The person who is playing the upcoming video game Luftrausers in the GIF here understands a basic rule of the game: don't shoot, and your ship will heal. Games are made of simple rules like these. Occasionally, those rules can feel profound.
I'm not saying that Luftrausers is a deep message game. It is, more or less, a game about shooting a lot of stuff while being the best fighter pilot in the world.
It's not a philosophical treatise.
It simply dictates a smart rule that operates with a religious sense of consequence: If you shoot, you'll take damage and not recover; if you stop shooting, your ship will repair itself. (You can see that clearly in a video we shot of the game last spring.)
To put Luftrausers' rule another way, if you're violent, you cannot heal. If you are non-violent, you will mend.
I guess you could write a term paper out of it. Should you do so, be sure to note any precedents. There's no way this game is the first or even the 15th to have a system like that.
Because games are systems, they are full of these interesting kinds of rules and perhaps-accidental morality trade-offs. One of my favorites is the trade-off in the classic Nintendo racing series F-Zero. In those games, your futuristic race car's acceleration and its shields are dependent on one shared energy meter. The meter depletes if you speed up or if you take damage by ramming into competitors. If you fall behind in a race, you can squeeze all of the acceleration out of the meter, but you'll leave your vehicle unshielded, just one little collision away from destruction. If you drive carefully and never take damage, then you'll have more meter left to use on acceleration. It's classic risk vs. reward. It's good game design. It also feels like there may be a life lesson in there. Maybe. Yeah? F-Zero as fable?
I'd learned Luftrausers lesson about shooting and healing back in the spring. Some lessons stick. Some don't. I'd forgotten it by the time I played the game again, this time on the Vita, at a PlayStation showcase yesterday. On the Vita, I approached the game aggressively. I held down the fire button and then wondered why I was taking damage and never recovering. Then I remembered. Some lessons are worth learning twice.
Do you notice things like this when you're playing games? If you have a favorite simple, meaningful video game rule that just might embody some hidden profundity, share it below.