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Questioning the Crutch

Laura Genender Posted:
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Community Blog Spotlight - Questioning the Crutch

Over-powered skills and abilities in games are often referred to as "crutches". Today, Laura Genender takes a look at an MMORPG.com blog that brings the idea of "the crutch" into question.

I’m a hardcore MMORPG player, but I spend some time in the other game genres, too – RTSes, offline RPGs, and FPSes. Up until the recent release of Team Fortress 2, my favorite online FPS was Halo 1. I liked the ability to jump into a quick game and tear through some red (or blue) guys.

Yet for all the fun I had in Halo, the community found one of my hitherto unknown pet peeves: the crutch concept. When I dive-bombed a team of blue guys and slammed them into death with my Banshee, the last thing I wanted was to hear “Shee sucks, get some skill!” I could play without the Shee just fine – hell, I was even an expert at shooting down enemy Banshees with a pistol and a shotgun. But when presented with a weapon that easily confused, demoralized, and outright massacred my enemies, why wouldn’t I use it?

This week in the blogs user tonyd brings up this very question as it pertains to MMOs. “The term crutch seems used and abused when it comes to game mechanics that people don’t like,” he states. He then gives the basic formula for this common statement: “____ ability is a crutch.” Fear is a crutch, stealth is a crutch, your super high DPS nuke is a crutch.

For tonyd, this concept is altogether confusing. “I think it’s to the point that if you have an ability that someone considers overpowered, it’s a crutch. I tend to define a class by its advantages and weaknesses. So my definition of a stealth class is that stealth should be a crutch. A stealthier should be at optimum portential when he is stealthed and gets the opener. A stealthier should be weakened if he attacked first, thus defining the class based upon its weaknesses.”

While this is one of the smaller posts that has made the Blog Spotlight list, it is perhaps one of the ones I agree with most. How is an advantage a crutch? We gamers, for the most part, are inherently min-maxers. We go for the ultimate build, the fastest levelers, the best PvPers. The problem, in my opinion, does not rest with the gamers. That’s like giving a handyman a hammer, then telling him it’s a crutch and he should just pound nails in with his feet. The problem is with unbalanced design or perceived unbalanced design.

Take, for example, my Banshee case – everyone felt that a Banshee was far overpowered and it was impossible to kill. Well, I’ve certainly taken the time to disprove that; Banshees have horrible turn radiuses, and with a shotgun to the nose and a pistol chaser a Banshee will fall fast and furious. It’s the same in MMOs – a lot of strengths also have weaknesses that are hugely detrimental if not treated properly.

This is not to say that all unbalanced designs are simply in player perception; balance is one of the hardest parts of a combat system, especially one that must serve with cooperative (PvE) and combative (PvP) settings. Throw in solo gameplay and…well…we’re giving the designers a massive task.

There will always be a flavor of the month, that has some skill or ability or item that acts as their “crutch.” It’s the game designers’ job to counter that – but it’s also our jobs as players. If one class feels largely overpowered, I feel that we should do our best to find the way to kill them. Sometimes it sucks to be the underdog, but it makes victory that much sweeter.


Laura Genender