D&D 5E Game theory, D&D, and infinite games


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Kinematics

Adventurer
A game has rules of play. That's what makes it a game. A win condition is an optional rule that defines when the game is over, but is in no way a requirement in order for an activity to be a game.

Baseball is a game. One side throws a ball, and tries to keep runners from making it around the bases. The other side tries to hit the ball and run around the bases. Certain events allow the teams to switch sides. All that stuff (and other rules) defines the game.

On its own, there is no particular end to the game. Maybe you decide to play for a set number of innings, and/or til someone has more points (overtime). Or maybe you play for as long as you have time during recess, or til your mom tells you it's time for dinner, or til you get tired and decide you want to go watch TV instead. Or maybe you continue the game every single day for years.

Winning is just one way to mark the end of a game. In particular, a "professional" game will most likely require a win condition (usually as a means of determining who gets the reward, which is explicitly not part of the game itself); a non-professional game does not.

In game theory, there are single instances of a game, iterated plays of a game (the same players keep repeatedly playing), and evolutionary games (where the players may change over time). As already noted, there is no real finite vs infinite, but the OP does seem to define the finite game as one that has implemented the optional win condition rule. Yet at the same time, there's no guarantee that the win condition can be achieved in a finite amount of time, so it's still not the best term.

Winnable vs Unwinnable is not a good separation of terms either, since both imply that there are win conditions. I would probably use the terms "Closed" and "Open-ended". Closed would be games with explicitly defined end conditions (often synonymous with win conditions), while open-ended games have no predefined end conditions.

Closed and open-ended are labels applying to the rules system used by the game, but do not mandate particularly implementations. You can have a closed game that never ends, or an open-ended game that you add a win condition to. "Winning" D&D by beating the BBEG does not change the game rules, nor make it 'not' open-ended.

Likewise, the end conditions of a game are separate from player goals. You might assume that any given player may want to achieve the end/win condition for the game, but there is no requirement for that to be the case.

Which finally brings us back around to game theory. Game theory is primarily focused on player goals, not end conditions. It may introduce end conditions as a side-effect of how it tries to illustrate problems (eg: a single instance of the prisoner's dilemma), but it's mainly interested in player behavior with respect to player goals within a given context. The most common is seeing how players behave when the assigned player goal is to maximize personal benefits (profit/payoff/etc).

Game theory also has extended relevance with respect to ethics, and by extension personal interactions. This can be a point of analysis for roleplaying, but it is quite complicated, and hard to pinpoint how and where you might want to use it in this analysis. It's part of moral theory.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I’m not redefining what game means. I’m simply stating what it does mean.

As an example - in Starcraft back in the day you would often see no rush 10 minutes lobbies. The players agreed to not attack each other for 10 minutes. That’s a different game than normal Starcraft.

how many agreed upon rules changes before it’s a different game? 1 is all it takes.
I don't agree with that. At some point, enough changes make for a different game, but it's a lot more than 1. Many people do not play Chess with the En Passant rule. They are still playing Chess. People play Monopoly with the Free Parking gets the pot of money rules and/or don't put properties up for auction when not purchased. They are still playing Monopoly. It's a variant, but still that game.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I don't agree with that. At some point, enough changes make for a different game, but it's a lot more than 1. Many people do not play Chess with the En Passant rule. They are still playing Chess. People play Monopoly with the Free Parking gets the pot of money rules and/or don't put properties up for auction when not purchased. They are still playing Monopoly. It's a variant, but still that game.
Generally speaking 'Chess' and 'Monopoly' and 'Football' are used as descriptions of a multitude of similar games. In this sense, Chess, Monopoly, Football aren't games in the formal sense but types of games. In many instances such a description is informational enough for whoever we are communicating with, but someone really into football, might ask to further identify the particular game they are playing and may even profess opinions about that and other particular variations. Flag football, canadian football, american football, football with special teams, backyard football, etc. All of those are different games and yet all can still be described as 'Football'.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Years ago, I had a communications class (college) about games (as a form of media).

