Lesson 1: Introduction and Categorization

Welcome, everyone, to the first article of Crit the Books – the biweekly column where we look at, define, and give examples of some common gaming terms and concepts, from design to gameplay. Each week we’ll be looking at a different topic and showing you how you can apply those topics to help you become a better gamer!

First off, let me introduce myself and tell you why I know what I’m talking about. I’m Kyler! I’ve been gaming effectively my entire life. My father started off teaching me Magic: the Gathering when I was 7, and ever since then, I’ve grown up alongside games my entire life. I’ve been an avid fan of tabletop RPGs since middle school, and I’ve been playing video games about my entire life.

Playing games doesn’t mean you know how they work, though. I’ve been a level 1 judge for Magic: the Gathering since 2010, and I’m well on my way to my level 2 certification. I’ve designed the core rules for a number of games, and I was considered for a game designer position at Wyrd Games. I was also the assistant manager at a local game store for a number of years, and that’s given me plenty of time to expand my breadth of board game knowledge. These days, I don’t get to game as much, but it’s still definitely a big hobby of mine and I love to talk about it!

With this series of articles, I hope to be able to use my experience and knowledge to get my readers more invested in the things that make a game really tick, as well as help you all improve your gameplay. Knowing the rules of a specific game is one thing, but I’m going to be clarifying and working on concepts that can be applied to just about any game you try. I’ll often be using games that I’ve played or are familiar with to demonstrate concepts – if I mention a game you’re not familiar with, send me a message or try it out yourself!

Now, to get to business. For the purpose of these articles, I’m going to be dividing games into 2 categories: Narrative and Competitive. Other terms you’ll see used for these are PvE and PvP, or Player versus Environment and Player versus Player. I’m shying away from those because even PvE games often have a metric that allows players to compete with each other, and PvP games often feature some sort of environmental obstacle. Rather, I distinguish between these two by looking at the primary antagonist of the player – what, exactly, is the player playing against?

In a Narrative scenario, the player is mainly going to be going against obstacles provided by the creator of the game. These obstacles may be in the form of monsters or other enemies that the player must fight, or can even be in the form of more static obstacles, such as a mountain the player must climb to reach the next section, or a pit the player must get over in order to continue deeper into the dungeon. Many narrative games can also be played cooperatively, where multiple players are placed up against a single enemy. While there can often be metrics for whichever player does the most in a cooperative game, I’d still classify it as a narrative game, since the primary antagonist is still created by the game.

In Competitive games, on the other hand, the primary force against a player is another player. In these scenarios, players are often – but not always – given similar or identical tools or methods as their enemies, and it is up to the player to figure out how best to use them. Most competitive games will provide a structure or framework for these conflicts to happen and will include a method of resolving those conflicts. Whether it is seeing if you are the first to knock your opponent down to 0 hit points or to be the first one to reach 6 capital cities controlled, there will be a metric by which to determine which player, or players, is the winner. Competitive games can have cooperative elements, where some players might work together against another player. However, the primary antagonizing force to the players will be other players.

These definitions aren’t all encompassing, and there are definitely games that can be difficult to classify which category a game fits into. The core question I would ask, when trying to decide if a game is narrative or competitive, is “Can I beat the game?” If your first answer to this question is yes, then the game is probably a narrative game. If not, likely competitive. Games can also have smaller elements that can be broken down into narrative or competitive aspects, as well. As an example, Path of Exile is largely a narrative game. The player fights against bosses and works to defeat monsters that are created by the game. However, there is a competitive option within the game called The Arena. Most MMORPGs that have a PvP mode would definitely fall into this third category, but for the purposes of these articles, I’ll be looking at narrative or competitive aspects of each.

The reason I created these categories is because some concepts don’t really fit into both genres! Most of the terms and ideas I’ll be looking at in these articles do, but I want to make sure to cover my bases and get you all familiar with some of the terminology I’ll be using. This is, after all, an informative column!

That’s it for this week, but I hope you’ll tune back in for my next column! I’m likely going to be pushing out a few columns at an accelerated pace to create a solid foundation of information, then slowing down to a biweekly basis so that you’ll have more time to digest, learn, and try to implement some of the tools that you’ll be learning from these. If you’re interested in more content, please pledge to my Patreon! Right now I’m just writing columns, but I would love to start doing more audio-based content so you all have something to listen to in the car, rather than just reading a column of words.

That’s all folks! Have a good night, and remember – it’s not enough to just give them a read. You’ve gotta Crit the Books!