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nefthy

why not hide the numbers?

343 posts in this topic

I recently read "Let's Put the Magic Back in Magic" by Ernest W. Adams. To sum the article up, it sugest hiding the numbers from the player. I have since thought a bit about it, but I have not come across a good answer as to why the numbers are still around, especialy in RPG's. I mean, the numbers are heritage from the pen and paper RPG's, where you need them to run the game. But even in p'n'p RPG's the can kill the game experience. Just think of players discussing how to brake a door having an supposedly ingame dialog like this Player A: "Who has the greatest Breake Doors value?" Player B: "I quess you, I only have 15%" But with computer games we can get rid of this. We can hide the numbers behind the sceens. For example, we could adjust sound volume according to how sucessfully a player is at his listen skill. Or increse an objects transparency (or contrast) if its hidden and the player messes up with his spot hidden skill. Even skill advancement kann be done behind the sceens. What comes in mind is a mechanic used by the Call Of Cthulhu p'n'p RPG. If you have sucessfully used a skill you get a chance to raise it at the end of the session. This can be translated directly to a computer RPG system, if you find a hiden object you get skill might increase making it easier to spot hidden objects. As a free bonus the characters skills adapt to the players style. If someone uses magic all the time he will become better with magic over time. Also think of the replay value if the game actualy feels differend if you play it different. But anyhow, here is my question: Are there any good reason for keeping the numbers visible to the player or showing the direct results to the player (thing AD&D CRPG's "hide in shadows failed")?
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In real life there are numbers as well. When I look at a red oak door, I know for sure that I can't put my fist through it. If I see a rusty old bathroom door knob with a lock on it, I know I can pick it with simple tools. In games, these hidden numbers are not always known. In some situations, the player is thrown into an alien world that takes more than common sense to understand. So the numbers help us understand.

I guess players could use trial and error. But I've never had to run my fist through a red oak door to know I can't do it.
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I guess there are two reasons. First it is very easy for the player to see how much his skill has increased and how he is progressing which gives a feeling of accomplishment.

Second, it's just much easier to design the game with the numbers.

Perhaps there is also a third option, it's easier to market. The players expect to see numbers in their RPG's and it allows for some 'impressive features' such as 'twenty levels ranging from stable boy to godhood'.
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Quote:
Original post by Seraphim
Second, it's just much easier to design the game with the numbers.


You can still have the numbers behinde the sceens. You just use them differently.

Quote:
Original post by Jiia
In real life there are numbers as well. When I look at a red oak door, I know for sure that I can't put my fist through it. If I see a rusty old bathroom door knob with a lock on it, I know I can pick it with simple tools. In games, these hidden numbers are not always known. In some situations, the player is thrown into an alien world that takes more than common sense to understand. So the numbers help us understand.

I guess players could use trial and error. But I've never had to run my fist through a red oak door to know I can't do it.


You don't know that your chance of success is 5% in real world. You just have a fuzzy estimate that your chance is minimal. And you probably know this becouse you have trie to brake hard material before.
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I am partially with you. I envisioned a game where objects properties have first to be discovered by research(including some trade off between projects) and tested afterwards in real life situations. The test would work like this(though the researcher would know the value of his own discoveries)the antagonist in battle woudl only have to compare his own objects behaviour to the opponent and decide from experience how much worse(or better) his/her opponent's object are in combat.
I think numbers are here to stay (I mean the researcher's side at least), but of course a system that doesn't rely directly on showing them may be configured. The solution would be something like:Comparing how does this project(of an object) behave with others already designed, and do it several times(we must include some randomness in the game mechanics to spice it up).The result would be numerical quantifiable, but since in real world(read simulated) there is no perfect ladder(think rock,paper scissors because of the trade off in properties), then surely a way to describe these would be to assign different classes to same type of objects, according to their properties(think space ship:scout,transport,fuel tanker,battleship,fighter carrier), and quantifiers as well(battleship:small=destroyer,medium=cruiser,large=battleship).
Of course mixes are possible.Interestingly enough the player would have the last word in qualifying as such.(the information will not be server based but player based).
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Quote:
Original post by Seraphim
First it is very easy for the player to see how much his skill has increased and how he is progressing which gives a feeling of accomplishment.

