Theorycrafting: The Mathematics of Video Games

Parents often scoff at video games because they see them as time sinks that kids should stay away from. Multiple studies have shown that video games can develop faster reflexes, encourage teamwork and cooperation, and improve strategy and leadership. Video gamers are also exposed to different languages and cultures. 

Of course, video games also have downsides. Playing video games can lead to aggression, poor sleeping habits or insomnia, and depression. Too much screen exposure can lead to deteriorating eyesight or overall health. It is important for kids to learn how to balance video games with their studies. For some, intertwining both can lead to a productive study in math, known as theorycrafting.

Imagine that you’re playing a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game) and you find yourself being a weak link to the team because your damage is peanuts despite having the best equipment. On the other hand, your teammate is doing quadruple damage numbers with minimal effort. Why? It’s because they have the most optimal stats and equipment for their character, allowing them to do massive damage. 

This is the product of theorycrafting, which is the mathematical analysis of game mechanics to discover optimal strategies and tactics. It involves analyzing statistics, hidden systems, or underlying game code in order to glean information that is not apparent during normal gameplay. Any game that utilizes stats, weapons, or other gear will have their own community of theorycrafting, which can often be found online.

The purpose of theorycrafting is to gain competitive advantage through analyzing game systems. This can make games more accessible to players, especially with those with disabilities, handicaps, or cannot clear difficult content easily. Theorycrafters can also influence game design by discovering dominant or unintended strategies that the developers did not intend to include, which can lead to future fixes or introductions of these strategies through new characters or mechanics.

Each gaming community approaches theorycrafting from different ways, but each community often has standardized formulas, methods, and terminology that they abide by. They share their findings online, usually on a dedicated website or other social media platforms, for public viewing, and often update the information if the game releases new patches or mechanics. As every theorycrafter operates differently, there will always be a variety of information available and players often decide how to build their characters based on their own play style and interests.

How do you start theorycrafting?

Most games have their own theorycrafting community. Its size can vary depending on its player base – large games would have hundreds, if not thousands of theorycrafters, whereas smaller games might have a handful, or a few that make casual calculations. Theorycrafting is often taken for granted and is a thankless job, but those who truly appreciate the game and calculations are happy to do it.

Here are some ways that you can connect with your chosen game’s theorycrafting community:

  • Find the central theorycrafting hub. It’s common for gaming communities to have an official (or unofficial) Discord, where someone can direct you to the specific theorycrafting community. In larger communities, there may be multiple theorycrafting spaces, so it’s all a matter of aligning yourself with people who follow the same methods as you.
  • Engage with discussions about theorycrafting. If you’re just starting out, look online and answer questions from players about characters and equipment. This can generate conversations about your theorycrafting or happy players getting answers they need.
  • Share your findings with others. Whether this is with a small group of friends or online players, making posts on social media, or commenting on an ongoing discussion, the point of theorycrafting is to share information and grow. Without sharing your thoughts, you won’t learn new techniques or understand different perspectives from other theorycrafters.
  • Don’t be afraid of failure. There isn’t any actual failure in theorycrafting, just like with math. Don’t hide from your mistakes and learn from them, especially if you aren’t certain about your theorycrafting strategies.
  • Read and comment on other theorycrafting guides. This will allow you to understand how other theorycrafters present their work and you can familiarize yourself with names of other theorycrafters that you may work with or discuss numbers with.

Theorycrafting is often seen as high-leveled gaming, but in actuality, it allows for accessibility because gamers of all levels will be able to clear difficult content. The next time you see a guide for beginners floating around online, you’ll know that it was thanks to a theorycrafter that the guide has helped many get into the game. And who knows? Maybe it’ll have your name published along with it. 

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