Friday, October 24, 2008

Aggro Considered Harmful

I find all the various debates about "aggro" and "tanking" and "taunting" very strange, regardless of whether they're related to PvE or PvP.

From my perspective, aggro was a relatively simple/quick coding hack invented back in the days of slow computers to avoid having to spend precious CPU cycles doing collision testing. Tanking and taunting showed up soon thereafter as natural extensions of the aggro concept. So why in the world does anyone talk today about aggro and tanking and taunting as though they're a permanent and even desirable design goal in and of themselves, rather than artifacts of an arbitrary solution to a temporary problem?

I love the idea of competitive encounters (combat and otherwise) being opportunities to intelligently select and skillfully execute offensive and defensive actions from a rich assortment of tactical options. But if that's an appropriate goal, is "aggro control" really the only possible way to get there? Why should gamers be satisfied with (much less demand) that "combat" be defined in terms of "managing" an abstract value like "aggro"? How are pulling and taunting adequate substitutes for stealth and formation and maneuver and cover and camouflage and ambuscade and overlapping fields of fire and occupying the high ground and shock/surprise and all the other well-known forms of tactical action?

I truly don't mind if some people enjoy playing the aggro game. People are free to like what they like. And it's true that even aggro and its attendant functions (tanking, taunting) can be made complex enough to support tactical decision-making.

What bugs me is the notion that some gamers, because they've never seen and can't imagine anything different, now actually resist suggestions that other rules for combat in online games might even be more fun than aggro management and are worth trying. I'm not saying, "all games must immediately cease and desist using aggro rules"; I'm saying, "hey, can't we have just a few games that, instead of cloning some other game's aggro rules, try something that's possibly even more tactically interesting?"

So my intention here is not to try to kill aggro as the starting point of a model for combat content. As the title of this piece indicates, I don't think much of it as a basis for combat rules in MMOGs today, but if some people really like it, I support their having games that provide it. All I want to do here is express the view that, in addition to there being games where the combat rules are wrapped around the notion of aggro management, I'd like to see some games that define combat content using different rules. I'd hope they're as diverse and interesting as the examples of tactical action I gave earlier, but just "different" would be worth trying at this point.

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