This one is true, am afraid ("afraid" as i really dislike the whole character reduced to numbers thing) Like it or not, large part of RPG playerbase is made of the "munchkins" who play the game to maximize the stats of their characters in the way which makes them the most effective. You can see it a lot in MMO -- template min-maxers, the general attitude that anything with less than the best stats is automatically "worthless" etc. Remove the ability to see the numbers and how they're affected, and you pretty much remove the "challenge" as these players see it, and their reason to play.
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This idea has been brought up time and time again.

The problem becomes your method / graphics for feedback to replace the numbers.

If you are low on hp...how do you get across that feeling?
If a lock is too hard do you frustrate gamers until they give up? Isnt their time worth more than that?

Not to say its without merit, but youd have to work on an alternative method of giving a player information.
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Don't forget that every game has its hackers, even when they aren't trying to exploit bugs in the client/server, they're still poking around the DBs (referring to MOGs, because local-system games are even easier to hack open) trying to extract useful information like, exactly how powerful is this item.

There is a clear trade-off between showing and not showing (disregarding the issue of munchkins, because in theory, a well made game can have no true munchkins), if you show players everything, then they can effectively guage their capabilities, it becomes a game of deterministic strategy, players who know they're weaker will run like the jesus, and players who know they are stronger will fearlessly attack.

If you don't show your players anything concrete, they must experiment more, and explore the tools available to them, it becomes a game of intuitive strategy, theoretically people are more willing to risk because the question of loss or victory is less clear (and in my mind, this is more entertaining).

I think that encouraging players to explore the game mechanics is a good thing. What does it mean that this gun has 'long' range? and that this other one has 'medium' range? What does it matter that this warhammer is 'heavy' and this dagger is 'light'? Will I notice a difference attacking what appears to be a plate-armoured opponent with a bludgeon instead of a blade?

Verbal descriptions leave alot to be discovered, and I think that's a good thing.

On the topic of communicating status to players; Giving a player a health bar, or a percentage, are fair communications imho. You don't know that you have 376 hp, and your opponent has 12,439 hp, all you see is that you're at 88% health, and he's at 23% health, and you're thinking, hey, maybe I can take this guy.
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I think that the type of gamer you are targeting with the game could have a lot to do with it. The people who traditionally gravitate to RPGs are typically into the numbers. An RPG without numbers could be very appealing to a more casual gamer who doesn't give a crap about the "geek" stuff. A lot of casual gamers wouldn't mind the ambiguity of the mechanics as long as the gameplay was fun.

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Sorry about the rambling nature of the post, but I really don't see any problems with numbers. With a textual representation I do see problems, but not with numbers. Thus, a rambling post advocating the use of numbers will follow:

Numbers break the immersion? I wouldn't say so. You need to use your imagination more and see what's beyond the numbers. Usually games are so full of abstractions anyway so I really don't see why the use of numbers for the sake of simplicity is so evil and loathsome. As I am quite fond of saying, "a good game is like a spreadsheet". But that's just probably me... [grin]

More seriously, though, numbers are fast to read and easy to understand. It is easy to see that 8 is bigger than 4, and it takes less than a millisecond to realize that, but I'd never know if "overwhelmingly spectacular" is somehow better or worse than "mindstaggeringly phenomenal" and just reading those words takes so much time that in most games that time difference could be the difference between life and death. Also, numbers make it possible to use an intuitive continuum — once you've been 10 and now you're 20, you'll have at least an approximate idea what 100'll be like, but you'll never even fathom what "overwhelmingly flabbergasting" means even if you knew what "dumbfoundinlgy awesome" or "incomprehensibly staggering" meant. Besides, just renaming a range of numbers to something less numbery doesn't change anything — well, other than to make the players waste time in translating the strings into numbers anyway. Also, words are inherently fuzzy with all sort of nasty connotations, but not in a good way — the semantics you impose on any specific word might not be the same than the semantics some other gamer uses (you don't want the gamers to think they need to choose between being stupid or ugly just because of the connotations of the used words). If you wanted to make the numbers fuzzy, you could still use a numerical representation. Representation is the vital issue here — you don't really need to think a lot when looking at numbers and there usually isn't much room for misunderstanding.

