Why Not Games




City: The Difference Between Spending and Losing Pride

Written: 2017-02-09

An interesting problem that recently came up with the second story for The Quiet Sleep is in the difference between spending and losing pride. Or possibly between swallowing pride and needing pride. This is a little complicated to explain, so I'm going to have to meander a little on my way to the point.

Will As A Currency

Will is probably the most important currency in the stories of The Quiet Sleep so far. You need it to build out your mind and to complete certain goals that seem like they would require willpower. You can get it from things like mines in the ambition trait or by converting frustration from angry experiences into it.

Now, I want you to take a look at the storytelling here:

  • Requiring willpower to change yourself is an easy thing to understand. This is a common narrative that exists outside of my game, and so should be easy for players to relate to.
  • Similarly, requiring will to do something that the character you play doesn't want to do is almost the definition of willpower.
  • Representing will as a currency that pools has the consequence of letting the player stockpile it and then burn through that. So, after using a lot of will, the game forces you to wait for it to replenish before you can use it again. This is also a pretty common narrative, that of taking some time to recharge in between tiring tasks.

The stories that come from these pieces are composed of things that make sense to the player and so, while the individual permutation changes, the story as a whole still makes sense. For instance, being unable to keep yourself from saying something stupid because your will has been drained from maintaining the callousness necessary to not let your anger at a casual insult take you over and from pushing yourself to examine your work for its faults is a scenario that as a whole is plausible.

These systems make sense for a number of other concepts as well. For instance, frustration pools and is drained in a similar fashion as does pain.

The Breakdown Of Pride

Pride holds some similarities to this.

  • You can stockpile pride through achievements. This is a clean metaphor. It makes sense.
  • You can lose pride by doing things like asking for help.

So far, so good, right? It's a number that goes up as you feed it and goes down as you expend it. This makes sense. Unfortunately however, it doesn't hold up under further examination. Spending a currency to get something involves more than just changing a couple of numbers, it also involves a gate. Essentially, if a goal requires spending a currency that implies that you lose the currency when getting the goal, but it also implies that you needed the currency to get the goal in the first place.

This is where pride breaks down as a currency. I don't need pride to ask for help. If anything, an excess of pride makes it harder to ask for help. This fails in the opposite direction as well. Bragging about your accomplishment requires pride, but doesn't consume it.

It's possible to make it work if you squint a little. Pride is sort of close to self-esteem and needing to believe that someone cares enough about you to help before you ask for help is a relatively plausible narrative to push. Even with that perspective, the interactions feel inconsistent though.

On the other hand though, I really like the feeling of spending pride to do things like ask the lover to help you. It is just strong story-telling when you have to burn some of your self-esteem in order to get help.

Solutions

Accept the Inconsistency

This is an option that is always worth considering. Not every problem is worth fixing and I do not have infinite time with which to work. I feel like the fact that this option is so deeply unsatisfying leads it to be exercised less often than it should. Having said that, it is unsatisfying and if possible, I'd like to choose something else.

Expand The Conversions

Right now, it takes a lot of effort from the player to justify something like needing pride to beg the lover to stay. Making the relationship more explicit by doing things like adding a belief in relationship currency that is generated from pride helps reduce that effort. Additionally, it helps explain how pride acts as a gate. However, it doesn't explain why the pride is consumed, but again, the game can let some amount of inconsistency pass without worrying too much. It wouldn't be the first to do so.

Make Entities For Sinks

A way to avoid the gating problem is to create entities that function as sinks for pride. Essentially, these are entities that represent your failings and require some amount of pride to be killed, which it can automatically consume. I don't think that this will play well though due to the lack of player involvement and because the gating is actually very important in getting the player to value the resource.

Expand Pride

If it doesn't fit as a currency, there's no need to shoehorn it into being one. It seems like it would work well as a trait and could flip into humility very cleanly. It's a little close to ambition, but having those two traits be distinct could be interesting. It's going to take a little work to figure out how to thread that in correctly and how to fill it up.

This does to some degree just kick the problem down the road a little bit though. Having the pride trait generate self-esteem that is used where necessary seems like it wouldn't trip players up, so it's definitely less severe. It seems harder to make sure that it is as valuable a resource as I want it to be though if the trait is ever present. There is still also the problem of being unable to spend it quite as cleanly as I would like.

Thread It Into Achievement

By merging it with the ambition trait, I can remove the issue of needing to fill out the trait. I can also make that transition difficult to add value to the currency. The cadence changes in a way that makes pride into a currency that is created and should be used in a burst, which I reasonably like. It will require some special rules though, and the narrative still isn't as coherent as I would like.

Reframe

By changing the name of the currency to self-esteem, it can feel like more of a gate. Through the text and flavor goals, I can try for the feeling that you need a base amount of self-esteem to function. I also think that the more positive connotations of self-esteem might do enough to sell the idea of the currency functioning as a gate. Also, making self-esteem hard to get is very flavorful and I like the story-telling of this more than that of pride anyway. This is actually what I'm most comfortable with right now.

Closing Thoughts

This seems like a lot of words and thought for what ended up being a very small change. It's tempting to go with a larger change in order to justify the effort spent here. However, the neater solution is the better one. I do wish I had got it the first time though.

- @murthynikhil

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Written for Why Not Games.