Games Aren’t Best When Things Go Wrong

By John Walker on October 24th, 2012 at 11:00 am.

Botinacula, since you asked.

Yesterday Jim wrote a superb piece arguing that games are best when everything is going wrong. That the measure of a game’s potential for generating anecdotes, and its depth of connection to the player, is based in the amount of peril it’s able to generate. Citing games like Day Z, FTL and XCOM, Jim’s argument made one small mistake: it was all wrong. Games aren’t best when they’re stressing you out, piling on the pressure, raising your anxiety levels to breaking point! Games are best when they embrace you into their wonderful worlds, telling you great stories, and letting you get away from the incessant worries of real life.

I can think of little I want less from a game than a moment of pure, panicked stress. As someone for whom anxiety has been an ongoing issue, games offer me wonderful escapism from a reality that insists on making me fill in tax returns and sends me letters from bailiffs just because I didn’t get around to paying some silly £30 customs fee. Real life insists that I somehow not only remember everything I need, but also make it to the train station before the train arrives, and not have left my wallet on the table. Before then cancelling said train, ensuring that the connection I cannot miss if I’m going to make my flight is in real danger of being evaded, as I realise my passport is still in the drawer. Why on Earth would I want gaming to simulate these moments, with the added potential of death?

Gaming has so much potential for offering escape from peril. From pre-conceived narratives to be delivered to you via your interaction with the story, to abstract puzzling concepts. From procedurally generated worlds to explore, to challenging platformers to master. And then there are indeed the power fantasies like Dishonored, where no matter how wrong it seems to be going, you’re always more powerful than the challenge, always able to overcome.

For me the very worst moments of Minecraft are when there are three Creepers in your home, and you know something’s going to be destroyed no matter what you do. This previously serene world, beautifully explorable and your template on which to construct, is invaded by the terror of peril. Indeed, the appearance of these green demons is in fact an act of terrorism. Even if you somehow survive the encounter, your hard work likely will not, damage will be done to that you spent so long caring for, and it’s now only about panic and damage control. Oh joy – or I could get involved in a car accident and simulate a similar set of emotions.

I’m not arguing against challenge here. Overcoming obstacles is one of the finest aspects of gaming, one of those crucial elements that’s often forgotten when people are idiotically trying to distance gaming from film, as if the two are in any need of being distinguished. Mastering something, improving your skills, becoming more talented at an aspect of a game – that’s all obviously wonderful. But I don’t need to feel the stress of knowing everything’s on the verge of going horribly wrong in order to experience this.

And I’m not going to avoid celebrating the pure joy of being told a straight, pre-written story, during which there isn’t even the potential of panic. It’s terribly unfashionable now, for a game to already know its ending, and not deviate from it no matter what you do throughout, but it remains something glorious when that story is good enough. Yes, no matter what level of involvement you have, no matter how simple or complex progression may be, you’re still just turning pages in an already-written book. But that, as too many seem to have forgotten, is a good thing, when that story is good enough. Yes, games are capable of doing other stuff, but that’s no reason not to embrace the experience of a narrative on this medium. And here peril can exist in the story being told, without causing your hands to blindly flap about between keyboard and mouse, knowing that one mistake means the last seven hours of play will be lost.

Yes, of course I understand the jubilant pleasure of surviving gaming peril. Overcoming is always satisfying, and the rush of adrenaline followed by endorphins is clearly a pleasing chemical cocktail. But they’re also like the flood of hormones a mother receives after giving birth, helping her forget the sheer awfulness she just went through, and enabling her to do it once again. They have you forget just what a miserable time it was beforehand. And of course we selectively remember these moments instead of the many more times we failed, where the stress won and the game was lost, and we were forced to try yet again. In other words, we lie to ourselves in order to make it all seem worthwhile.