As for hiding the precision and accuracy of the data, you could give the character's best impression on his own skills — you could even have a skill for estimating your own skills. Or, you could just hide the numbers altogether, but remember that you should only hide those things the character can't even try to guess.

Quote:
Original post by nefthy
For example, we could adjust sound volume according to how sucessfully a player is at his listen skill. Or increse an objects transparency (or contrast) if its hidden and the player messes up with his spot hidden skill.


I'd say this is pretty much the worst thing you could do if you wanted to keep the game character-oriented. The player and the player character are fundamentally different entities that reside in fundamentally different worlds. You use the word "player" here with quite an impunity when you actually mean the character — after all, the numbers describe the character, not the player. On the other hand, if you do use sound volume and visual transparency, you turn the character skill into a player skill. It is not the same. You turn the tactical game into a game of dexterity and perception. At the extreme, you turn the optimatization game into a find-the-pixel game.

Personally, I want to see numbers, or if not numbers then at least some easily interpreted graphical alternatives such as somehow normalized progress bars (with normalization I mean that all the progress bars relating to the same stat have the same maximum and minimum values, thus making it easy and fast to compare different entities with regard to this stat).
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I would not define hack'n'slay games as being RPG's since the a gameplay that goes like this:

- Slay all enemies in sight.
- Loot the bodies.
- Go to next town sell loot by armour/wepons/potions
- goto start

(good example for this is Dungeon Seage)

has hardly anything to do with role playing (IMHO). So lets speak about the 1% of the games that are actually about [b]role playing[/p] (think Planescape: Torment). Wouldn't they benefit if the stats are hidden* and the feeling of the world changes based on them. I think it could be quite rewarding if you "feel" your skills instead of seeing them as a number. Why not make a magic sword have an aura if the player succeds in his detect magic skill (you don't have to reveal even that such a thing takes place, just like hidden rolls in p'n'p rpgs where the game master throws the dice for his players). Make the aura acuracy propotional to how good he succeded. If he does realy bad, make him think something cursed is somthing good or vice versa. If he does good make the aura more precice. Wouldn't this be more interesting (from a players perspective) than just blantly say "Yea, you got a magic sword +5" (or "Sorry, dude your roll didn't succed")? Would't it make player decesions more important and chalenging? Would't it add to the atmosphere of the word?

* If you think players need some guidance, give them a fuzzy description, like "you are resonably strong" instead of "strength: 50%".
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Quote:
Original post by nefthy
Player A: "Who has the greatest Breake Doors value?"
Player B: "I quess you, I only have 15%"

What's the alternative? You need to have some way to compare skills.

Quote:

But with computer games we can get rid of this. We can hide the numbers behind the sceens. For example, we could adjust sound volume according to how sucessfully a player is at his listen skill.

Then the player can just turn up the volume instead of ever training his listen skill.
Quote:

Or increse an objects transparency (or contrast) if its hidden and the player messes up with his spot hidden skill.

Semi-transparent items are often *really* easy to spot on a computer monitor.
And again, a player who doesn't mind spending a second or two extra looking over the scene won't even need a spot hidden skill.

Quote:

But anyhow, here is my question: Are there any good reason for keeping the numbers visible to the player or showing the direct results to the player (thing AD&D CRPG's "hide in shadows failed")?

