How to avoid sloth in game design

The seven deadly sins have an impact on game design and writing, and sloth provides one of the most interesting and perhaps counter-intuitive issue to date. What exactly constitutes sloth, and is it good or bad for games?  According to the History Channel’s Seven Deadly Sins, sloth may not be the sin you think it is.

Non-gamers might laugh at the idea of criticizing sloth in game design, since many people consider playing games inherently slothful.  My father once told me to stop wasting my time playing so many games.  Now whenever I get a check for my game work, I wave it in his face and say, “Eat it!”  No, not really, but you get the idea.  However, sloth has been vilified throughout the ages for reasons other than it’s a waste of time for individuals.

Lack of Productivity: The Community

If a society decries sloth as a sin, it’s because it hurts society as a whole.  Therefore, the sin of sloth has been a particularly big deal since the advent of industrialism.  Sloth was bad for the corporation.  Before that, sloth was bad in small communities that depended on the work of each member.

When we asked for the greatest sins of sloth on Tuesday, one commenter called “bots” a sign of the sin of sloth.  I had a friend who would leave his character scripting and leveling while he went to work, so it’s hard to say that is a true sign of sloth.  Other bots can be quite useful, dispensing information or items to visitors when one person wouldn’t be able to do it all.  In this sense, every NPC is a kind of bot.

The real problem with bots, of course, is if they mess with the community.  If a bot is spamming uncontrollably in a general chat, or if a script is going through and killing all your mobs, you’re bound to be upset.

From a game design perspective, the way to avoid sloth that affects the community is to provide tools for the community — bringing to mind guilds with machiavellian leaders — and to effectively police, to the best of your ability, griefers.

Lack of Activity: The Individual

In a single-player game, however, if players aren’t doing anything, they’re not harming anyone in the community.  That is, until they find the game boring and stop playing.  Therefore, the biggest sign of sloth in game design is not having enough fun or content for the players to enjoy.

If there isn’t enough content, it doesn’t mean the developers are lazy or slothful.  It’s usually a management decision based on time and resources.  One MMO that will remain nameless was notorious for its lack of content, but fortunately the non-slothful nature of the community made the game fun enough until the content could catch up.

Thus, the solution to a lack of productivity or activity is to make sure there’s enough fun to be had on the one hand, and enough tools available to make sure no one abuses the fun to be had.

But guess what?  That’s not what the sin of sloth was originally about.  Stay tuned next week for the real sin of sloth.  In the meantime, which game design tools have been particularly effective in battling sloth?

Posted by Anne for Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.

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Published in: on January 8, 2009 at 5:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] Good news! If you were slothful, you wouldn’t be reading this, at least according to last week’s definition of sloth. According to the History Channel’s documentary on sloth, however, lack of productivity is […]


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