Whereas when I play Dishonored, I will win. Because I am best. I have the best abilities, the best powers, and can outwit and outlast these lesser men. When I play Saints Row: The Third, despite being outnumbered by dozens of times, I’m so ludicrously brilliant that I will nearly always overcome, especially if it involves missiles. When I play Minecraft, until the sodding Creepers spoil it, I can live and construct and explore in peace. When I sit down with a new adventure game, I can be told a story which I will directly experience and uncover.

Okay – let me be slightly more honest here – I do like a moment of stress. I do like that heart-skipping thrill of nearly getting caught and just escaping, those moments where you completely forget how to jump as the enemies approach from behind and your hands turn into starfish. But I enjoy these moments when I know that the consequences are not so severe that I’ll lose hours and hours of gaming that I’ve cared about. Sure, when it’s Dungeons Of Dredmor, and as much fun as I’m having I’ve not really invested myself or my emotions into the last couple of hours, sure it’s different then. But no, peril, panic, the threat of losing everything – that’s not what I want from gaming at all. Life spends far too much time threatening to kill those we care about, abruptly ending stories, or invading happy times with peril and sadness. Why on Earth would I turn to gaming for more of that?

Games aren’t best when things go wrong. They’re best when things go right.

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251 Comments »

  1. Sheng-ji says:

    There are so many games offering such a wide spectrum of experiences, there really is a game to match each and every one of our tastes. And there’s farming sims too.

    • atticus says:

      Yes, different games for different occasions and tastes.

      I love playing through the hectic set-pieces of a well orchestrated action scene, but sometimes all I really want to do is drink a glass of wine and play some Transport Tycoon Deluxe with no opponents.

      • Velko says:

        YES. OpenTTD without opponents is a magnificent way to spend a nice and quiet evening. Build a system at your leisure, no hurry, see things click together… There’s always something to optimize so you can go on and on.

        • ikbenbeter says:

          OpenTTD is such a nice game to do when you’re on the train because it is deep, not action oriented, you still notice when your stop is coming AND relevant.

      • stupid_mcgee says:

        Exactly. I love playing some TF2 and other fast-paced games, but sometimes I want to just sit back and enjoy some Tropico4 (with cheats), Total War series, The Walking Dead, Chime, Populous 2, or even do some gathering and crafting in Guild Wars 2.

        Sometimes I like to slow down the pace, get out of the hardcore games, and just putz about. I get this urge more an more as I get older.

        To borrow from Mogwai, “hardcore may never die, but you will.”

        • Jumwa says:

          I boggle at the young man I was almost two frightening decades ago that sat before a games console and mastered every game I played, even going so far as to beat the toughest of tough Megaman (or whatever else) games with one life and no power ups.

          These days every new game I get is set down to the lowest difficulty setting for a relaxed pace. I have no patience for the stresses of competitive gaming, and my time in Guild Wars 2 is decidedly spent duoing soloable content with my partner.

          Yes, right there with you on that sentiment.

          Also: I read the piece the other day (or at least tried to, I couldn’t stomach another argument that games need to be ‘tougher’) and immediately thought, “John Walker must come to the rescue and show them how wrong they are!” And he did. Our hero.

        • Bluerps says:

          I feel the same way. I love beating a challenging game – figuring out how it works, getting more skilled, and then win it (or not) after failing numerous times. I’m enjoying an XCOM Ironman game right now, I’ve played FTL a lot and I recently spent some time erecting a Dwarf Fortress (until it got destroyed).

          But I also love to play games that are rather low on challenge. Like Saints Row: The Third – I had so much fun with that, but it almost never got challenging in any way. The hundreds of hours I spent with building stuff in Minecraft are another example.

          It really depends on my mood what I want from a game. When are games best? When they provide the experience I want to have at that moment.

          • Ateius says:

            Saints Row gets even better – if you play it enough and gather enough cash and respect, it rewards you with the ability to unlock and purchase upgrades to increase your damage resistance, with the ultimate upgrade being invulnerability. Then you truly become the god of mayhem and chaos the game casts you as.