Yep. Simply that it's very limited how you can convey information to the player. You can't easily make things "hard to see" if people have a low examine awareness skill, and you can't determine which character in your party is best at some skill, if you don't have some way to compare them. And you simply need feedback in a lot of situations.
In real life, you can judge for yourself whether your "hide in shadows" is working. Just look at yourself, where you're standing, whether you're standing in the light, where the guy you're hiding from is, and so on.
In a game, a lot of these factors just aren't taken into consideration (because otherwise it wouldn't be able to run on your computer), or some details can't be seen clearly because a monitor runs at a much lower resolution than the real world. In the real world, you might be able to spot someone at a huge distance, and you might even be able to determine some of their "stats" (what do they look like, what are they wearing, and so on). In a game, you get two or three pixels to base your examination on, and that's it.

Or when a character is low on HP/wounded, how do you show that to the player? Yes, you could just actually paint wounds and scars all over him, but it wouldn't be as easily noticeable as it is in real life, and it wouldn't give you as much information.

Yes, in some situations, in some games, you could remove some numbers, and it might even make for a better game, but keep in mind that they're there for a reason. They're compensating for the restrictions you face when showing information or feedback to the player.
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I'm working on an RPG that does not have numbers. My plan is to publish exactly what each text description means. Also I want to expand gameplay beyond simple kill critters to make it more interesting.
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I am also thinking to implement 'don't show numbers' rules in my MMO. And I was thinking some time how can be that done, but mot everything is so easy to implement. Some thinkings:
- HP and MANA bars can be solved with percent bars.
-
Quote:
On the topic of communicating status to players; Giving a player a health bar, or a percentage, are fair communications imho. You don't know that you have 376 hp, and your opponent has 12,439 hp, all you see is that you're at 88% health, and he's at 23% health, and you're thinking, hey, maybe I can take this guy.

In this situation this kind of attacks will surely lead to many deaths of players. And also lot of anger. I was thinking of use of some kind of consider options. Yeah, guy is at 23% health. Then click onto consider button. Game say: It is too dangerous.
- To Next Level: also percent solution.
- talks: If player is too far from another talking player then he'll just see partial information. f.e.: Hello ....., can....there?
If too far, then he'll hear nothing [smile]
- Stats(str, dex etc.): If player use sword mostly then on next level up he'll get the message 'You feel strongher' and the strengh goes up, dexterity up 'You are more agile' etc. Also if, for example, it start snowing and you don't have much clothes you will get message that 'you are feeling cold' then after few minutes of play you'll start to get cold damage.
I think that above mentioned solutions are fine because player is forced to think, explore and try.
But I have worked no solution for magic.
Fireball is fireball, but 10th level fireball is 10th level fireball if you know what I mean [smile]. If I stick to 'don't show number' rules then there is no 10th level fireball (or there is, but player don't get that kind of information). I was thinking of using graphic in this part of game. More powerfull fireball, greater the fireball missile graphic, and also greater explosion.
Or if you get LongSword plus7? What then? Maybe something like this: Sword of Heavenly Power.. and then write a short story of sword history?
But on other hand common weapons or less powerfull weapons are not appropriate to this aproach, because a game will generate 500 swords of Swords of lesser power, and every other player is going to have one. And then player's get the feeling that hi is not Strongheart the Great, but he is only 'one more' fighter with sword of lesser power.
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It's just my opinion. In all of the game situations I've experienced that lacked numbers or visual feedback, I wished I had them. Operation Flashpoint is a good example (military combat). In this game, you have no health gauge of any kind. One shot usually kills, but I've taken at least 4 or 5 bullets in the legs and arms and survived. In real life, I'm crying for my mommy and I can't see straight. My gun hand is crippled so bad, I can't even point it at anything. I know I need to find a field hospital. In the game, I just wander into hostile territory and shoot 15 misguided bullets into everything not moving before being put down like a wounded animal.

