This is the 1000th article on GeekOut South-West! My 245th excluding my fair share of the weekly Top 10s, and I’m finally starting to pull my weight around here. It’s been a fun few years, and we still have a lot to do, and a lot we want to accomplish.
That’s enough milestone acknowledgement, on with the task at hand.
Character progression is an important element in most games. Sometimes you’re given a set number of skills, and you’re presented with a rising degree of difficulty; sometimes you get to unlock certain character upgrades that allow you to progress, like weapons and abilities; but by far the most common is the levelling system, in which activities yield numeric experience that offer direct upgrades at certain thresholds. The levelling system is common, but it’s one that has a lot of different implementations and raises a few interesting questions.
The levelling system is popular because it works! It’s a very simple direct feedback technique for gamers, complete quests = gain power. Each level unlocks new equipment and builds stats to help you take down bigger and bigger enemies and overcome harder tasks. In some cases the things you unlock are based on the character you chose at the beginning, but increasingly games are choosing a more free-form style that allows for greater levels of customisation.
It makes things easier for those who are less skilled in a game. If you can’t overcome an obstacle you simply have to work until your character can, picking up new side-quests, gaining new items, abilities and powers until you can return to safely get past where you were stuck before. Practice really does make perfect, even if you’re not technically the one practising.
How does killing a few dozen creatures equate to better social skills? Too many levelling systems give you points to put into skills every time you level-up, so you can ascribe points into abilities that don’t reflect the actions you take in game, making for an unrealistic experience. Bethesda’s has one of the most sensible systems in Fallout and Elder Scrolls, in which levels are obtained through developing individual skills rather than through generic experience points. Some systems allow you to spend points as soon as you accrue them rather than waiting for a level.
If you need a few levels in order to proceed with a game then it can lead to a loop of grinding for XP, dull repetitive gameplay that gives you nothing new and doesn’t challenge you in the slightest. Grinding is what can turn a game into work and defeat the whole point of playing a game, to relax, to escape, to experience something new. If all of those things are locked behind a wall of drudgery is it worth the effort?
Practice Makes Perfect
As ridiculous as it may be to say, it’s a perfect metaphor for life. Oh yes, I’m getting philosophical about games!
As you’re playing the game there’s a cap on how much you can learn before you ultimately get caught into a cycle of levelling to succeed and rarely if ever developing your own abilities. It makes for a more relaxing experience in game, but you learn very little personally (depending of course on how well made the game is, a good game will always offer you chances to learn).
Consider your day to day life. They say that you learn something new every day, every opportunity you have to learn is a new experience from which you gain skills and adjust, but here’s the interesting part. Just like in a game you can level faster by exerting yourself more, such as challenging harder creatures or taking on harder, visiting new areas, or taking on more rewarding quests. In real-life situations, do something new, something that challenges you or scares you, travel somewhere you’ve never been before, train in a new skill or take the time to develop an old one.
Level up! Make yourself better, and become a more interesting person. There’s always time to be set aside to better yourself and it has enormous positive impact on your own life. I know because when Tim asked me to write a few article for him the best thing I ever did was say yes, and I have only grown better as a result.
See, I was going somewhere with this!
Here’s to another 1000.