Valar Guild

Diablo 2

Which Game Are You Playing?


(Text had no longer been available on the net until Sirian kindly emailed a copy to Irmo-(Valar) fka Salmar-(Valar)). This article refers to Diablo 2, but can be applied at many levels. Sirian's Page no longer exists.)

Twinking is the act of self-trade, and more specifically, a kind of self-trade that is intended to bypass and ignore the standard game flow. If you give an item from one of your higher level characters to a new character or one of your lower level characters, which that character could not possibly have earned for themselves at that time, that's twinking. Twinking is a loophole in the trade system that Blizzard could not have closed without scrapping trade altogether or introducing top-heavy security features that would only add to the already intolerable lag conditions. The fact that level restrictions are included on some items (and also interviews with the designers and programmers) shows that twinking was viewed by Blizzard as a problem to be avoided, an action to be limited. That their anti-tweak measures are largely ineffective, is its own issue, and the reasons why can be debated elsewhere.

Whether or not Blizzard approves or disapproves really isn't important to this editorial. Twinking is possible, and thus, players (not all players, but most of them) take advantage of this.


That's the question I intend to address.

What, exactly, is a character of "respectable level"? The concept itself is biased, illustrating the majority mindset very clearly. I'd like to take the time to examine this in some detail.

Someone recently made a case for his opinion that clvl 75 is just about the perfect level for a hardcore character. I respect his opinion, but I don't share it, and I'm going to carry his own logic a bit further. He pointed out (rightly so, I think) that the only real difference between clvl 80 hardcore characters, and clvl 90 ones, is a combo of more reliable internet connection and better luck with or better handling of those times when connect is lost. Yet he also turned around to make a case that "player skill" can be meaningfully measured in an ability to survive up to that point.

Fair enough, but I whole-heartedly disagree. If it stops being skill when one has reached clvl 80, and thereafter it's just luck or circumstance of one sort or another... why is level 75 so special? Using the same reasoning, I assert that the last meaningful measure of skill in the game is the third dot: you kill Diablo in Hell, and that's it. At whatever time and level you do that, doing it again later, with higher and higher levels, higher stats, more skill points, better items, is only getting easier, not harder. So after that threshold, what "skill" is it exactly that we are measuring? If the skill is simply the ability to stay alive until level 75, why does it stop being a valid measurement after that point?

What a character's level means is a matter of opinion, even for hardcore, and possibly a bit biased to one's own degree of "luck and circumstance", since the same thing can be said of surviving to level 75, as 80, 90, or pick a number. More survival means consistency over a longer period of time, but it can only come with an equal duration of good fortune in terms of staying connected and so forth. If there are luck factors to surviving, there are luck factors. Luck is not skill. Skill might reduce the odds, but if it can't eliminate the luck requirements, then it can't, and thus survival itself cannot ever be used as a meaningful determinant of skill in that context.

Not everyone is playing the same game, though.

That's really the core of dissention among Diablo 2 players, is it not? NOT EVERYONE IS EVEN PLAYING THE SAME GAME. Which game are you playing? Do you even know?

PKs are playing the "piss you off and ruin your fun" game. Duelists are playing their own game, with its own rules and ettiquette. Softcore ladder players are playing the power leveling game, and hardcore ladder players are playing the "who can last the longest with one character" game. There are collectors, levelers, soloists, coopers, all working toward the same goal: making their characters more and more "powerful". Many are clearly addicted to their pursuits. I think a lot have lost sight of why they started playing, and are just running on automatic now, driven by the need to acquire more and more and more.

Isn't that the drive of the mainstream D2 player these days? A materialistic pursuit, the acquisition of things, be they items, levels, or rankings. Blizzard clearly intended to support this type of play. The gaming industry term for it is "collectible economy" and it's renowned for its addictive properties, the ability to capture the interest of a certain segment of gamers and really hook them hard. All the massive multiplayer games rely on it to keep the revenue flowing in, yet they have to maintain at least a certain level of gameworld integrity, so that items or levels collected retain at least SOME meaning, even if miniscule.

Is it any wonder, then, why players would twink? Why they would make it as easy as possible to acquire the things they seek? Their goals, their values... they are valuing THINGS. Items of rarity that it takes luck+time to acquire. Ladder rankings, even just level ups. When the THINGS you have are all that matters, what difference does it make how you got them? You can even buy them on Ebay! 'Oh look! How COOL! I "have" a level so-and-so character now! Or... a specific item of great rarity, I'll be the envy of many people.'

If you think I'm passing judgement here, think again. I am only observing what's happening. And would you deny that I've generally nailed the description?