There are situations where the player doesn't need to know what's going on, though. If the player doesn't need to make a decision based on the numbers, there's no harm in hiding them. But it's difficult to find situations like this in detailed RPGs.
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I've been preaching this gospel for a while now. Representing statistics through other means is both more natural than reading numbers (i.e. "HP: 5/100" or a picture of your bloodied, beaten-up face - see Doom) and is a solvable problem if people would just put some effort into it. It introduces fuzzyness that is a good thing too - it's always seemed stupid to me that I can't use a particular sword when I'm 2XP away from a level up, but 2XP later I suddenly can. It's much better to allow me to use the sword but make me slow/clumsy/ineffective with it because I'm not strong enough to use it.

I've never really understood why RPGs - a genre which seems to put a high stress on creating deep, immersive worlds - then completely throw that away by exposing the game system itself so directly. It seems totally counterproductive.
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Quote:
Original post by superpig
I've never really understood why RPGs - a genre which seems to put a high stress on creating deep, immersive worlds - then completely throw that away by exposing the game system itself so directly. It seems totally counterproductive.

Honestly, I don't understand how it hurts the game. Some games like Fallout even show you the actual formulas used by their engine to "roll the dice" as you are upgrading points in the character attributes screen. Do you feel that the game suffered because of this? It gave players an understanding of why each of those many attributes were needed.
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Quote:

Honestly, I don't understand how it hurts the game. Some games like Fallout even show you the actual formulas used by their engine to "roll the dice" as you are upgrading points in the character attributes screen. Do you feel that the game suffered because of this? It gave players an understanding of why each of those many attributes were needed.


I like Diablo. And I like stats pumping. It gives me feeling that my charachter is more powerfull on every level I get. Surely I AM more powerfull after every level.
But on the other hand, diablo is that kind og game. You go, explore, kill go back to town, go further, explore, kill etc...

I just came up on thought that maybe some MMO that are not JUST kill oriented, can be solved on more sofisticated maners. MMO that forces you to think. Can I do that? Why is my sword so weak? What is that strange power that monster which killed me, have?

Anyway my game have an library. Library which players write. There will be such things that: I saw XY monster. He kills with mental ray. Use helmet then you'll have a chance to defeat him.

And that is another approach to solve things. Knowledge share.
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The problem with games that have hidden the numbers is that labels are fairly arbitrary. Gameplay is meaningful decisions. When players don't have numbers, or at least a firm grasp on the relative value for things, they cannot make meaningful decisions. They just kind of guess at what choice they think is better. This sort of thing makes the player feel as though they have no say in their game or character, since they're not exactly certain about the choices they're making.

This is bad. Especially in RPGs, a player must be made to feel as though they have some say in their experience.

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perhaps you're all looking at this the wrong way? spoonbender seems to be the closest so far to my way of thinking, though it is the exact opposite :)

the way i see it, is that in a FIRST PERSON game, everything should be done in the first person- including skills, and ways of representing attributes. i've thought this for a long time, and have always wondered why games like Morrowind still try to tell you how good at doing things you are, when you're directly controlling the character. to me, it's absolutely fine to give numbers in third person games, since you're not actually representing the character(s), you're just telling them what to do. third person viewpoint, third person everything.

think about it- if you took the numbers away from a third person game, how would you ever really know what's going on?

so, back to the first person perspective, what we really need is a good way of conveying certain things to the player. most of the time the solutions are actually simpler than you'd think. for instance, using the example of perception that seems to have cropped up in this thread a few times- if the actual person playing the game is perceptive, they'll notice things more. if they're unobservant, then tough luck. you don't need to implement some hidden statistic that determines how bright things are depending on their observational skills, that's something you'd do in a third person game.

similarly, for skills like lockpicking, you wouldn't have a variable for % chance of picking a lock- the player wouldn't know what it is, and would get frustrated after trying for the 100th time to pick a lock and failing. what you could do is have a mini-game to represent picking the lock, and make sure that the skils needed to succeed are similar to the skills needed in real life- that way it actually represents the players skills in first person. no arbitrary statistic to tell the player how good they are at something.