I remember having a class discussion about what makes something a "sport" rather than a "game."

While the discussion itself was interesting and there were a few broad distinctions upon which most members of the class could agree, the borders/edges of game and sport territory were fuzzy.
Hmm. I don't agree with the premise. A sport is a type of game, rather than being one or the other. :)
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Generally speaking 'Chess' and 'Monopoly' and 'Football' are used as descriptions of a multitude of similar games. In this sense, Chess, Monopoly, Football aren't games in the formal sense but types of games. In many instances such a description is informational enough for whoever we are communicating with, but someone really into football, might ask to further identify the particular game they are playing and may even profess opinions about that and other particular variations. Flag football, canadian football, american football, football with special teams, backyard football, etc. All of those are different games and yet all can still be described as 'Football'.
I agree that sports can be broken down into different categories like your football example, but if I'm playing American Football and change a minor rule, it's still American Football, not an entirely new category of football. It takes a significant number changes to change into a new category.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
But, again, if you don't allow for games without win conditions, this becomes infinitely recursive. And if you do allow for them, I'm not sure we need the distinction.
I'm not seeing where the infinite recursion is necessary?

I am not sure super-detailed pedantic definitions of what a particualr game is turns out to be useful. This kind of, "you're not playing real X," is generally used to gatekeep in-group and out-group, and I'm not sure you will find it of benefit to go there.
I'd take this as evidence that you dislike my position solely because you view it as catering to 'gate keepers' which is a fine reason to dislike it but it's not a logical reason to do so. *Nor is gatekeeping actually inherent to my position. It can just as easily lead to a recognition that all variations of games are acceptable.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I have some sympathy for @FrogReaver's claim that there are win conditions that are constitutive of the game of chess.

On the other hand, as per my earlier post, someone can play chess without playing to win (eg I secretly throw the game so my opponent will be more likely to buy me lunch).

The fact that I'm not playing to win doesn't mean I'm playing a different game - if it did, it would be false (contradictory, even) to say that I threw the chess game. And that it is implausible.
Thanks. I would say that we often refer to illusions as the real thing. The magician didn't actually make the woman disappear. But we will say he did.

So let's delve into throwing the game of chess so your opponent will buy you lunch. For that to happen it is important for your opponent to believe the illusion that he legitimately beat you at chess. If that illusion goes away via him finding out you threw the game he is going to be upset and not buy you lunch. To me the differences in opponent reaction when finding out you threw the game reveals his belief that it was an illegitimate game. I'm not seeing how that reaction can be reconciled with the belief that those two instances were the same game.

The win conditions are constitutive of the activity, but not necessarily of my participation in it. Similarly, a candidate can stand for election - an activity that is constituted, in part, by its orientation towards winning by attracting votes - even if that person doesn't expect or doesn't even want to win, doesn't campaign very hard, etc.
Being elected is real life and real life has many interdependencies. Games don't really have that.

If, by "D&D", we mean a game constituted by use of the D&D PC build and action resolution framework, use of (some fragment of) typical D&D setting elements (MM, traps, etc), then I don't think win conditions are constitutive of the game. But nor is their absence.

A parallel in chess might be playing a recognised, or adequately theorised, opening - one can play chess without doing this (see eg my very amateur chess play) but there is plenty of chess play which has this as an element of it.
IMO. Players can have slightly different win conditions without them being mutually exclusive in terms of playing a game. For example, in chess if you are trying to win with some novel opening and i'm trying to beat someone that is trying to win then while you have unilaterally changed the game by self imposing a restricted moveset on yourself. You likely are okay with that changed game as it has little to no impact on how you will be playing.

But the moment you are playing to lose takes away my win condition of defeating someone that is trying to win. That's one place the game ceases to exist and we end up with the illusion of a game.

