03/02/2012 LD: "Sculpting Flow and Fiero"

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This thread is for discussion of this week's Latest Developments, which goes live Friday morning on magicthegathering.com.
Wow. This is one of the best Magic articles I've ever read. Please write more articles about game design, this was super interesting.
That was amazing. Simply amazing. 
Encore! Encore!

"Ah, the age-old conundrum. Defenders of a game are too blind to see it's broken, and critics are too idiotic to see that it isn't." - Brian McCormick

That was excellent.
I agree, I have read basically all the Making Magic and Latest Development articles, and this was among the best! Good show!
"strings of small victories that culminate in a conquest."

Tangentially, the lack of this is exactly why the implementation of Planeswalker Points is so poor.  The human psyche is geared to get bored with strings of victories once it realizes that there isn't any culmination at the end.  It's why so many people who play MMOs resent the game designers and why the people who quit them have such a largely negative opinion of them.

Yeah, you can use strings of small victories to convince the human psyche to keep doing things long after the fun has been drained away, but without culmination, you can't make people happy about it indefinitely.  It starts to feel too much like manipulation.
Encore! Encore!



That was excellent.



Wow. This is one of the best Magic articles I've ever read. Please write more articles about game design, this was super interesting.



That was amazing. Simply amazing. 



To all of you who really enjoyed this article I suggest (if you haven't already) looking into articles / blog posts of game designer David Sirlin about similar topics - he also discusses flow and fiero, for example in the analysis of Super Mario Galaxy:
html_removedwww.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3522/unde...
Sirlin has a really nice collection of design discussions in his own site as well.

Ivo. 
It was really impressive to see someone from the R&D team intellectualize design to this extent, other than MaRo of course.  Once again, I'm so happy that Zack is writing on a regular basis.

Editing question:  Why is "@Zac" a link to your real Twitter, "@zdch"?  That seems strange.
Thank you, Zac, that article was fascinating.
Great article, but I did have one structural concern regarding the writing.  You mention your two terms, but then you don't define them right away.  And then you actually USE them in a sentence!  "But—to get back on track—fiction is actually quite bad at relaying (for example) experiences of flow and moments of fiero. Games, by contrast, are excellent in those respects."  These sentences are completely out of place without definitions for these terms.  The concepts discussed in the article are certainly very interesting, but that aside before defining your terms definitely ruined the flow of the article for me.
Great article with some nice references, thanks!
This what any given Rosewater artcle desperately wants to be.
Wohoo, I really like seeing Magic catch up with the times, and reference books I've read.  Please continue these.

That said, I'm not sure I agree with you on a few points, and I'd really like to open up a discourse

The harder the challenge, the more severe the payoff. We love, after all, to confirm our own narratives of exceptionalism. But the obstacles we overcome must feel genuine. If I've just taught someone Magic, something is wrong with me if I just relish the opportunity to bash in that player's face by playing every match like it's the finals of the Pro Tour.



I think this analogy is dangerous because you're mixing in another very important branch of emotions related to socialization (natches jumps to mind as particularly relevant here).  If you've just taught someone to play magic, what you really want them to do is to play another new-ish player, and win their game.  Now you feel pride in their accomplishment.

If I just taught someone to play, and then I played them and crushed them, I'd feel actively guilty for demoralizing my protege.  By contrast, when I play [insert random online game] and I happen to beat my anonymous opponent by a score of 17:1, that feels like an accomplishment in and of itself.

Really, though, I feel like the fiero impulse is rooted in the same reason that so many Magic players fall into the "Timmy" category.



Wait, wait, stop.

I've long thought that fiero is associated with a magic archetype, but he obvious archetype is Spike.  Fiero is the rush you feel at a moment of victory, and Spike craves that while it's not as important to other archetypes.

I'd encourage you to read Nicole Lazzaro's research:

www.xeodesign.com/whyweplaygames/xeodesi...

Or the TL:DR poster here:

xeodesign.com/4k2f/4k2f.jpg

I absolutely love Nicole Lazzaro's research, because her research group actually films people's faces, and reads different emotions on them--which is much more scientific than the granstanding "I think thing X produces emotion Y".

 And the interesting thing is how well her measureable player emotions line up with previous player categorization schemas (Bartle types, in particular, seem to be pretty close).  In the case of Magic archetypes, I don't see any other way to read this besides...

Spike lines up with Hard Fun (Which includes the measurable emotion Fiero)
Timmy lines up with Easy Fun  (...and People Fun--because for some reason Timmy also includes people who play for social reasons)

And...actually, let me harp on this point a little; I really don't think Timmy should be such a giant bucket of "everything else".  I would describe myself as a "social spike", for instance.  I won't go to a GP unless I'm going with a group of friends, in which case I'll train with them, debate with them constantly about which marginal card to take, and so on.  But I can't imagine taking the road trip solo.  (And based on every quiz of Rosewater's I've taken, I'm not a Timmy).  I really think you should decouple the "liking the social aspect of magic" with "liking certain magic cards".

