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Imagination Factor versus Numbers in Games

by Talha Kaya on 05/22/14 10:00:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.



There's a specific day in my childhood where Fifa 99 lost its magic. I was a huge fan of Fifa 99 and I was playing it all the time. It is the most fun I had with games as a child. I was choosing my home team Besiktas and mostly playing with my forward player Amokachi from Nigeria. He was the best, he could reverse shot and run fast. He could do anything.

And then there was Ertugrul. He was in the bench, but I always included him in the game, because boys obsess with specific athletes for some reason. I don't know, I just liked him. He wasn't as good as the other players, yet I believed in him and put him in the game.


With Ozan, my childhood friend, we would get together to make teams with superstars and beat the most powerful national teams. We were creating teams that were way overpowered. It was so much fun.

When you tried to make Besiktas a super team, you would have some trouble, since Besiktas didn't have that much money. You just couldn't buy Zidane, you coudn't have Beckham. But that was a nice limitation, since I'd then heavily consider who I'm buying for the team, and try to get only the football players who are cheap and good. But what if I found out that there are no players who are both cheap and good? The price of a player is maybe just a combination of adding and multiplying stats of a player. Wouldn't that be a disappointment?

As I mentioned, I was a child, and I had no idea how games worked. Now I know that games (and computers) work with numbers. They are machines that add and multiply bytes. But back then, Fifa 99 was pure magic. Those players were real, the same players that I saw every week on television. Except Amokachi wasn't playing with Besiktas any more. And I have no idea what happened to him.


One day I found out that I could look up the stat numbers of Fifa 99 players. I have no idea what took so long for me to find out this fact, but when I saw that these Besiktas players were worse than most players in the better teams, it was a huge disappointment. Ertugrul will never play as good as Scholes. He is, indeed, just a number. It was the disappointment when you find out that your toys will never become alive and be friends with you. You were just talking with a monkey that's filled with cheap cotton. His eyes are fucking buttons, man.

Even if you wanted to make the players better in Besiktas by playing more matches, you couldn't. You could change the stats, but that's just cheating. Modern football games have career modes that change players' stats with time passing and experience, and that is a better way for the player to invest more feelings into the athlete. But even then, the player is just a number. If you're showing the numbers to the player, then your athlete is just a number. Even if you are a ten year old with no way to understand how games work.


Imagination is a strong thing. Children can be at anywhere at any moment, thanks to their gift of imagination. I don't know why grown ups are less imaginative. They are more plain creatures. Their eyes are blank compared to how children look. Children love games. Let's make games better for children. Let's not crush dreams, let's hide unnecessary information like more numbers than needed, because for them, games are not just numbers. You'll never get that kind of immersion in games if you've grown up. And it sucks. But let's not do that to the children yet.

My point is, the amount of numerical detail you'll show in your game hurts the imagination. In real life, there aren't that many numbers. Sometimes Ertugrul shoots better than Beckham. Sometimes he does. And games should clearly state that.

When I found out that all players have stats that are simply numbers (Shooting: 9. WTF Ertugrul? I expected much better from you.), I didn't want to include Ertugrul in game anymore. Ertugrul started sitting in bench more, next to him, some of my imagination that the game killed with numbers. Amokachi was the best shooter of Besiktas, and I just didn't shoot with anybody else anymore.


Edmund Mcmillen said in an interview that he specifically left out stat numbers in The Binding Of Isaac, because of the same reason. It gives place to more imagination; and actually in this case, the lack of numbers make The Binding Of Isaac a game that has more depth. The lack of numbers can lead the player to second guess his/her decisions and make him/her observe what's happening in the game more.

It won't always work, sometimes you really need to show numbers, or you're just making things harder for the player. I don't know how some games would work without numbers, but I'd like to see. I'd like to see a football manager game without stat numbers, just pure observation. I'd like to see an action RPG without comparing a dozen numbers when getting a new item or armor. Wouldn't that be nice or interesting?

I'd like you, the next time you're putting in numbers in your UI, to consider how much the game needs them. Maybe you can simply put a health bar instead of actually showing how many HP the character has. Just leave more things to the imagination, and let the children fill the gap.

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