Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong, will.

There are plenty of famous anecdotes demonstrating this axiom, from the way your line at the supermarket will invariably move slower than all the other ones around it, to the way that any expensive thing that you buy will go on sale a couple days after you purchase it. Less talked about, however, is the fact that gaming has its own collection of Murphy's Laws, every bit as irritating and omnipresent as their meatspace cousins.

The weaker and more important the allied NPC, the greater their bravado in charging into danger

Game developers seem unusually proud of their NPCs. So proud, in fact, that they seem to think they make perfect allies and also that you can't possibly allow their sweet, little digital children come to harm. Enter the Escort Mission, that most dreaded of tasks where you are charged with accompanying an NPC and getting them safely to the end of a level. The greatest impediment to you accomplishing that task usually winds up being the NPC is question, as their stupidity is far more of a threat to their wellbeing than any enemy the game puts forth. These are NPCs that will happily traipse into the middle of a firefight, blinding stampeding ahead towards a fortified enemy position.

In any real life analogue, you would probably be telling your VIP to stay put somewhere safe while you scout ahead and take out enemy hostiles; in gaming land, they insist on leading the charge, drawing the attention of every enemy in the area before turning to you to clean things up in the 10 seconds you have between the fight starting and them and you being turned into a kebab. Compounding the problem is that the enemies are often unusually focussed on your escortee, as their hopelessly overoptimistic assessment of their own capabilities is apparently more of a threat than the walking arsenal that is your player character.

Sadly, there isn't much comeuppance you can level at these NPCs. You can't even shoot them to feel better - that's just what Murphy wants you to do.

The more urgent your need to save and quit, the longer it will take you to do so

We've all been there. You have an important appointment coming up, you need to go pick up a family member, your house is on fire, the low battery light starts blinking on your console while you're nowhere near the charger, or some other time-sensitive matter is now approaching. That means, of course, it's time to save and turn off the game. Unfortunately the game knows exactly what you're trying to do - and it won't let you go that easily. This is the exact point where the game will fastidiously throw up obstacle after obstacle to you finishing up, whether that is withholding save points or dropping you into a long, unskippable story sequence. The pressure is on as you will the game to just hurry up and let you save, first with annoyed murmuring, then with out-and-out screaming.

The game knows this. It delights in it. And it will respond by simply taking its time, forcing you to either give up and turn the damn thing off, redoing whatever (probably tedious or difficult) task you just finished or sit their fuming while constantly glaring at the clock until it finally gets bored and deigns to let you finally save and leave.

The useless trinket or long-obsolete antidote you just threw away to make room in your inventory will be requested by an NPC as part of a sidequest in the next town you visit

Few mechanics in gaming are more irritating than the limited inventory, particularly in lengthy JRPGs or Adventure games where you could be holding on to some gear for the better part of your entire adventure. While many modern games have moved to an unlimited inventory, where all items have a spot in your inventory screen, most older games - and even some newer ones, be it for style or simple adherence to convention - still stick with a limited system where your character can only carry so many things before they start throwing them away.

In theory this isn't an issue - whenever you get new gear, you simply sell or toss out the old stuff and continue on your merry way. However, reality - with Murphy's help - delights in throwing a few wrenches in the works. Sometimes gamers will desperately cling onto old gear or long-obsolete items out of the rationale that they may need them later. After all, maybe some future boss will automatically disable all magic, forcing you to rely on the healing items that you'd long since ditched once your White Mage learned the Heal spell. This is especially true if the item is a small, random trinket with seemingly no use whatsoever - why would the game developer bother to even include it if it wasn't meant to be used in a sidequest somewhere?

Gamers can hardly be faulted for this sort of logic. Many are the games that delight in tormenting their players by making them bring some useless bauble from the start of the game if they want to get the super-secret ultimate weapon before the final dungeon. And, of course, if you sell off all your antidotes so you can buy that fancy new sword in town, you can guarantee that the next dungeon will be full of poison enemies that use Super Poison, a variant that only the antidote can cure and that kills your characters in three turns if not tended to.

What's extra aggravating about this one is that getting burned by it a couple times brings out an equally destructive over-correction in gamers, as they can be busy fighting the very-definitely-super-extra-final-boss at the end of the secret bonus dungeon and they will still refuse to use the Ultra Elixir they've been holding onto for the entire game, because what if you have to give it to an NPC afterwards in order to unlock the best ending?

