Psyduck, my favorite Pokemon

I just played a listing Pokemon game on this great list site (try naming all the countries in the world in 15 minutes)…only got 84 out of the original 151 Pokemon…not bad for a game I played 9 years ago…videogames really teach kids how to learn systems of interaction, the rules that govern a fictive world, etc. A lot of games are exercises in memory and cause/effect simulation…players learn how to learn and engage in exercises based on trivia and systems not directly applicable to the real world; it’s basically the same thing as a lot of liberal arts classes.

One of my favorite games of all time – DOTA, in particular, demands a tremendous amount of memory and game knowledge of its players. DOTA (Defense of the Ancients) is a third-party custom map for Warcraft III in which two teams of five compete in a mini war to destroy each others bases. Players control a single Warcraft hero (a powerful unit with four unique abilities) and push lanes of attack accompanied by waves of computer-controlled soldiers. Gameplay is both individual and team-oriented – players must focus on building their character effectively and efficiently throughout, using the gold and experience gained from killing waves of enemy troops to buy stat-enhancing items and learn new abilities while staying alive long enough to coordinate effective team attacks on the opposing base. An average game takes a little over an hour.

An artistic depiction of DOTA

The game is so popular that more players on battle.net (Blizzard’s online gaming server) are playing DOTA than any other game (including stock Warcraft III), and the game is responsible for many innovative and creative third-party plugins and programs that enhance Warcraft III online gaming. There exist player-created and monitored competitive leagues and a stringent rules/regulation system that punishes bad players by banning them – some of these players are so serious they only want really talented competition.

In line with the memorization of 151 pokemon (and their countless abilities, evolutions, and types), DOTA has 91 unique heroes…each with four unique abilities. There are 110 items to pick from; many of which have to be created by combining a number of more basic items with a recipe. Anyone who is good at DOTA (and the game has a very competitive community) must have complete knowledge of every aspect of the game. Successful play requires this expansive knowledge in order to both maximize your hero’s efficiency in item builds as well as adapt to enemy hero and item strategies. In hero fights, there’s no time to guess what spell an enemy just cast or what item they’re using–action must be instinctual and reactive, based on specific animations or effects…and there’s no forgiveness from your teammates if you make a mistake. There is usually an effective counter to any hero, play style/strategy, or item build: it’s basically the most complicated game of rock-paper-scissors ever invented.

Anyways, that pokemon list game just reminded me of DOTA, and since I’m writing my paper on ludology/narratology, I thought I’d write a post explaining it. Replayability is a big thing in videogames, and on the scale from pure narrative to pure ludology, it’s the difference between replayability and re-experience. DOTA has massive replayability because its game mechanics rely on interaction…dynamic and unique matches with infinite opportunity for change. Obviously, every game feels familiar, but you’d never play the game the same way twice.


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