By Costiyan’s definition, a game token is what you directly manipulate, and by my more elaborate one, the game elements whose behavior is directly dependent on the player’s input. Either way, the relationship between the player and their units in Battletech is interesting.
The piloted unit (for now we’ll just stick to ‘mechs) is obviously a player’s game token. Its physical elements (figure and record sheet) are literally and freely manipulable by the player. In Costikyan terms, the pilot of the unit is a resource – a game element manipulated by use of the token. This is fitting considering the game’s original fiction, where “Life is cheap, Battlemechs are expensive.”
Though the unit-as-token does not have a complete behavioral relationship to the player. Their placement on the field is directly controllable, unless damage or terrain wrests control away from the player. In these instances the unit exhibits independent behavior, the token exhibiting its machine-piloted-by-a-fallible-human character. This character is also exhibited during firing. A player positions the unit in order to make best use of their pilot-as-resource, who, after the weapons and targets are selected, is responsible for the outcome. Luckily for the player there’s a chance for some positive characteristics to shine through (maybe by hitting difficult shots or grouping very tightly).
I’m kinda thinking out loud here, but here are some reflective thoughts on this. Battletech procedurally argues that machines are rather reliable compared to their erratic human counterparts. Pilot performance varies only in its average performance, and all pilots are equally consistent. You’d think that in a combat situation consistency would be just as prized a trait as potential performance (so long as it didn’t make you completely predictable).
It seems a tactical game of Battletech fosters a paternal rather than identity relationship between a player and their pilot-character (even with a detailed character from a rpg based campaign ) ie. The player feels like they are protecting an external persona, rather than acting as a persona.
Well. Procedurally speaking, the game places the player more in the role of a navigator or co-pilot, or perhaps as a commander, kinda. It seems the game could utilize this more by allowing for more variation in how movement behavior is affected by pilots. Maybe the player picks three potential moves, rates them, and rolls to see which is ‘selected by the pilot’. Perhaps the character-player relation could be improved by allowing the player to make decisions related to pilot focus and concentration.
I’m not really advocating rule changes, or new house rules, just thinking.