In any tricky platforming sections, the in-game camera will identify the least helpful position it could possibly occupy and resolutely ignore any attempts made to move it to a mildly useful angle

This one's less prevalent than it once was, but at the dawn of the 3D era this iteration of Murphy's Law was absolutely everywhere. One of the less-anticipated challenges of shifting from 2D gaming to 3D is the need for a non-fixed camera. Most 3D games quickly zeroed in on the idea of a "semi-autonomous" camera that would automatically re-orient itself during gameplay while still allowing the player to make manual adjustments. This is, believe it or not, meant to be an aid to the player. Unfortunately, the invisible cameraman is surprisingly adept at finding the absolute worst position to occupy during tricky platforming, at which point it will stubbornly anchor itself in place, refusing to budge no matter how much you threaten, cajole, or tearfully plead with it. Sometimes this is to give the best cinematic view of the action by showing an impressive heroic action-shot of your character leaping to their death instead of turning to point at the platform you're attempting to navigate to; other times, the camera decides that the best time to shift positions is while you are in mid-jump, leading your character to abruptly veer away from your intended destination and into a pit of spikes.

This particular Murphy's Law has slowly started to disappear over the decades as game developers have gotten more used to programming in a 3D space, but every once in a while someone still slips the camerman a bottle of whiskey and you'll find yourself staring at some character's backside instead of the hellish monstrosity whose attacks you've been tasked with dodging.

The more fantastic the randomized loot or RNG results, the more inevitable the player's death

Murphy's Law of Loot Loss and Level Ups is a delightful way for the game to use randomness to utterly screw over a player.

In some games, the rewards you periodically receive over the course of the game are randomized. This can take many forms - maybe the items you receive from treasure chests in the dungeon crawler you're playing are all randomized, or maybe the equipment that a vendor sells has random stats. Maybe the NPC hirelings you meet or the enemies you face are selected randomly, with better rewards for rarer encounters. In these cases, savvy players should immediately be wary of getting great results from the game, because it means that, in all likelihood, an untimely death is waiting for them before the next save point.

Speaking personally, I think I've actually developed some sort of paranoid pathology when it comes to this tendency as it relates to Fire Emblem. For those unfamiliar with the series, each time your character levels up each of their stats has a randomized chance to increase, meaning each level up can be fantastic or terrible. These days, whenever I see one of my important characters get an amazing level up, I feel a pang of nervousness in my gut, and if there's two or three great level-ups in a row, I immediately break out in a cold sweat, now utterly convinced that death via an unlucky crit is mere seconds away (and I'm almost always right).

Note that the inverse of this law is also true. If you are completing a difficult level and get RNG-screwed on loot or some other semi-permanent aspect of the level, it is extremely likely you will complete the level without issue, thus forcing you to either accept the loss and proceed or do the whole thing over again in hopes of better results.

The odds of the player encountering a sudden, violent death are directly proportional to the amount of time since the last save

Have you ever loaded up a game you were playing and died unexpectedly in the first minute of play? Of course you haven't - it just doesn't happen. Your first few minutes of any game, however action-packed they may be, will always be enjoyable and death-free (exceptions granted, of course, if you deliberately saved before a particularly difficult area). But everyone - and I mean everyone - has that painful story of the time they died horribly and unexpectedly, then suddenly realized that they hadn't saved in over an hour.

This sort of error used to be more uncommon, back in the days when games had static save points. However, these days it's more common that a game will let you save anywhere, any time, which paradoxically makes this sort of oversight easier to commit (after all, back in ye olden times it was a simple matter to just use every save point you come across; now you have to get into the habit of periodically saving). The truly annoying part is that your death in these circumstances is often completely unforeseeable. Maybe you were wandering through an area where you are far stronger than the average enemy, only to have a Malboro spawn and Bad Breath your party into status oblivion. Maybe a super-strong boss suddenly ambushed your party out of nowhere, wiping them out before you had a chance to do anything. Either way, the game has now undone the last few hours of your life and it's made all the more frustrating by the knowledge that the fault lies with you and you alone - no RNG-screwage to be blamed for this one. This is usually the time when the player gently puts the game down/throws their controller at the nearest solid surface and goes out for a nice long walk.

The realization that you have made a grievous error will occur approximately a tenth of a second after it is too late to do anything about it

Foresight: knowing then what you realize now. It's an important gaming skill, regardless of whether your game of choice is a frantic, fast-paced action game that calls for quick decision-making, or a turn-based strategy RPG where your every move must be carefully planned out to ensure your units carry the day. In just about any genre, a poorly thought out move can be the difference between victory and defeat.