          • Bluerps says:

            I know! I jumped from the highest building in the city, without a parachute, just because I could.

      • Gnoupi says:

        I find Startopia to be exactly answering to this need, for me.

        My space donut station is progressing, at a nice pace. Sure, I can have the occasional disaster if I let dirt accumulating, and those bloody cats roam freely, but that would be the only possible disaster.

        Don’t get me wrong, there are things going not ideally. But their range is quite limited. I won’t lose hours of play. The only stressing part, after a while, is actually answering for all space traders without them running away… but even this is not a huge loss.

        And I see my station growing, profiting, even if it’s not optimal. I do a lot of little things to help it run even better. I watch them relax in the garden (in which I let things grow, no harvesting).

        And I enjoy a lot this time, calm, with something that is pleasant and stable.

        • Dances to Podcasts says:

          Startopia is the bestest.

          • Gnoupi says:

            Most of all, it doesn’t scale difficulty with time spent or with expanding. Sure, you can deal with more things. But you don’t have the Sim City or Evil Genius effect that the more you progress, the harder challenge it becomes.

        • mr.black says:

          For me it’s Civilization on Warlord difficulty. Not too challenging, but not boring and at least with some easy company. I can watch my civilization grow, expand, I try to be friendly with neighbors, don’t want to annihilate them even if I could, just growing my own country, exploring strange new world… It can suck hours (and loads of frustration)!

          • Gnoupi says:

            Ah, yes, I do that too (mostly in Civ4). I focus on expansion, culture, wonders, for the pleasure of seeing it grow peacefully.

            And then I’m usually punished by the diplomatic AI which suddenly makes my neighbour, my friend of 1000 years, decide that he must annihilate me. He then takes all my cities, as I have no army, and I close the game, frustrated.

            Note that it does happen even more often in Civ5, but I actually see them deploying enough force to take a city only once out of 10. It’s usually “We declare war”, then “30 turns pass, no troops on sight”, then “this war was long, let’s end it”.

    • Filden says:

      I suppose it comes down to which slot you most fit under something like the DGD1 model. It’s not as simple as “Hardcore vs Casual”. This article seems to be written mostly from the viewpoint of the type 3 gamer, who is looking for an escapist experience with minimal challenge.

      For my part, I’m a pretty textbook type 2. Regardless of genre, I need problems to solve, strategies to explore, options to experiment with, and skills to master. If those don’t exist, or there’s only one way to play, or worse, if all decisions are equally effective, there’s no “game” there for me, and I rapidly lose interest. Conflict and consequence are usually how I measure the effectiveness of those things. It’s not that causal games can’t fulfill those needs, but they frequently don’t.

      I appreciate things like story, scenery, and thrilling set pieces. But they aren’t central to why I’m playing a game, or even to how I define something as a game. I read a couple novels a week on average, and find games, in general, to be a profoundly inferior vehicle for storytelling. That’s not what I’m looking for in them. They can, however, be an effective engine for story *creation*, which I find much more interesting, assuming the game gives me a robust set of tools, options, and strategies with which to create that story.

      • Cadence says:

        Thanks for the link, I was a bit skeptical about categorizing players but actually I found that T3 is a pretty good description of me (although I would argue that the type also depends on the game, sometimes I want to be the conqueror or manager etc).

        It’s not that I want everything to be very easy or without challenge, but I think the challenge should fit the ‘context’. E.g. In XCom the main mission of protecting earth should be a challenge, but each individual battles don’t have to be huge challenge for me to have fun. A though mission every now and then is ok, though.

        • Filden says:

          Yeah, I would never suggest that people can be perfectly pegged into neat categories. I’m a solid type 2, but occasionally overlap into type 1 (but only to the extent that doing so satisfies my type 2 needs). But I do find it reasonable to think that people tend to respond to games most often along one of those lines.

