character incarnation is a vehicle for accumulation of knowledge/experience about the world and its mechanics. It follows that the Character (i.e. the shell) can be considered as a tool which is unrestricted by temporal restrictions, gradually turning the Player entity from an explorer-of-a-newfound-land to a citizen-in-secret of the world. Each of the Character incarnations is, from a phenomenological point of view, the same entity ontologically, crystallizing each time in a more knowledgeable entity aspect. In the end, trial and error reign supreme as a mode of knowing the in-game world, at least in traditional cRPGs.

An interesting thought is that after loading a part of the game that we have already been through previously, a strange deja-vu would not be amiss to both the Character and the NPCs participating in any sort of interaction (conversation, combat, etc) with it, any interaction that had already taken place before loading. This, however, is something quite weird to be implemented, it being antithetical to the base meaning of Save/Load: that you load the world as it exactly was on the moment of saving – obviously games with elements of randomness in each loading are a different case. That exactness is supposed to include everything shell-wise (even the Character’s journal/stats/choices) apart from the Player, who is now (after loading) empowered with the knowledge of a situation (with previously unfavorable outcome usually, but not always so – for instance there are times in which we load to experience the outcome of a different conversation option) via a new incarnation.

The interesting thing about the Player is his being an entity that, besides the in-game-world experience avenue, also collects power/knowledge/understanding of the game world through the Save/Load/Restart mechanisms, as well as through out-of-game resources. It is an entity that can change without spending any temporal currency in-game, something quite unfathomable from a real-life point of view. For how could anyone change in any aspect, if no time was consumed towards this change? It is a truth, that in order for a being to change in even the most non-significant part of itself, it would have to experience something (mentally or otherwise). This something, in order to be experienced, must be placed upon a temporal terrain, since we cannot make a thought in a zero quantity temporal space. Even an apparently spontaneous thought takes an infinite-small amount of time to form itself and to be registered by the thinker. Or, in other words, we cannot think of/about anything without this thinking taking us even an infinite-small amount of time. Thus appears a paradox, from the in-game perspective: there is no “material” impact emerging from the accumulation of knowledge via the meta-thinking avenues ( in other words, no currency of any kind is traded for knowledge), aside from certain niche cases (Dark Souls for instance, or Darkest Dungeon), and apart from player time – a currency whose concept is beyond the game world, or rather, outside it.

Tangential upon the previous discussion is also the concept of min-maxing, namely optimizing the Character, stat-wise, and/or the party, member-wise. Creating an optimized character means essentially that you know what skills/stats/build are necessary/obligatory for finishing the game, or even for experiencing most of its content. This knowledge obviously comes from either previous experience with the game world, or from out-of-game sources. Min-maxing, as a concept, is pure, cold rationality; all aesthetic, emotional, or just whimsical preferences of the Player are ignored in favour of an almost cynical efficiency. Adopting this concept reveals a Player mindset which possibly favours optimization of their playing time, the least challenge possible (even in hard difficulty levels), and generalizing, probably favours solid goals and their overcoming, over a fluid and somehow intuitively articulated experience of the game world. Min-maxers may well be modernity incarnated, as far as video-games players go.

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Notes:
[1]: http://www.irontowerstudio.com/
[2]: Fundamentals of Game Design, Ernest, 2010
[3]: A Grounded Investigation of Game Immersion, Brown & Cairns, 2004 (link)
[4]: A Process Model of the Formation of Spatial Presence Experiences, Wirth et.al., 2007 (link)