Fair is fair

Here’s a question for you to think about:

What is fairness?

To a lot of people, fairness is an equal playing field or a game where everyone abides by the rules. That’s understandable. But is that really important in video games, or even achievable?

I was having this conversation a couple of weeks ago with a friend, mainly because we were talking about “Titanfall” and how I felt that it was slightly unfair that a game can just devolve into one full team of titans versus a team of pilots.

To me, the anti-titan weaponry doesn’t do enough damage to level the playing field between titan and pilot, making a six-titan-on-six-pilot game almost impossible to turn around. So, I stated that it was unfair. His comment surprised me and made me think a lot differently.

Is it unfair that a team can end a game so quickly by using the game mechanics provided to them, mechanics that reward skill rather than first-come-first-serve? Or is that merely a statement of the team’s cohesive nature and overall skill?

Thinking for a moment, we drew the comparison to “League of Legends,” a game we both play frequently and consider ourselves pretty well-versed in. A good team can end a 5v5 match in less than twenty minutes. Looking at the professionals of the e-sports world, it could be even sooner. Is that unfair?

In that instance, no, it really isn’t. But would it be unfair to pit those professionals against players who are just starting out? Ah, therein lies the problem.

You don’t put peewee baseball clubs in a game with the Los Angeles Dodgers, or an elementary-school football team against the Denver Broncos. The LA Galaxy don’t contend against youth leagues, and the New Jersey Devils don’t compete for the Stanley Cup against a high-school team.

Those sure are a lot more intimidating from the ground…

This ridiculous sports comparison is meant to illustrate that perhaps games that have perceived unfairness need better matchmaking services. Again, we’ll look at “LoL.” A player’s Summoner Level dictates the type of opponents they’ll be teamed with and pitted against in a drop-in game. This is pretty standard and as fair as you can get without scaling down the powers and abilities of each character to cater to people who are just not as skilled.

“Titanfall” does not do this. Level forty players are thrown into games with level tens, and the results are not pretty. Imagine people with better weapons that they’ve unlocked over time and better titan builds made to increase lifespan and survivability going against someone with default loadouts. Sounds kind of crappy, right?

So where’s the line? Is it drawn at player skill? Or is it drawn at game enhancers? For me, I say enhancers. In no way do I think “Titanfall” has a matchmaking system that is fair, though I’m not saying the game isn’t fun. I am, however, saying that pitting people who have unlocked deadlier weapons and skills against blank slates is unfair. Fixing that system would make the game fair.

But is this the only type of unfairness we can see? The controversy around “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” and it’s multiplayer “hacking” drew much heat. The “hack” arose from players combining certain class perks with weapons to give their character such speed that it was nearly impossible to hit them when they were attacking at a certain range. Not to mention when they are trying to melee kill.

Those knife runners sure made team deathmatches hard.

The retort was that they were merely using the game mechanics that are available to them, and to everyone, and that this was not an issue. Some would disagree, and in a way this is just like “Titanfall.” If everyone’s able to do it, and it works, why not? Is that really unfair?

Exploiting game mechanics has been the basis of most of multiplayer meta-strategy since multiplayer was invented. The rocket jump alone has revolutionized gameplay and can be seen as a mark of players’ intelligence and understanding of games.

Perhaps fairness is making sure that the only thing making your game difficult is the players playing it. If a person can only complain that the people they’re losing to are better than them, that’s not really an issue. But if someone has a problem with guns that can shoot through walls and titans that can survive every attack thrown at them because they have a top-tier upgrade while they wave their stick and slingshot about, it warrants discussion.

What do you think? What do you think fairness is?