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The Philosophy of game design: The ontology of victory.


Okay, bear with me a minute here. My first self-released game, SSO is a semi-co-op, but in an unusual way. Generally what semi-co-op means is that the game has an all lose condition, but that of the players that win, some win better than others. In SSO, players have to work together to win, and can all win equally, but win or lose as individuals. You don’t win better than someone else, but sometimes your win is dependent on their loss. However, it does mean that I’ve ended up in a lot of discussions about more traditional semi-co-ops and the nature of their win/loss conditions, and it throws up an interesting philosophical question, which is what I’d like to write about in this blog. So, this is about something that I don’t think is really relevant to my own game, but my own game led me to thinking about it. That said, on with the point.


What is often said by those who are against standard semi-co-ops amounts to something along the lines that what is said by those games to be losing is, in fact, drawing, and what is said to be second place winning is actually losing. The position is this, that there are objectively three possible states in a game, winning, whereby you get the best possible result, losing, in which someone gets a better result than you, and drawing, where everyone gets the same result as you or worse. These categories are claimed to be absolute and beyond the powers of a game designer to re-define. As such, if a player in a semi-co-op is in second or third place, with no chance of gaining first place they can actually improve their position by making sure everyone loses the game, since they will then move from losing to drawing.


Onto ontology. Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, and one of its most well-known products is t