Johnny lines up with... Easy Fun (Notice that creativity is in the same area of emotions they were able to measure).

And there's...two ways to read this.  One is that the technology for reading emotions isn't quite there yet, and so Nicole Lazzaro's lab doesn't distinguish between these categories.  The other, which I'm leaning more and more towards is that Johnny isn't actually a different category from Timmy.

And...here's why I'd lean that direction.  Elvish Champion gets called a Timmy card, because Johnnies find the interactions with it too simple, and not testing of their creativity.  But...I started learning magic in university (over 10 years ago), and still remember what it felt like to build an elf deck.  To do this I searched...one of the predecessors to Gatherer.  Flash forward to one of the most Johnny things I've ever done, and I...searched Gatherer.

These felt in my experience like very similar, if not identical psychological states.  The thing is, you need something new to be creative, and...now that I know how lords work, I no longer feel creative when I play three one drops, and then drop a lord on turn 3.  I think Raph Koster's book A Theory of Fun for Game Design probably does a good job of summing up why.  The psychological state of play is human learning; once I've played around with something, and learned how to do it, I move on to something else to play with.

By contrast, when I see something new, like when Jackie Lee copied Strangleroot Geist with Phyrexian Metamorph, had it come back through undying as a Batterskull, and then used Batterskull's ability to return it to her hand and play it again as an Acidic Slime, I was like "oh man, that's awesome, I've never done that.  I want to try that.  I want to be that girl."  This is something I had not learned how to do, and so naturally my mind wanted to go and play--go and learn.

Granted, even if they do correspond to the same psychological state, that doesn't mean they should be thought of as "designing for these two is exactly the same."  Designing for someone who's seen it all, and designing for someone brand new are pretty different mental exercises.

Anyway, I'm rambling, I should stop now.  I'd love to discuss this more, though; are you going to be at GDC this year? 

Cats land on their feet. Toast lands peanut butter side down. A cat with toast strapped to its back will hover above the ground in a state of quantum indecision.

This article very much reminded me of my favorite Mark Rosewater articles!  That's a compliment.  Bravo, Zac.  You show that you really understand your craft.  Keep this up and you may garner as many fans as Maro.
[irrelevant]

i am seriously starting to get a crush on zac hill. i'm so glad i started reading his articles.
i already have a crush on doug beyer, because of his silly but very intelligent wit (and plus his frat-boy [?] good looks help, too).
zac's goofy, "i'm-really-easily-distracted!" writing style is very endearing! makes me smile and feel oh-so-charmed! and .. i'm not sure, but is he a redhead, judging from that itty-bitty picture up at the top??!

[/irrelevant] 
This is a great post, but let me crop to the specific bits I want to reply to. 


I've long thought that fiero is associated with a magic archetype, but he obvious archetype is Spike.  Fiero is the rush you feel at a moment of victory, and Spike craves that while it's not as important to other archetypes.

I'd encourage you to read Nicole Lazzaro's research:

www.xeodesign.com/whyweplaygames/xeodesi...

Or the TL:DR poster here:

xeodesign.com/4k2f/4k2f.jpg

I absolutely love Nicole Lazzaro's research, because her research group actually films people's faces, and reads different emotions on them--which is much more scientific than the granstanding "I think thing X produces emotion Y".



I am a huge fan of both Lazzaro and McGonigal, and I clicked over to the forum just to make sure that Lazzaro got her props for naming the term fiero in her research. (I also really wish that her research was in a peer-reviewed journal so that I could cite it in my dissertation, and so I could read her Methods because I know her model is based on a lot of great qualitative research. Same goes for Dr. Garfield—publish, dammit!). 
 

And there's...two ways to read this.  One is that the technology for reading emotions isn't quite there yet, and so Nicole Lazzaro's lab doesn't distinguish between these categories.  The other, which I'm leaning more and more towards is that Johnny isn't actually a different category from Timmy.

And...here's why I'd lean that direction.  Elvish Champion gets called a Timmy card, because Johnnies find the interactions with it too simple, and not testing of their creativity.  But...I started learning magic in university (over 10 years ago), and still remember what it felt like to build an elf deck.  To do this I searched...one of the predecessors to Gatherer.  Flash forward to one of the most Johnny things I've ever done, and I...searched Gatherer.



I think part of it is that "playing Magic" means a lot of different things. Sitting alone at home with a box of cards brewing a deck is still playing Magic, but Timmy gets more enjoyment out of playing that deck with others. I have decks I've never played, or haven't played in years but the Johnny in me still gets enjoyment out of them. I added new cards to my Relentless Rats deck last week and I haven't had it out to play in over a year.

I think Raph Koster's book A Theory of Fun for Game Design probably does a good job of summing up why.  The psychological state of play is human learning; once I've played around with something, and learned how to do it, I move on to something else to play with.

By contrast, when I see something new, like when Jackie Lee copied Strangleroot Geist with Phyrexian Metamorph, had it come back through undying as a Batterskull, and then used Batterskull's ability to return it to her hand and play it again as an Acidic Slime, I was like "oh man, that's awesome, I've never done that.  I want to try that.  I want to be that girl."  This is something I had not learned how to do, and so naturally my mind wanted to go and play--go and learn.



