Working for a serious games development company I often reflect on what I have learnt personally from games. Of course there’s a lot of talk around the office about game mechanics and how they can lead to ‘sticky’ experiences and I wanted to share with you a particular feature of RPG’s that have really had a long lasting impact on how I approach certain tasks, it might not be a term you’re familiar with, but it’s called Min-maxing.
Min-maxing is a term that comes from gaming, primarily from Role Playing Games (RPGs). The concept has been around for a while, and probably originates from table top (Dungeons and Dragons for example) type Role Playing Games where each player would keep track of their characters stats as they progressed through the game and everything was written down.
The tracking and managing of statistics to determine how well you would do in differing situations transferred over to RPGs in video games. There’s a great quote I read somewhere and I have no idea who said it but it was something along the lines of 'A game is not a game unless somewhere numbers are increasing.' I've always felt this sums up RPGs perfectly.
For me, the fun is in the numbers and figuring out their relationships to each other and how to use them to your advantage, watching them change and grow, showing your progress towards Power and Mastery; two key motivation mechanics. You can see it in ‘grinding’ (where you repeat actions to gain coins, experience points, etc.) in games and leveling up, it's an addictive mechanism.
So, RPGs usually have character advancement revolve around a given number of stats that your character can grow in which improves them in differing areas. Take Dark Souls 2 for example, your character has 9 different statistics you can raise to benefit your character in different ways that can be broken down in to 3 overall categories which can be seen here in red, blue and green.
Essentially you’re given choices as to the type of character you want to play, each with strengths and weaknesses.
Min-maxing is about playing to your strengths (maximizing them) and minimizing your weaknesses. It’s a way of managing your resources to achieve the best possible results for a given goal, in this case making the strongest character you can if your goal was to min-max for damage.
There’s another great quote that sums this up really well…
“If you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things” – Miyamoto Musashi
This is relevant because min-maxing is a process that I learnt from playing video games and you can apply it to many different situations to achieve effective results. An example of where I’ve used this process in life would be in the building of computers for the office. I had a goal, build 3 computers, two suited to developers and one to an artist (think of these as your classes).
Developers and artists have different requirements of their machines (just as different classes in a game have different stat requirements), and the goal is to
1) Reduce downtime
2) Speed up work output
3) And there’s a budget to consider when doing so (these are your limits to work around).
A developer needs a fairly decent processor as they’ll spend most of their time waiting for the compiler to process their code, whereas an artist is going to need a better processor with more cache space as well as a graphics card to handle all the rendering. I used the same process I would use in developing a video game character to build machines tailored to the user’s needs and within a budget.
I have used the concept of min-maxing in many other areas of my life; building PC’s is just one example. I have no doubt that this skill can be learned in other ways, but the process of maximising my output and managing my resources to achieve the best possible results is now second nature to me, and that’s thanks to playing RPGs.