Games

Change and Literacy in 'League of Legends'

League of Legends' minute updates and additions ripple outward into hugely varied and surprisingly educational forms of play.

Oh, League of Legends, I wish I could quit you. After years of playing Riot’s immensely popular Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (an already abstruse genre commonly shortened to MOBA), I still find myself going back to the game time and again. Unlike the massive game worlds, random play experiences, or user-generated features that have traditionally kept my attention for so long, League of Legends has offered little variation in either maps or rules. Nearly four years after launch, the game has only four maps available to players, two of which I play almost exclusively. Its staying power is maintained not by expansive shifts in the core experience, but by minute updates and additions that ripple outward into hugely varied and surprisingly educational forms of play.

Sure, video games today are living and breathing entities. Day one patches push crucial updates to games before you have even started playing the game. Developers unhappy with their content can fundamentally and forever alter their creation. Q-Games took the opportunity with PixelJunk Eden when they decided to lower the difficulty level of the game, which made the more “hardcore” fans of the series rush to complete the game before it was dumbed down before their eyes. Of course, BioWare most infamously patched a new ending to their game, which seemed to anger about as many people as those satisfied with the post-launch alteration.

The ability for developers to quickly ship changes to all their players may irk game reviewers and those genuinely concerned about archiving game history, but it also provides ample opportunity for players to grown with the game they play. Patches, particularly significant changes to game history, provide excellent learning opportunities. Considering the frequent addition of new champions and the consistent re-assessment of old champions in League of Legends, it may be the most massive and unintentionally educational game design learning experience.

There are currently 112 playable champions in League of Legends. Lissandra, the latest upcoming champion, will make 113 in a matter of weeks. Themed around ice abilities, Lissandra can slow nearby enemies, launch a claw around the battlefield and teleport to her location, and even enclose herself or opponents in a solid block of ice. Her unique set of powers augments every battle. Players who have grown accustomed to facing other combinations of enemies on opposing teams must adapt by recognizing her capabilities and limitations both individually and within a team. Those who do well in League of Legends understand more than abstract abilities, they understand how systems relate to each other.

Karma's Original Skin Design

Even more than champion additions, complete character overhauls offer excellent learning opportunities for players. Although champion redesigns are relatively rare, Riot has shown no qualms about revisiting and completely reworking existing characters. Take Karma’s recent rework as an example. Despite Karma’s particularly unique set of augmented abilities, prior to her dramatic reimagining she was seldom played.

Filling a primarily Support role, Karma had the ability to shield allies, heal them, and slow opponents with a tether. Riot has since abandoned her healing abilities entirely. Instead, she now has more offensive abilities, can heal only herself, and can severely hamper enemy movement. To play Karma today is nothing like playing Karma before these changes.

Importantly, it is not hard to understand why Riot fundamentally reworked the character. Not only was the old Karma ineffective, she often played a passive role and was rarely fun to play. The rework addresses numerous design concerns that, when juxtaposed with her older version, reveals some of Riot’s own design philosophies. Her primary offensive ability, which once healed allies and harmed enemies in a limited-range cone, now fires a long-ranged skillshot that can, if augmented, create a large impact zone that slows enemies.

As Vice President of Game Design at Riot said at the recent Game Developers Conference, skillshots, abilities that require calculated aiming to land, offer an “immediate emotional investment” for players on both sides. Those who dodge the attack feel as empowered as those who successfully land the attack. Likewise, the ability now offers multiple levels of counterplay. Opponents can Flash over the projectile, take the hit in place of their allies, or lunge towards Karma when the spell goes on cooldown. Players familiar with Karma can easily compare her new set of abilities with the old and through play understand the design principles that create compelling gameplay.

Karma's New Look

This may sound overwhelmingly optimistic. I know how easy it is to “zone out” in multiplayer games and fall into a non-analytical pattern of behavior. Fortunately, a huge swath of the League of Legends community actually put the lessons they learn playing the game into work. Of course like any serious gaming community, the players have cracked open the black box and seriously consider ability power ratios, damage scaling, and a variety of statistical information from the game in order to maximize their own play. Likewise, there are numerous blogs dedicated to offering their own reworks of existing champions, many of which criticize Riot’s own design work with genuinely compelling analysis and math-crunching of their own. Similarly, the League of Legends wiki community constantly outputs custom champions of their own design, which in turn foster design discussions between players arguing the relative power of completely fictional champions.

Riot is blessed with an incredibly passionate gaming community. They are also cursed with one of the most knowledgeable communities on the internet. Not surprisingly, they can be hard to please when every design decision they make is vetted by thousands of League of Legends player experts, many of whom have enough knowledge to make their own game if they wanted. Thanks in no small part to frequent updates and their commitment to transparent game design, Riot has genuinely advanced game literacy among their players, literacy these players may apply to other games and non-game systems, if only they find time to do something other than play League.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image