Which is why I chose play as my dissertation topic. It's the purest form of learning.
Also, the shenanigans with the metamorph was sick, sick, sick. I read stuff like that and think, "This is why I'm not on the Pro Tour." (Well, that and going to PhDergarten).


Woo! Game design article! Cool

The concepts of flow and fiero are particularly interesting with regard to Magic. Possibly you know this and aren't allowed to say so here, but it has big problems in its support for both.

In terms of flow, the disruptive effect comes from the nature of the Magic-playing experience. Frequently, a player will observe something happening in a game which reinforces an incorrect assessment of some aspect of the game. This occurs because of the combination of randomness and hidden information. A couple of examples:

* It's 3x Innistrad draft. We both control some creatures and the board is stalled. I play Furor of the Bitten and Skeletal Grimace whilst you just play two more creatures. But now I can attack! I attack you lots and win! Then next time I draft I cannot understand my bad luck as the opponent somehow answers all my threats and still has creatures to spare.

* It's 3x Ins Sealed. I won a long game one because I cast Mikaeus, the Unhallowed to which you found no answer. Game two I stalled on two land and you rolled me. Game three, I cast Screeching Skaab on turn two and milled my own Mikaeus. The game goes long, but I eventually lose. Frustrated, I resolve never to underestimate the dangers of self-milling again.

You get the general idea. Now in both cases I (or rather, our hypothetical player) will eventually realise the error. But that's not flow exactly, it's a gradual learning process involving as much pain as gain for most players (read any Limited forum on the subject of how good Invisible Stalker is).

And fiero fares even worse. Because in Magic, you can seldom be quite sure why you won. For every clever trap or brilliant bluff there will be a dozen games where you win because you have better cards or better mana. Did the opponent make a significant error either before or during the game which led to their loss? Hard to say. More victories are "phew, got there" than "yaaaaaay".

I'm still playing Magic after 15 years, so it must be doing something right, but I contend it is neither of these things. The genius of Magic is the promise of creativity. For all MaRo's talk of psychographics both Timmies and Spikes are better served by other games.
Thanks for a great article, Zac.  I enjoyed this best among those you've written so far.

AA 
1. Thanks for the article Zac, I was working on a thesis concerning game design and Magic but have since stalled.  Reading your article reminded me of a few things and I have some thinking to do.

2. Great post metroidcomposite.

3.
[...]Frequently, a player will observe something happening in a game which reinforces an incorrect assessment of some aspect of the game. This occurs because of the combination of randomness and hidden information. [...]
And fiero fares even worse. Because in Magic, you can seldom be quite sure why you won. For every clever trap or brilliant bluff there will be a dozen games where you win because you have better cards or better mana. Did the opponent make a significant error either before or during the game which led to their loss? Hard to say. More victories are "phew, got there" than "yaaaaaay".

I'm still playing Magic after 15 years, so it must be doing something right, but I contend it is neither of these things. The genius of Magic is the promise of creativity. For all MaRo's talk of psychographics both Timmies and Spikes are better served by other games.

Well I certainly think the variance you're give examples for is true, I also believe that "true" fiero moments in Magic are very strong.  Maybe not as strong as in, say, an excellent fighting game match, but close.  Also, depending on your play group/sample size, such moments can be increased substantially.  Someone who only goes to FNM by themselves or with a single friend may experience constant variance (har har), those with a play partner(s) or teachers and are vested in improvement create their own engagement curve.  The first time a student beats the teacher for example.


The concepts of flow and fiero are particularly interesting with regard to Magic. Possibly you know this and aren't allowed to say so here, but it has big problems in its support for both.

In terms of flow, the disruptive effect comes from the nature of the Magic-playing experience. Frequently, a player will observe something happening in a game which reinforces an incorrect assessment of some aspect of the game.



M:TG can have a brutal learning curve, but it is honest in telling you what works and what doesn't. Do you keep getting beaten before you cast your big fattie? Invest in mana acceleration. Can't find your big fattie in time to cast it? Add tutors. Do your fatties die to removal? Choose fatties with protection. Are you losing to fast creature decks? Add defensive cards. 

If a newbie tries these methods, they'll most likely be rewarded in better flow. If they try other methods that are neutral or counter-intuitive to their end goal, they'll be rewarded with worse flow. If they start combining these tactics ( Sakura-Tribe Elder for defense and mana acceleration), they'll receive even better flow. 

Now, they might not understand why Sol Ring is better than Braidwood Cup, but if they stick with M:TG, they'll find certain strategies being rewarding more often than not. They might grow to think that only this strategy will ever be useful, but a variety of environments will teach that even the weakest strategies can work on the right cards and in the right environment.     

"Ah, the age-old conundrum. Defenders of a game are too blind to see it's broken, and critics are too idiotic to see that it isn't." - Brian McCormick