And yet... all of these materialistic pursuits, they are not the game. They are NOT the game. They are ways to play the game, reasons to play, reasons to keep playing. They are things you can do with the game. They are ways of turning the actual game into all sorts of new games with value-added goals. And what's wrong with that? Not a thing.

But it seems to me that most players aren't even aware of the original game any more. Why is it that people play games? Well there are two reasons, and they are right there in the dictionary. Check it out:

Game - n. 1) A way of amusing oneself; a pastime; diversion. 2) A set of rules completely specifying a competition, including the permissible actions of and information available to each participant, the probabilities with which chance events may occur, the criteria for termination of the competition, and the distribution of payoffs.

Well, there you have it. In the broader sense, a game is whatever amuses you. Anyone running the Diablo 2 executable, controlling the character, and making it do things (whether or not they advance progress within the plot) is playing a game. But what game are they playing? The Diablo 2 program is an actual game fitting the second, more specific definition. There are rules built in to what the game allows. There are permissible actions, limited information, chance events, a definite end to the game (kill Diablo, game over), and a very limited payoff at the end (get your dot, er... title, showing you've finished). Characters are the game pieces, and this game is designed to allow unlimited reuse of game pieces from game to game, as players see fit. (There's a game within that game, the Hardcore game, in which the game piece can only be reused until it has been defeated, or killed).

To those who play the actual game (you know, start a NEW character, kill monsters, find items, add to skills/stats, complete quests, kill Diablo, repeat once in Nightmare and again in Hell, Diablo dies, game over) twinking falls outside the parameters of that game, is only even POSSIBLE due to trading exploits and loopholes that could not be closed in multiplayer, and negates any value in the accomplishments made during the game.

But it all depends on which game you are playing.

If you are ignoring the stricter game with its intended flow (transferring items to new or low level characters they could NOT possibly have acquired on their own at that point) then you are definitely no longer playing the original game. You are still playing a game, in the broader sense of the first definition, but you've crossed the line of the second definition, you've gone outside the bounds of that game.

So why are you playing? What is it about the game that you value? Your performance as a player? Are you hoping to say, "Look What I Did!" -- even if only to yourself?

Or are you all about "having" things? Acquiring items, level ups, and rankings? "Look what I Have!"

This is an important distinction. They give out medals at the Olympiad every four years, and it's possible to buy such a medal if someone who earned one puts it up for sale. But there will always be a difference between "having" a medal and "earning" a medal. This also shows up in that the integrity of the games are dependent upon maintaining certain standards.

Cheat - 1) To deceive by trickery; to swindle.

If one breaks the rules of the games in order to win a medal, that medal is not considered to be "earned". If you deceive by trickery, breaking rules but pretending to be competing honestly, you are cheating. You are cheating the game, your fellow competitiors, and yourself most of all, and you know it.

But cheating only exists if there is deception and trickery, if there is dishonesty. More specifically, it's only cheating in a game if you break the rules but claim you didn't, or break the rules and conceal it, or lay claim to having earned an achievement or made a performance within a specific game, when in fact you did not follow the rules.

If you break rules but are NOT playing the game in the sense of definition two, then it becomes something else. One can break rules all day and night when "practicing" a game, with no consequences -- unless the practice has its own set of rules. One can change the rules to suit himself and play any game he likes -- it just won't be accepted as "official" or "standard" by the sporting/gaming community.


For those who long since grew bored with Diablo 2 or never cared about the actual game to begin with, and are playing for other reasons now (such as gaining a ladder ranking, "leveling up" for its own sake, building the "baddest" uberchar they can construct, playing the trading or PvP angles, collecting items, or just trying to see how long they can stay alive in Hardcore) twinking is irrelevant to all the goals they value, and so is any sort of challenge factor. These players could care less about challenge, they are in as collectors of material things of one sort or another, be it items, ladder rankings (hard or soft), "powerful" characters, or some other material possession they can point to and say (at least to themselves) "Look What I Have!"

In that context, twinking is just another means to the end, and is not only accepted but expected, demanded, and celebrated in a society of players all focused on having and collecting.


These two groups of players don't see eye to eye on anything at any level at any point about this game, not any more. Their goals, measurements, stories, tactics, and entertainment values are all but mutually exclusive.

Even the phrasing of such innocent terms like "respectable level" are automatically insulting to those not at all interested in collecting levels for its own sake. I personally do not have any chars over clvl 55 and that's not ever likely to change. Does this mean my skills and perforances are not respectable? Incredibly enough, yes, for a lot of players, who only value what a player has, and not what he has done or can do.

When I call twinking cheating, I do so in reference only to the actual game and any accomplishments made therein, and not to all these side pursuits of collectors of various forms. If people want to go collect things in a video game, hey, have fun. Just don't insist I follow along, and DO NOT demand my recognition of your collected whatevers, because I don't personally place any value at all on those things. I value what a player can DO.