          The problem is the game industry (and the audience in large part) is still primarily fixated on the whole “hardcore vs casual” distinction, when it’s really more of a matter of making games that cater to the different needs of different parts of the audience, or making sure there’s something to appeal to all types in your game. Level of overall challenge is often a secondary concern. It’s more important how the game is or isn’t challenging to different people.

          • Pindie says:

            I find it interesting that popular multiplayer shooters as COD seem to have a mixed audience of T4 and T1 minority…
            The T1 realize their power fantasy by racking up kills on people who just want to enjoy the visuals…

            The industry is still very confused about the whole idea indeed. At least the marketing is.
            CoD is mostly played as a casual game but the marketing keeps talking about “core player” (apparently they are not allowed to say “hardcore”?). It comes out weird.

          • Filden says:

            Re:CoD

            Well, like I said, it’s not as if a single game can’t appeal to multiple types. The most successful games usually do.

            Here’s another article by the designer of the game Ghost Master, who discusses why he thinks the game failed, while referencing some of the same concepts in the previous link. It wasn’t a case of a hardcore vs a casual distinction. It was a sometimes a case of not giving portions of your intended audience something to sink their teeth into (among many other mundane reasons.)

      • Pindie says:

        That’s a very nice read.
        I agree Hardcore vs casual is an oversimplification and I think the link covers most of player types you encounter.

        I initially thought I was T1 but then I got to multiplayer games behavior and realized I actually do not fit in with T1 and fall in T2. The repeated revisiting of TFTD might also be a clue.

        IMO this classification is nuanced and much better, not stained by connotations.

        I think the authors fall in T2 and T4 (in order of appearance of articles).

      • Lord Byte says:

        It seems over the years I changed from a Type 1 into a Type 2. I’m now fully Type 2, and ONLY play games versus other players IF I play with friends and I can reach and hold the required skill level for it to be the right amount of challenging in a timely fashion.
        I stopped playing BF3 as I can’t bring myself to play it on my own regularily to keep my skill-level up, and it requires quite a bit more than once a week to keep it on a playable level with friends. So I rather not play it.
        I prefer coop, but for Torchlight I hated Elite and rather played Veteran in coop, not that we couldn’t handle Elite, it was just that in coop Elite you had no “buffer’, you either knew a strat or died multiple times figuring it out.

  2. Deadly Habit says:

    Dare I say it… casual.

    • Koshiir Ra says:

      What is a casual gamer? What is a casual game? John writes that he enjoys playing Minecraft, Dishonored and Adventure Games. Are these games that fall into the “casual” category?

      I think the word “casual” is thrown around far too much without even being properly defined. Often people use it as an insult-like word to describe people that play less and with a different mindset than themselves.

      Gamers and people in general don’t fit neatly into categories. Categories can help, but I think that there is a whole spectrum of gaming behavior and it can’t just be divided into “casual” and “non-casual”.

      • jrodman says:

        Gamers and language, so infrequently a comfortable pair.

        Gamers like to abuse terms, reuse them over and over for as many purposes as possible, while being underclear in what they mean. Stock phrases are re-purposed to mean new concepts without any consideration at the lack of clarity this causes. When a sentence would be clear, gamers will typically prefer a catchphrase, or possibly an acronym or single word.

        Sometimes these patterns manifest themselves in a single word. “Casual” is a good example. There’s really no telling what a gamer might mean in tone, content, or implication when the word is used in gaming circles. It’s essentially meaningless at this point, other than the vague suggestion of insult.

    • tumbleworld says:

      Apparently you do dare. Strikes me as a very, hmm, ‘bold’ statement, considering John’s profession and all. Still, I suppose anything more cerebral than lots of oddly malformed soldiers shooting big guns at each other is ‘casual’ — right, Zach?

    • Urthman says:

      You can say it, but it’s a meaningless, relative term. To some players, any game but Dwarf Fortress is “casual.” To others, anything you don’t play in a browser is “hardcore.”

      So you’d be better off doing what John is doing here, describing specifically what kinds of games you like and why.

