In the context of a game, mechanics serve as the intermediary in constraining and translating will into permissible actions, but the preceding cognitive steps remain unabstracted. Players are advantaged by optimizing and enhancing their individual or collective ability to observe, orient and decide to maximize the desired effects of their actions.
Various designs of cooperative games often emphasize and privilege cognitive processes of varying periods, frequency, intensity, complexity, and type. In order to better describe the dynamics of cooperative games, I will cover a non-exhaustive list of certain areas of cognitive responsibility as informed by the broad roles of a self-contained independently operating military unit.
A team’s actions are often at the service of accomplishing specific goals. The purpose of strategy is to come up with the overall plan of action, and collection of intermediate requirements in pursuit of some larger desire. Sometimes the overarching goals will be externally defined by the game’s definition of victory, however strategies are usually nested, and may employ smaller-scale recursive versions to achieve supporting subordinate goals.
In the context of a game, given specific goals, strategies can be devised and used to govern how points are allocated in a tech tree, in the assignment combat roles, in the construction/placement of objects, and in successful navigation.
Tactics revolve around the concerns of accomplishing specific narrow ends to maximum effect. As opposed to strategy that is about the plan to attain big goals, tactics are about the means of achieving a thing. If strategy demands that a space remain clear, tactics would dictate how to clear said space as quickly and cheaply as possible. Tactics can be refined over time and adapted to changing circumstances, and are closely related to the process of heuristic development.
Logistics is the concern of organizing, sequencing, allocating, and orchestrating human and material resources in multi-faceted endeavors. If strategy demands that something be acquired, and tactics governs how it should be captured, logistics would be concerned with who will do it, and that they have what they need in order to do it.
The execution of complex actions involving multiple individuals can be enhanced through deliberate timing, sequencing, organization, positioning, and prioritization. In this coordination can make the difference between success and failure. For that reason, command structures on warships employ coordination at multiple levels to ensure proper and timely performance of complex tasks and procedures. The act of coordination often benefits from the clarity of hierarchical organization, however, highly trained teams can contextually adapt their actions in a coordinated fashion like players on a soccer team. In a cooperative game, individuals working with imperfect information are reliant on the perspective of their teammates to fill in what they do not know or cannot see.
Decisions are often made better when in made in light of more and better information. In situations where the necessary body of information is impractically vast, models are meaningfully nuanced, or the necessary skills are sufficiently differentiated as to preclude a single individual to be in possession of everything, the team can expand it’s collective capability through localized depth. Expertise can refer to extensive knowledge or skill, and in the context of a team, it is often one of the vectors of specialization. Whether it is at the service of process optimization, strategic development, or tactical refinement, decision making can benefit from access to encyclopedic facts, situational expertise, and experience-borne insights.
Alternatively, sometimes it is the access to the mundane, as opposed to the arcane, that might reveal the critical pieces of information necessary to make the right move. Seldom exciting, and often vital, the process of accounting involves the meticulous tracking of items, quantities, and qualities; observing, recording, and projecting trends, anomalies, and exceptions.
Vigilance is about cognitive endurance. It’s watching shadows, reading instrumentation, or anything else that might reveal or highlight the things that would otherwise escape notice. It’s time intensive and unrelenting. It demands patience and discipline. It’s the way that a team stands any chance of detecting something subtle, or minor, or glacially paced as early as possible.
The act of maintenance is the custodial duty of upkeep. It may be tedious, but catastrophe can come from minor failures and neglected weaknesses. In games, this is often the most obvious in scenarios involving building like survival crafting games. For example, in 7 Days To Die, a single weakened voxel of cobblestone may become the future breach from which the zombie horde will pour through to eat your team. However, lesser versions of this same mental activity is expressed in the ammo check before a raid in Tom Clancy’s The Division, or in the equipment and potion distribution before a siege in Lineage II, or a quick walk through below-decks after a fight to check for errant cannonball holes in the hull on your pirate ship in Sea of Thieves.
Analysis is the study and scrutiny of any of the preceding practices or resultant data and experiences. The largest part of improvement is figuring out what did and did not work well. The challenge of analysis is in navigating what is known, and minding what is yet still unknown. It entails investigation, contemplation, theorizing, and assessing. On the smallest scale, it’s the basic feedback loop by which we attempt to maximize any present effort, but can span larger periods as players attempt to optimize processes, maximize yields, minimize costs, and search for insights which might inspire the next rung on the heuristic ladder.
Executive Decision Making
Executive decision making is about making considered and informed decisions. It may be in the form of casting a deciding vote between mutually exclusive paths, arbitrating between competing interests, or even sanity checking a gut instinct. Though sometimes hierarchical, it needn’t necessarily be. In cooperative contexts, the executive decision maker may be a rotating seat from circumstance to circumstance, a collaborative process, or the responsibility of an individual. In laterally structured teams, the executive decision can fall to a neutral third party, a subject matter expert, or simply the individual with the greatest emotional investment. Though each player is ultimately the executive of their actions from moment to moment, weightier decisions that impact the team and present a collectively borne cost may be discussed amongst team members, but before actions can be taken, a decision must be made.
In cases where there is room for maneuvering, individuals may have to find a suitable solution somewhere within the possibility space. In the navigation of individual and collective interests, negotiation is the practice by which players will have to present their case and make their peace. In cooperative games this is an on-going activity and ultimately the heart of the social interaction that makes cooperative games enjoyable.