The problem is, you will frequently spot those mistakes a moment too late to fix them. And I really do mean "a moment". The best example of this trend is Bomberman, where I guarantee that everyone who has ever played the game has, on at least a few occasions, trapped themselves in their starting area with their own bomb, realizing the instant they pressed the button that they had just sealed their own doom. Other variants include making a poorly thought-out move with a unit in an SRPG and locking it in just as you realized there's something else that unit should have done instead, making a move in a puzzle game that completely destroys any chance you had of not dying, and replacing one power-up with another in a platformer just when you realize that you needed the original power-up later in the level. There's even an extra-infuriating version of this law where you spend a few seconds beforehand mentally saying, "Don't do [stupid action], don't do [stupid action], don't do [stupid action]"... and then you immediately do the stupid action you had just been mentally prepping yourself not to do.

It's actually kind of astonishing how rapidly the realization takes place when you make one of these screw-ups, making me believe there's some node of the brain that's responsible for reminding you of important things that gets triggered only once the decision-making process has been completed and instructions have been sent to the muscular system.

The only critical hit you deal in a battle will occur when the enemy has so little HP that a normal attack would have finished them off anyways.

Critical hits, in most "traditional" RPGs, are a random occurrence where your character will suddenly deal extra damage. In theory, this is a tremendously useful way to increase a character's damage output and quickly finish off a troublesome enemy. In practice, though, they may as well not exist because the only time they'll actually happen (outside of the newbie areas where you may or may not be able to crit on every other hit) is when the enemy is already so weak that a flick on the nose could finish them off. If it takes five hits to down an opponent, you can bet that your first four attacks will be regular hits, followed by an impressive but utterly pointless critical just to make sure the enemy is extra-dead.

It's actually astounding how regularly this occurs. Seriously, pay attention next time you're playing a game like Fire Emblem or Pokemon (with one important exception - more on that in a moment) and count how often your characters choose to finish off a mortally wounded foe with the most powerful hit in their repertoire. Statistics says this shouldn't happen nearly as frequently as it does, but Murphy isn't a statistician.

If you wish to damage an enemy but still leave them alive, your odds of scoring a critical hit increase to nearly 100%

There is one situation where the Murphy's Law of Critical Hits does not apply - those rare situations where you actually don't WANT a critical hit. It's rare, but in some games you're trying to damage your target without killing it. Maybe this is because you need to use a special move or item on it in order to get better loot or a special cutscene; maybe you're in the middle of a capture-but-don't-kill sidequest; maybe this is a recruitable character, but you need to rough them up first in order to prove your strength. In these cases, the objective is to whittle your opponent's health down without actually taking off the last bit of the HP bar.

This is, however, where your character will happily unleash the full extent of their power, scoring critical hits like they're going out of style and turning their target into a fine mist.

The biggest example of this trend is the Pokemon franchise where, in order to capture the collectable monsters, a common tactic is to bring their health down as far as possible without killing them (which improves their capture rate). You have to toe a fine line when doing this, though - if you leave the more difficult-to-capture monsters healthy, you can empty your entire inventory of Pokeballs and still not capture your quarry, but drop their health too low and the Pokemon will faint, rendering them unable to be captured (why exactly a Pokemon needs to be conscious in order to be captured is never satisfactorily explained). Enter the Pokemon Corollary, which will take a move that was perfectly suited for dropping your target into the "red health" sweet zone and instead turn it into a Pokemon-murdering massacre tool with a single untimely critical hit. The Pokemon Corollary has a nasty tendency to strike whenever you're facing a particularly rare 'mon, and is in full effect should you ever run into a Shiny Pokemon (ultra-rare variants of the normal mons, which are - in some games - literally thousands of times less likely to show up than the common variants).

You will receive the random item you were previously hoping for immediately after it ceases to be in any way useful to you

Most gamers are familiar with the acronym "RNG". The acronym stands for "Random number generation" - for those unclear on what this means, the dictionary definition is "a system whereby the game gives you the worst possible outcome at the worst possible time for any situation".

Are you barely clinging to life in Smash Bros., praying for a heart container to spawn and heal you? It will... right after you die and respawn with no damage. Are you in first in Mario Kart, desperately cycling through items hoping to get a horn to deal with the blue shell you just know is coming? You'll get one right after that blue shell has dropped you down to third at which point you, of course, will be hoping for some red shells to take out the competitors in front of you (you'll get said red shells just as said competitors are crossing the finish line).

This is Murphy's Law of Random Item Generation, and the higher the stakes, the more guaranteed you are to get utterly worthless trash until the precise moment it is too late to use the gamechanger you finally managed to get.

Conclusion: Murphy was a game developer.

Hope you enjoyed the list!


List by darkknight109Donate directly to the author of this contribution (02/24/2020)

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