What Makes RPS Meaningful

BullboardBullboarder extrodinaire Martin Burley has written another excellent post on the deeper aspects of what makes RPS such a compelling game. if you want to feel a little smarter after reading something today, we can think of no better post to read. Enjoy!

BurleyAn article in The Guardian's technology section, looking at what makes games meaningful to play, draws an interesting distinction between three types of goals in computer games: exogenous, endogenous and diagetic. This distinction is also relevant to RPS, as I'll explain.

Endogenous goals are ones that defined by the structure of the game – for example, trying to checkmate your opponent in chess and avoid being checkmated. Exogenous goals are external to the game – you might play chess to have fun, or to win a tournament, or to win some money. Diegetic goals, according to Markus Montola, a research in Finland, "come in when you start to role-play." These goals are ones you create, through the interaction of your personality and the game. For example, if you're playing a wizard in a role-playing game, your goal might be to obtain a particular magical item. A chess-player who sees himself as an aggressive, stylish player might have a goal of winning through making an impressive sacrifice, rather than grinding out a positional victory.

I think we can describe these three types of goals another, more succinct way: endogenous goals are abouthow you win, exogenous goals are about why you play, and diagetic goals are about how you play. And this casts light on why RPS is such an engaging sport. RPS has ample room for all three types of goals.

Most games have both…READ MORE

BullboardBullboarder extrodinaire Martin Burley has written another excellent post on the deeper aspects of what makes RPS such a compelling game. if you want to feel a little smarter after reading something today, we can think of no better post to read. Enjoy!

BurleyAn article in The Guardian's technology section, looking at what makes games meaningful to play, draws an interesting distinction between three types of goals in computer games: exogenous, endogenous and diagetic. This distinction is also relevant to RPS, as I'll explain.

Endogenous goals are ones that defined by the structure of the game – for example, trying to checkmate your opponent in chess and avoid being checkmated. Exogenous goals are external to the game – you might play chess to have fun, or to win a tournament, or to win some money. Diegetic goals, according to Markus Montola, a research in Finland, "come in when you start to role-play." These goals are ones you create, through the interaction of your personality and the game. For example, if you're playing a wizard in a role-playing game, your goal might be to obtain a particular magical item. A chess-player who sees himself as an aggressive, stylish player might have a goal of winning through making an impressive sacrifice, rather than grinding out a positional victory.

I think we can describe these three types of goals another, more succinct way: endogenous goals are abouthow you win, exogenous goals are about why you play, and diagetic goals are about how you play. And this casts light on why RPS is such an engaging sport. RPS has ample room for all three types of goals.

Most games have both endogenous and exogenous goals – there are clear ways to win and lose, and you can play for fun or for money or some other stakes. Tennis, poker, chess, hangman… But in many games and sports, there are only a limited number of different ways to play. For example, tennis players tend to fall into two categories: either serve-and-volleyers or baseline hitters. In RPS, however, the possibilities are myriad. This is because your persona – the type of image you project, the type of player you aim to be – is very much a part of the game, and directly affects not just the way you play the game, but also the outcome. If you want to come across as a Wildman, you won't use an obviously Scripting approach. If you're going for a stylish approach, you might be tempted to throw a few 'Feed the Pony' palm-up Papers, or other flashy moves. And so forth. The character you portray and the strategies you adopt, and the way your opponent reacts to those (and vice versa), shape the way the game progresses.

This richness explains a large part of RPS's appeal. Players can win in various ways – Rock, Paper and Scissors being the main three – and can play for various reasons, so both endogenous and exogenous goals are present, too. But succeeding at RPS isn't only about whether you win, and what you win, it's also about how you win. A statistician-type of player could play Zen-style, trusting his intuition, but he would gain more satisfaction from the game if he wins as the result of an analytical insight, or logical deduction, or carefully chosen choice of throws. That diagetic goal adds extra meaning to the game for him. Even if he loses, he can gain some satisfaction if he succeeded in playing the game in the way he wanted to, the way that fitted with the character he chose to adopt for it.

RPS has the edge over other quirky sports partly because it allows for so many ways for players to create diagetic goals for themselves. There's not much scope for establishing a character in the way you write your 'X' in Tic-Tac-Toe, and there are only so many ways you can jump one checker over another. In RPS, there are a vast array of strategies and meta-strategies at the player's disposal, from which he or she can pick and choose the ones best suited to his or her playing style. And as anyone who's competed in or watched a top-level tournament will attest, there's no shortage of playing styles and personae to choose from. Given the range of diagetic goals that can be part of an RPS match – all the characters and styles that are possible and all the strategies to choose from – the depth and richness of competitive RPS is limited only by the limits of your imagination.

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