Exploiting a system

I’d like you to play No, Birdie, No! before I continue with this blog post, it’s important to know how this game plays to understand what I’ll be talking about.

Are you done? Cool, let’s move on.

What is to exploit a system? Well, some people might describe this concept as cheating within the rules but I don’t like that definition. No, I’d rather say that exploiting a system consists of playing within the rules but outside of the intention of the rules. It depends on the case, but most of the time, this is not a good thing. Breaking away from the purpose of the rules will almost always translate into bad gameplay, but as I said, it depends on the case.

No, Birdie, No! is a game designed to challenge the player’s motor skills by quickly identifying which finger corresponds to which button in a series of repeated exercises with an increasingly shorter duration. This game can be exceptionally hard if played as the designer intended, but exceptionally easy if exploited: By playing with only one key/finger held at any one time, the bird is going to position itself over said finger, then the player can switch to another finger and repeat the process ad-nauseum without any of his motor skills being put to the test. Eventually the game becomes so fast that the player is bound to make a mistake

But was that fun? What was the point of it? By exploiting the system we nullified what made the game interesting in the first place: Namely, the challenge. If there’s no challenge in a game specifically about a challenge, then there’s no game. It becomes a chore. A task. Plain old work.

Even knowing that there’s an easier way, the player should limit himself in order to actually enjoy playing. So, in the case of exploitable rule systems, player-driven rules are what can make or break the experience.

To push the idea further: The most optimal way to play a game might not be the best way to play it.

This last statement makes me ponder an interesting thought: Can we blame the designer for this? Is it his job to design the rules system in such a way as to make the optimal option the most interesting one? It certainly is his job to make the rules system the least exploitable possible.

In the case of No, Birdie, No!, I’d argue that it’s the simplicity of it that makes the game work. In order to patch the exploit one would have to either redesign the whole thing or add another layer on top of it (stamina that depletes faster when holding by less fingers) or just plain adding a new rule that says “if more than one finger is intentionally lifted, you fall to your death”. That last one is the most viable but it would be a step backwards in terms of … well, making sense. It’s less elegant and it’s nothing but a patch. On the other hand, having an exploitable system with leaderboard is never a good recipe.

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