Game Development Reference
A DEGENERATE STRATEGY is a strategy that is obviously the best choice
in a given decision.
For example, imagine that the designers of a strategy game add a new
unit, the Chuck Norris. Chuck, being a perfect human, is obviously the
most powerful unit in the game. He can defeat a whole army of soldiers
At first, Chuck might seem like a great design, because he's awesome,
and he gives players what they want. But Chuck actually destroys the game
itself almost as completely as he destroys his enemies.
Adding Chuck Norris to the game has reduced its depth because there
is no longer any decision process in deciding what units to use. No matter
what the situation, the answer is always the same: just send Chuck. He is
a degenerate strategy.
Chuck Norris is a simplified example. In real design, degenerate
strategies are never this obvious. They hide in the emergent interactions
among different tools and mechanics.
For example, in the fantasy RPG The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind , it is
possible to become massively powerful by creating potions that enhance
the player character's Intelligence stat, and then using the newly enhanced
Intelligence to create even more powerful Intelligence-giving potions, in an
exponentially rising Intelligence singularity. Once the player's Intelligence
is a few hundred times that of any reasonable value, the player can mix po-
tions that massively enhance all their other stats forever. So, within a few
minutes of starting the game, the player can create a character that can
leap over mountains and punch dragons to death in one hit. This trick is
simple and easy to execute, and anyone who knows it can nullify many of
the game's carefully crafted challenges. And it's not immediately obvious
from the design of the game that this is even possible.
Even sports can have degenerate strategies. Consider basketball. It's
hard to imagine people exploiting this traditional sport the way they ex-
ploit imbalances in a video game, but it has happened. In the late 1990s
there was a crop of unusual players who were excellent on offense yet
strangely deficient at shooting free throws. Shaquille “Shaq” O'Neal was
the best-known example of this phenomenon. In response, opposing
teams developed a strategy called Hack-a-Shaq in which they intentionally
tried to foul Shaq whenever his team had the ball. In basketball, when a
player physically interferes with another, the referee calls a foul, and the
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