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Path of Least Resistance

Out of the multitudes of derogatory, loaded phrases, “Path of Least Resistance” is perhaps the one I dislike the most (“welfare epics” is another top contender). The phrase, in a bit of cognitive Jujitsu, attempts to style strength as weakness. “Path of Least Resistance.” Is that not… efficiency? Optimization? Are we supposed to be seeking the path of most resistance? How is that different from simply Doing It Wrong?

The phrase and its implied meaning is more than contradictory though, it’s often hypocritical as well. At its base, it means expending the smallest amount of effort for the greatest gain. Ask those players who bemoan their peers taking the Path of Least Resistance how they feel about “Play to Win.” Is it “cheating” or unsportsmanlike to spam an uncounterable move over and over to ensure victory? Playing to Win is (usually) the Path of Least Resistance. Fair fights are more difficult, and thus more risky – something to be avoided if possible to make the wins easier and more assured.

Those using Path of Least Resistance as a negative attempt to levy moral failings upon players not even participating in the same game as them; the only game in which the Path of Least Resistance is a negative is the game inside the accuser’s own head. Efficiency and efficacy are, in fact, virtues. It is fine to critique game design that results in unintended or counter-intuitive behavior, such as RvR merry-go-rounds instead of gritty trench warfare. But the critique must always be of the rules, not the minds or motivations that master them.