Or players may agree not to play any traditional openings in their next match. That's not actually the same game as it's rules have been slightly changed.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I agree that sports can be broken down into different categories like your football example, but if I'm playing American Football and change a minor rule, it's still American Football, not an entirely new category of football. It takes a significant number changes to change into a new category.
In that instance you would have American Football and American Football v1.00001

Those are different games despite being virtually identical on most levels. However, I would still colloquially call it American Football because that's the closest point of reference anyone I am communicating would have. I think there's alot of linguistic nuance going on here that obscures what's actually going on.
 

pemerton

Legend
@FrogReaver

I agree that playing-to-throw is in some sense deviant, because if everyone did it the game would grind to a halt. But imagine a game of pure luck: I can definitely play snakes-and-ladders hoping to lose while not having to be deviant at all in my actual play. The game unfolds just the same. And everyone-playing-to-throw chess will still unfold according to the rules of play, it will just be an incredibly bad instance of the genre. (And socially a bit awkward.)

An election in which every candidate was indifferent to winning and didn't campaign would also be deviant - see "Clin-ton" vs "Dole" in an old (c 1996) Simpsons Halloween episode. But the votes can still be tallied (I voted for Krang!)

I agree with @Maxperson that your identity criteria for games - while perhaps useful for (say) someone programming a game simulator - are too strict to overlap with ordinary usage.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Winnable vs Unwinnable is not a good separation of terms either, since both imply that there are win conditions. I would probably use the terms "Closed" and "Open-ended". Closed would be games with explicitly defined end conditions (often synonymous with win conditions), while open-ended games have no predefined end conditions.
I prefer closed and open-ended also, but the matter is muddied by the possibility of an explicit metagame. D&D combats are typically closed, but they contribute toward a metagame (the campaign) that might be envisioned to be open-ended. It might be possible to relate that to the important difference in results between cases of one-off and repeated play, in game theory: players could be predicted to behave differently in a one-shot, than a campaign.

Closed and open-ended are labels applying to the rules system used by the game, but do not mandate particularly implementations. You can have a closed game that never ends, or an open-ended game that you add a win condition to. "Winning" D&D by beating the BBEG does not change the game rules, nor make it 'not' open-ended.

Likewise, the end conditions of a game are separate from player goals. You might assume that any given player may want to achieve the end/win condition for the game, but there is no requirement for that to be the case.
I prefer to think in terms of end-conditions, also. A game can have end-conditions that are not win conditions. It might be right to say that metagames do have win conditions, but don't have end conditions. For example, whoever has the highest Elo is currently winning the Chess metagame, but that does not end the metagame.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Generally speaking 'Chess' and 'Monopoly' and 'Football' are used as descriptions of a multitude of similar games. In this sense, Chess, Monopoly, Football aren't games in the formal sense but types of games. In many instances such a description is informational enough for whoever we are communicating with, but someone really into football, might ask to further identify the particular game they are playing and may even profess opinions about that and other particular variations. Flag football, canadian football, american football, football with special teams, backyard football, etc. All of those are different games and yet all can still be described as 'Football'.
I think what we commonly label as a given game, such as D&D, is usually a cloud of closely similar games. As many as one per table and possibly one per session: one per player-cohort might be the best way to put it. Games need players, and those players must form intentions based on their grasp and upholding of the rules, so differences between players result in differences between games.

Formal variations are usually captured by adjustments to the game-as-artifact, and then themselves vary in use, of course. Generally speaking, this is one reason I think of games-as-artifacts as tools.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Still no idea? Even now? Invested enough to respond about not knowing who he is but not interested enough for a 10-second Google search to see why someone would bother citing him? Never heard of Ultraviolet Grasslands or Witchburner, I guess?

I've heard there's this whole RPG industry out there, somewhere beyond the Shire...
Given that my first point of contact with non-D&D RPGs is almost exclusively ye olde FLGS (I'm one of those who says if it ain't in hardcopy, I don't want it), it's hardly unexpected that I've not heard of loads of small and-or online-only publishers.

My other point of contact was GenCon, but I've not been since 2016.
 



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