      And, whoo boy there’s a whole lot of different ways to be a gamer. It’s great.

  3. Stardog says:

    Stories are boring without conflict. It would be like Ico without the enemies – just some mundane puzzles that aren’t difficult in any way.

    You can’t tell a great story without conflict. Why do you build roofs to your houses in Minecraft on peaceful? Rain.

    • Gap Gen says:

      So in ME2 my love interest died in the ending. And I kept it. Partly because the fuck-up happened ages ago and I didn’t want to reload, but also because I liked owning the tragedy. A game isn’t real life, and I can watch Breaking Bad without feeling awful for the characters. There’s a semi-permeable film somewhere there separating me from the world, where I can invest in the characters and situations but not so much that I’m broken when something goes wrong (and this is from someone who lost, I dunno, eight people I knew in the last year to various tragedies).

    • phlebas says:

      To say that a story requires conflict doesn’t necessarily dictate the form that conflict might take in a game, though. The ultra-linear, low-challenge adventure games that John defends generally have a substantial element of conflict – but it’s written into the story rather than the interactive aspect.

  4. Toberoth says:

    Now someone from RPS (nominate Alec) needs to write “Games Are Best When Things Go Mediocre”.

    • Droopy The Dog says:

      “Games might be best when things are uncertain”

      • JackShandy says:

        “Games are pretty cool when things go wrong, but games are also pretty rad when things go right.”

        • Sheng-ji says:

          Games are best when you are having a great experience.

          Doesn’t matter what the game is, how well received it was by other people, what DRM or DLC is associated with it etc etc etc

          • Pindie says:

            “Games are best when they are not priced at 50 Euro”
            Seriously, you wanna talk about stress and gaming? Imagine my stress when I open up Steam store and see this lunacy…

      • Lambchops says:

        Games are greater than or equal to h bar over two.

        • Isair says:

          Games are simultaneously best and worst, when placed in a sealed box along with a radioactive substance.

          • GameCat says:

            Best comment ever. It’s like good classical song with schroddinger violin.

        • Randomer says:

          Are you certain about that?

        • Pindie says:

          I’d say 50% games are not even as good as the other half.

        • Droopy The Dog says:

          Games are 10 when they’re abstract.

      • Bart Stewart says:

        Games “might be best” — nice example of uncertainty.

        Possibly.

    • Kaira- says:

      “Games are okay”.

    • RaveTurned says:

      Games are, when things go.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Things Aren’t Wrong When Games Go Best.

    • I_have_no_nose_but_I_must_sneeze says:

      “Games are best when things go bump in the night and there are no weapons and I don’t know what’s real anymore and please somebody kill me.” A feature for Adam?

    • El_Emmental says:

      +1, great idea

      I definitely want something like this, Mediocre, or Weird, or Unexpected, or Expected, etc

    • cyrenic says:

      If it’s Alec? “Games are best when they are about cats.”

    • Josh W says:

      Games aren’t best when things don’t go wrong.

  5. Jockie says:

    My problem with narrative games that don’t contain the threat of failure or peril is that it can all feel a little unearned. You play through a game, where the characters revel in your acts of heroism, but it’s not heroic if your success is pre-ordained – and that illusion is often wafer-thin in modern games, where the challenge is minimal.

    Games like those Jim mentions – you don’t need the storyline to tell you you’re heroic, you feel it inside, the glow of satisfaction from a challenge overcome against impossible odds for me outweighs the warm fuzzies you feel at the end of a story-driven game, almost every time (Grim Fandango maybe is the exception that proves the rule).

    Edit – pimpossible is not a word

    • Outright Villainy says:

      Heroism and overcoming strife aren’t the only types of stories though. Would To the Moon be a better game if it were more challenging? Absolutely not; in fact I think the gameplay challenge in it was superfluous enough as it was, and should have been cut down further in fact.