the way this theory breaks down is in places where the player either has no way to determine their abilities, or has no influence over them- the example spoonbender used of other characters only being a few pixels on the screen being a good example. also, things like strength are impossible to convey without expensive and sophisticated VR equipment. here, we would need to represent these with values in the game, and convey them to the player in some way consistent with everything else- changing the aesthetics of things in game in the case of unrepresentable things, and helping the player out in the case of difficulty of perception.

and may i just point out, 'percentage bars' are no better than numbers- i don't think you're looking deep enough into the issue if you think you can solve it using bars instead of numbers :)

incidentally, this rather long post is my first in this forum. hopefully you've enjoyed it, and hopefully you will continue to enjoy my presence :) good day to you all :D
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It sounds like your solution would be to just throw out games entirely and build virtual real life. It's ambitious [smile]

I'm curious to hear how you would deal with pain or body damage. How does the player count the bullets in his gun? Can he take off his armor vest and look at the cracks to see if it's too damaged to help? Does he search all of his pockets for extra room before stashing a new weapon?

Games normally throw out most of the tedious things that are tied to real life.
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Quote:
Original post by hymerman
the way i see it, is that in a FIRST PERSON game, everything should be done in the first person- including skills, and ways of representing attributes.

How are you going to determine the most basic character attributes -- speed, stamina, strength, and a number of others? These will have to be the character's attributes, not the player's attributes, because the player doesn't for example bleed when their character gets a leg slashed off, and thus would have theoretically unlimited hp (if the player is never hurt then neither is the character, if the character's attributes are supposed to rely on the player's attributes and skills)

And if the character's attributes are character's own, you need *some* way to tell the player *what* they are, because otherwise the player has no way of knowing that.

edit: also, i was under impression the point of RPG is to experience life of character that *ain't* you. In other words, it's perfectly okay to have the character with their own set of attributes and skills -- that way a player who in reality isn't the master of swordfighting, or the world's top burglar or renowned artisan, or anything else ... is given opportunity to experience how it is to *be* someone different than themselves.
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The game Everquest did not show the amount of mana/magic you had as a numeric value only a percentage... and this 'feature' was one of the single most complained about aspects in the game for years.
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One of the things I'd also like to do in an RPG (even text based) is to have player intelligence play more of a part than skills. Instead of having higher skills allow you to pick locks you might see the following.

When the user starts on the first tumbler of the lock, a "click" is sent to the player to indicate the correct unlock position and requiring user input to stop working on that tumbler. Higher skill will both make the click occur sooner and allow them a longer period of time before the user has to respond.

With this, the user gets an input of their skill relative to the lock. I doesn't matter what their skill level or what the lock level is, just the relation.
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About hackers in a MMORPG: It can be somewhat solved by only sending the necessary information to the client. Example given: You only send the information that a specific item is a "light dagger", while its actual numbers are stored at the server. You only send the HP percentage to the client, not the actual HP data for the client itself to make the calculation (a simple division like this won't slow down a server). And really, while you can argue that doing a calculation X on a client would off-load the server, would you want to even in a MMORPG where the numbers are shown? If the client is allowed to do the calculation there is always a possibility for a hacker to modify the procedure; it doesn't really matter whether the data is shown or not.

In essence this means the relationship between the client and server resembles this:

Server sends Client: Character X wields weapon Y at location Z, where X has health percentage H.
Client: Knows graphics ID and animations of weapon Y and character X as well as the relevant names, but not any numbers.
Server: Knows numbers, but only use them for calculations of its own and never tell forwards that to client.

Of course, non of this works for a local RPG, but that's no problem actually. Security issues in a single player game are not as relevant for the reason that if a hacker wants the real numbers beneath, he will get them. It will he ruin (or enhance) his own experience, BUT he does not force this upon anybody else, as in a multiplayer game where this will put other players at a disadvantage.
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