Show me what you can do, in a circumstance laid out with the second definition of "game", and I'll be interested. You don't have to adhere to the standard game. There IS a standard game there, the single player game. Then there's the multiplayer game, but that unfortunately is fuzzied a bit by trading, which can be exploited (twinking is a trading exploit, IMO), and by lag (which is the game cheating AGAINST you), and by all sorts of other oddities and irregularies and loopholes. Then there are "variants", in which players set up additional restrictions and rules, or even sometimes make exceptions to the standard rules (some variants, for example, include limited and very specific twinking options/requirements). Whatever you find interesting, if you standardize it so that the challenges can be understood and measured, and the focus is on overcoming some specific adversity, then you've got a defined game, as opposed to a pastime.

Those who twink object to the notion that twinking is cheating. Well, if you aren't playing the game, it's not cheating. However, if you want to claim to have accomplished anything, to have "earned" a recognition of whatever sort, you're swindling people if you twinked. Twinking is the antithesis of the true sportsman, in a sporting, competitive sense. And if you are laying claim to an achievement, you are passing yourself off as a sportsman of the game.

Not all self-trade qualifies as twinking. If you trade an item to a character, and that other character could have found said item on his own, that's self-trade. It's no longer pure, in the way the single player game is laid out, but trading is an option in multiplayer, and where to draw the line on what constitutes reasonable trade versus what crosses the line into twinking, is a subjective matter. You have to decide for yourself. The less dramatic the items that are handed down, the less impact it has on the purity or in some views the legitimacy of the character and their adventures/achievements.

Twinking can be used to experiment, to skip (or at least reduce time spent in) parts of the game not of immediate interest, and that's fine. Yet this is equivalent to practicing certain holes on a golf course, just skipping the ones not of immediate interest to get to the specific problems you want to practice or "work on" -- or certain situations and problems on a chess board, where you take pains to set up a certain type of situation you might be unlikely to encounter by chance in the playing of a normal game. This is not actually playing the game in the second definition. Nothing wrong with that! I practice, too. I experiment. I just accept that I'm goofing around to have fun with some particular part of the game or to learn about it, and not actually "playing a game of Diablo 2" in the stricter sense.

Those who describe twinking as cheating are talking about the game in the sense of the second definition. But... truly, only a handful are playing that game. Most are just marking time at their pastime, collecting whatever it is they are drawn to spend time to collect. These are not cheaters, they are amateurs. They play around with the game, but do not play "the game" in the stricter sense. No problem.

BUT... don't come to me with your opinions about what is a "respectable level" for a character, with no recognition whatsoever of the sporting side of Diablo 2, then come whining when those who do play it as a game instead of a diversion scoff at your list of characters in your signature because they're all twinked-out cookie-cutter uberchars.

No offense intended. Just recognize that most twinkee players get dismissed by sporting players to various degrees almost every time they open their mouths, when they start making claims about what they have. I'll stop calling twinking "cheating" in recognition of the fact that you aren't playing the original game anyway, and it therefore doesn't matter, if you will stop spreading around your assumptions as gospel that a player should be measured by THINGS: items, characters, rankings, levels.

In a deeper sense, I can only shake my head in bafflement. What is SO appealing about collecting? All the value is placed on externals. That's akin to measuring the value of human beings based on their material wealth. I suppose many actually DO that, so perhaps this is just an in-game extension of that, the mad dash to be the one at the end of the day with the most toys. Yet, I suppose I'm genuinely SHOCKED that such a large proportion of people, even if most of them are just kids playing a video game, place so LITTLE value on themselves, their abilities, their personal power, on what they can DO, and so much on externals, on material things. What does this say about the way we are raising our children?

The problem doesn't lie with the collecting, though. Collecting can be an amusing pastime, a harmless diversion. The harm only enters when people draw conclusions about worth, status, ability, and expertise, based on what has been collected. In such a world, the temptation to cheat is strong, because only the ends are valued. Any available means to those ends are employed, especially when there are no consequences.

Let me put that another way. How many of these mainstream D2 players, the ones who twink as much as they can whenever they can, would go out tomorrow and get a new trainer program to give themselves free levels or god mode if one became available that would work for Realm characters? How many of these players are the same folks who DID THAT in Diablo 1 because they COULD?

What game are you playing? Do you even know?

Are you satisfied with that game? Or bored with it but continuing anyway out of pure addiction?

Whether I agree with it or not, I respect your right to play any game you like, any way you like. And if none of my characters are of "respectable level" in your eyes... and if none of them meet your personal criteria of what is valuable and honored in this game universe... that's your loss, not mine.

Good luck and best wishes.

- Sirian

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