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Worth Reading: 08/04/2014

Writers trying to explain the success of League of Legends and Minecraft lead the charge in this week's collection.

I captured the screen shot to your right on Sunday afternoon, while I was quietly nursing a hangover and playing Divinity: Original Sin. It's a little dark, and if you haven't played the game before, it might not make much sense.

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A good ways into the game, a little under 40 hours, I encountered a fight that proved a total roadblock. No progress was being made. Did I have the wrong characters? Were my tactics off? I couldn't be sure, so I did some Google searching, and found threads cursing the very same battle. People were offering up coping and survival strategies, but one really stood out. It made me laugh out loud.

This user had suggested stacking chairs in a row, effectively blocking off the other enemies in the scenario. In Divinity, for whatever reason, the chairs are invulnerable. They can be moved but not destroyed, and that's true for both players and bad guys. So I spent five minutes building a fortress of chairs, which locks the most powerful enemy next to me, and I wait for him to walk into the room I've camped out in, my personal slaughtering chamber. Once an enemy was destroyed, one of my wizards would use a teleportation spell to drag another victim into the chamber. Cue the slaughter.

On paper, written down, it sounds monstrous and cruel. In fact, two of the enemies eventually gave up, and decided to face the wall, rather than be within range for my teleportation spell. It's as though the A.I. had realized "oh, he's being a dick" and refused to play along. That made me laugh even more.

Cheating? I don't know. It was certainly exploitative, and that tactic might disappear in a later patch, since it makes little sense for chairs to be so inexplicably tough. But it was really damn fun. More importantly? I won!

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At this point, there aren't many legitimate reasons to say one does not understand MOBAs, whether we're talking about League of Legends, DOTA 2, or one of the many games trying to capitalize on the trend. But even if one can fathom the big picture, minutia and lingo can be overwhelming. It's a huge barrier to entry. Though Alexa Ray Corriea's feature doesn't really tread any new ground, if you're simply looking for an excellent, straightforward primer, this is it.

"This is the third or fourth time I’ve played the game, but luckily I’m in the best place to learn.

Riot employees passing through peek over my shoulders as they walk to other cubicles, eyeing first the designer instructing me through my game and then me, as I break into a nervous sweat. I’m not a Riot employee and I get unusually excited every time I kill something. These people have to be wondering what I’m doing here.

Riot Games teaches League of Legends — its one and only game — to new employees, and also offers crash courses to the families of those who work for them. Learning to play, and love, League of Legends is a large part of the company’s culture. It’s rare they invite the press into this process, but here we are."

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The question of what's made Minecraft such a success is a really tough one to answer, but Robin Sloan provides one of the most compelling explanations I've read so far. Even though Minecraft is years old at this point, we're still learning plenty about why it's captivated the imaginations of millions. Minecraft is an institution, but one that eludes the grasp of many. It's easy to look at Minecraft's LEGO-like nature and see why it's been such a big hit, but to really articulate its success...that's a challenge. And I think Sloan gets very close.

"It’s not that secret, of course. From that first buggy release onward, all the ins and outs of surviving and building in Minecraft have been documented by players, on wikis and YouTube, in ever-increasing and now mind-boggling detail. Honestly, I have no idea how you would play the game without first browsing one of those wikis or watching one of those videos. Trial and error? There would be a lot of errors.

To play, you must seek information elsewhere.

Was it a conscious decision? A strategic bit of design? I don’t know. Maybe Markus Persson always intended to create an in-game tutorial but never got around to it. If so: lucky him, and lucky us, because by requiring the secret knowledge to be stored, and sought, elsewhere, he laid the foundation for Minecraft’s true form."

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Patrick Klepek on Google+