Is Bigger Better? On Size and Scale

Today I intend to tackle that age old question: Does size matter? But I’m not talking about the volume of your junk drawer, I talking about numbers, baby. Big ones.

To the uninitiated, a battle in a role-playing game may look like a convoluted blur of random numbers. After a few hours of play, however, you begin to see method in the madness, like Cypher reading the Matrix. White damage numbers cascade in throngs, green healing numbers twinkle and fade, yellow crits pop up in bold, demanding attention. There is something satisfying about getting these numbers as big as you can, but sometimes games take it a bit too far.

Though for games like Disgaea, taking it too far is sort of the point.

Though for games like Disgaea, taking it too far is sort of the point.

The latest offline installment in the Final Fantasy franchise was numero 13. I won’t be touching on the game’s quality, only its use of numbers. Simply put, the numbers are too damn high. At the outset of the game, characters have 200-300 HP, typical damage is 100 per hit, and enemies have around 1000 health. Why not 20-30, 10, and 100?

Worse still, come endgame the party members have 60,000 HP, typical damage is 5,000-99,999, and enemies have somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000,000 health. This, combined with the game’s fast-paced combat, leaves the screen perpetually veiled by a writhing mass of 2D numerals, and it’s impossible to keep track of what’s happening. Even Rainman couldn’t tell you how many toothpicks fell out of that last combo.

This image is actually from the sequel, XIII-2, but you get the point.

This image is actually from the sequel, XIII-2, but you get the point.

At the other end of the spectrum we have the Paper Mario series. Wherein you start with 10 HP, and end with around 60. You begin doing 1 damage, and finish doing 8-15. Enemy health ranges from 2 to *gasp* 100. The numbers are small, and damage consistent, allowing you to plan out each battle minutely.

You’d think increasing strategy and coherence in battles would attract, but strangely some gamers are put off. Despite being similar enough in ratio, the relative smallness of Paper Mario’s numbers make it seem ‘kiddie’. To be fair though, the cartoony graphics may also have had a part in this conception. But anyone who’s actually played the game can tell you, it’s not just for kids.

I mean, how many 'adult' RPGs have you solving Agatha Christie murder mysteries on trains?

I mean how many kiddie games involve unraveling murder-plots on a moving train, Agatha Christie style?

When I first learned about ratios and fractions in elementary school, I became confused that YTV’s Splatterific gameshow ‘Uh-Oh’ only granted points in multiples of ten. “Fifty Big Points!” the host would call – never 2 or 3 small points. What’s the appeal of bigger numbers? Why do gameshows like It’s Academic, You Bet Your Ass, and Beat the Geeks all grant points by fives and tens? Hasn’t anyone heard of common denominators?

"Somebody's complaining about our lack of common denominators again? Punisher, control!"

“Somebody’s complaining about our lack of common denominators again? Punisher, control!”

It may be that people find big round numbers easier to keep track of. Or perhaps it’s that they are imitating the scales of gameshows which use actual dollars to keep score, where the largeness of the numbers is excusable because they also represent how much the winner(s) walks away with. It could also be that it lends a greater sense of worth to the points. Audiences might not be as excited to see someone answer a difficult question and be awarded a whopping 2 points.

But for the numerically neurotic like me, it’s an annoyance. Won’t somebody please think about the numbers?

Does size (of numbers) matter? And how big do you like yours?


2 thoughts on “Is Bigger Better? On Size and Scale

  1. Anonymous

    Another prime example of bigger not always being better is Magic: The Gather vs Yu-Gi-Oh or other similar card-games. The latter has attack points, defense points and life points at LEAST numbering in the hundred if not thousands, whereas M:TG considers double digits to be a big number. “15 defense? Shit, that creature’s enormous!”

    I find the former more appealing for the simple reason that it’s easier to keep track of. Instead of attacking for 3500 and having to reduce that by, say, 1700, I can attack for 35 and reduce that by 17. And then keep track of that number on a d20 instead of resorting to paper and pencil.

    1. zanderwarren Post author

      I totally forgot about Yu-Gi-Oh! It definitely is guilty of what I was rallying against here. In fact, the unnecessarily large numbers are part of what kept me from playing Yu-Gi-Oh (that and the awful TV show). As I recall the numbers in the Pokemon TCG were also too big. Though at least they were only inflated by a factor of ten, rather than Yu-Gi-Oh’s 100 times factor.
      And thanks for reading!



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