      Sure, if a game is giving you a pat on the back for overcoming a large threat, you want to feel like you’ve earned it, but a narrative focused on the more emotional side of things doesn’t really need it as much, and the narrative can benefit from the more speedy pacing. I can enjoy both types. I play Counter strike for the sick masochism of trying to claw myself up from the bottom of the scoreboard tooth and nail, and I like wandering around the lonely island of Dear Esther without any fear of death or any repercussion at all. It all depends on what the game is trying to make you feel.

      • Jockie says:

        I agree and yeah, it’s not the only kind of gaming story, I was just using it as a common example. You can apply my arguement to something like Dishonored pretty easily, between every mission you get lavished with praise for performing amazing feats, but the game (especially combat route) is actually rather easy, you have to force yourself not to quicksave for there to be any challenge. For me that blunts the impact of the story and lowers the stakes.

        Another arguement is that there just needs to be more games that don’t follow the worn tropes, like To The Moon and Dear Esther – But I’d still argue they are niche exceptions to the larger rule.

        • Outright Villainy says:

          That’s definitely a valid point, but the issue then comes with the nebulous concept of difficulty and what’s difficult enough to feel rewarding, which is hugely subjective of course. I think a lot of issues of feeling too empowered in Dishonored would have been mitigated by making the Harder difficulties actually substantially harder. Even on Very hard i rarely have any trouble going completely violent and loud, it’s a bit odd.

    • Sarigs says:

      Damnit you edited the pimpossible out just as I was logging in to point it out, you win this round Jockie! :-P

      • Jockie says:

        It’s nice to know that the instant I make a small spelling mistake, you are lurking around in the shadows, waiting for a chance to jump on it and ram it down my throat!

        • Sarigs says:

          Only when it amuses me! Also only when coupled with you recently getting drunk and failing to acknowledged my superior mad skillz over mumble :-P

    • Cadence says:

      I prefer to feel satisfactions for challenges I overcome in real life, when playing computer games I prefer to have fun. That includes some feeling of progression and not a feeling that I just wasted time because I have to do the same or similar stuff all over again.

  6. JackShandy says:

    Not my kind of thing. My life is too relaxing, my loved ones are never in peril. I can appreciate peaceful games like proteus, but I go to games for the threat of death. I can wander around and feel at peace in my backyard. I cannot be poisoned, electrocuted, crushed or sliced in two outside of a videogame.

    Edit: “Oh joy – or I could get involved in a car accident and simulate a similar set of emotions.”

    Obviously you couldn’t do that. That’s the point of games – experiencing certain situations without having to go through the bother involved in actually going through them in real life.

    • Pindie says:

      My dad’s life is the opposite, he’s leading a stressful life.
      I gave him FTL and he is loving it.

      The artificial stress allows him to relax and unload emotions in controlled manner so he is feeling much better in everyday life after a few gut wrenching rounds.

      • ikbenbeter says:

        This differs from person to person, obviously. Some people need to vent stress, while others much rather have some time away from the stress like me. Dare I say it: people have different needs and wants.

    • ffordesoon says:

      “That’s the point of games”

      Why do games, as a medium, need to have a point?

      I’m not picking on you, Jack – you said what you wanted to say well enough. It’s just that one little clause that seems to me worth contesting. Other mediums don’t have a point. A point implies a purpose. The closest thing to a purpose other mediums have is a function. A film shows us a series of events through the sequential arrangement of images. A book is the same, but with words. Those are functions.

      A function is not a purpose, because a purpose requires a goal. Even the worst movie shows a series of events as represented by a sequentially arranged series of images; we don’t blame the film when the projector craps out halfway through. Why would we? That’s not a part of the film. By contrast, a bad film is bad because it falls short of whatever goal its creator(s) set for it. A bad film (or book, or game, or poem, etc. etc.) misses the point, if you will.

      An individual production within a medium can have a point. It’s alright to prefer one point to another; if you only like to watch escapist films, more power to you. But to say as an absolute statement that the point of film is escapism says more about what you want out of your films than it does about film as a medium.

