Should I stay or should I go?
One of the interesting things about multiplayer is how the relationship between the players effects their play and view of each other. Not only must players contend with their opponent’s resources, they must also consider their motivations, and the social contract all multiplayer groups establish. Nothing stresses the social contract like quitting. When the goal is to play a particular game, stopping play of that game can be frustrating for all concerned. Modelled off of a recent game of Magic I played, I’d like to explore the dynamics of quitting in a game.
The Setup: Three players are in direct opposition to each other. One player is substantially weaker than the other two and believes they have no chance of winning. This player can still have a major effect on the board. Should they quit?
Analysis: I have generally held that quitting a multiplayer game should be done only in very rare circumstances. Each player in a game has an effect on the board and the calculations of the other players. Even a weakened player may cause their opponent to play more cautiously or to pursue a different strategy. In removing themselves from the game, the quitter makes their participation a tool inside the game. Their opponents must also consider whether a particular play will cause the quitter to leave in addition to the game-oriented strategic concerns.
Of course, social contracts exists largely because of the non-game issues that pop up during play. In the above mentioned scenario, the factor not considered is whether the losing player is having fun. In the casual multiplayer setting, fun is often the most desired outcome over the purity of the game and many social contracts allow for players to make sub optimal choices (build poor decks, play strange strategies, quit, etc) provided everyone is enjoying themselves. The counter argument is that allowing quitting (recognizing that quitting can never be banned, but only frowned upon) creates the above mentioned situation where concern about quitting can decrease the fun for the whole group, even if the individual benefits. Frequency matters a great deal as the occasional tap out may not mean much, but regular folding undermines long term enjoyment.
The obvious answer may seem to be “quitting is acceptable within limited circumstances and with the understanding of the other players”, but there’s another factor left under considered: motivation. The guiding star of most games is self-interest. Players take actions which they believe will lead them to victory. In the situation above, the losing player believes that none of his actions will result in victory leaving the player without a clear direction to head. Here is another potential source of frustration. Robbed of a path to victory, the losing player may work towards goals considered illegitimate by the other players. They might take major actions just to have an effect on the board or seek out revenge thereby penalizing other players for playing well. A player without a win condition cannot play the game (after all, they can’t win it), but can still have a major effect on the game’s players. As a result, I believe the appropriate general response is “do no harm” with the understanding that harm includes both the player and their opponents seated around the table. The losing player should seek to remove themselves from the game while having as little impact as possible.