      P.S. My apologies for using the tired old “Books don’t do X, so games shouldn’t have to do X!” argument. My overreliance on it is noted, believe me. I think it does apply in this case, however.

      • Josh W says:

        If you believe spinoza, the point of games is for games to be better and a more established part of life.

  7. xmido says:

    Games are about 2 things, gameplay and interactive story telling. Gameplay without story is like playing with sand. It will be as fun as you want it to be. Story without gameplay is like watching a movie or reading a book. Games are at its best when it has a good plot to keep you moving forward and good gameplay.

    • Maritz says:

      I think this is the reason I can’t get on with “sandbox” games like Mount and Blade. I want a story, not an open world to muck about in, with no objectives other than those I set for myself. Yes, (some elements of) the gameplay are fun, but that lack of narrative drive means I find it becomes tedious very quickly.

      • Cadence says:

        I too love the concept of Mount & Blade but I’m not usually able to play it for long. Spending one precious gaming hour just running around trying to pick a fight with someone who is not too fast or too strong for me is just not fun in the long run – unfortunately.

        Withouth the narrative its too easy to waste a lot of hours not accomplishing anything, and that is not a good thing when finding the time for playing at all is difficult.

        • Maritz says:

          Yes, time definitely factors into it as well. When I was a student I could play games for hours. Now I much prefer them to be succinct, and that usually involves them being quite tightly story based.

    • phlebas says:

      There are different kinds of interactive storytelling, though, and only some of them match what you describe. An open system, if it’s well done, generates its own stories rather than just telling you a fixed one – I’d say most of the really interesting pieces I’ve read about games have been about the stories that happened rather than being predetermined.

    • Pindie says:

      If game is complex enough and well designed you can have story elements emerge from gameplay.
      An example would be old X-com where you sometimes had lone soldiers returning from missions to become the new leaders of the bunch just to die heroically months later.
      This is no worse than the same thing happening in scripted fashion and told as part of story.

  8. Gap Gen says:

    One thing about our Minecraft server is quite how safe it is. We have a huge area near spawn that is well lit, machines that harvest slimes, basically free enderpearls for teleporting, a large rail network and a fairly safe nether complex. I think a lot of people who don’t like building much left it because of the lack of danger and exploration there. I’m happy building giant sandstone edifices and filling double chests with cookies, but I appreciate that some people like sleeping rough and dodging creepers.

  9. x1501 says:

    Whereas when I play Dishonored, I will win. Because I am best. I have the best abilities, the best powers, and can outwit and outlast these lesser men. When I play Saints Row: The Third, despite being outnumbered by dozens of times, I’m so ludicrously brilliant that I will nearly always overcome.

    Unfortunately, those of us who don’t have your awe-inspiring powers of self-delusion feel that we first have to earn a victory, instead of it being handed to us on a silver platter with no effort at all. I know my abilities well enough to realize I’m not the best, so when a game tells me what an utterly impressive unique snowflake I am without truly putting my skills to the test, I only feel insulted, not flattered.

    Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.

    • MattMk1 says:

      Who says there’s anything inherently worthwhile or meaningful about *your* victories over a piece of digital entertainment? Talk about self-delusion…

    • Grygus says:

      The implication that you can feel like a super-powered snowflake who earned greatness because a video game told you so, along with your apparent arrogance based on your “superior” video gaming habits, suggests that your well of self-delusion is just as deep as – and perhaps deeper than – John’s; you merely sport a differently-shaped trigger.

      • Pindie says:

        Because gaming as a hobby is immature and childish and he should feel bad?
        You make no sense.

        Winning a race in video game is no different than winning a race in real life, on track.
        Just because victory is in virtual world does not mean the achievement is artificial and the effort put and skills learned are less satisfying.

      • x1501 says:

        Both of you are attacking a straw man and seem to have serious reading comprehension problems. I never said anything about feeling like a “super-powered snowflake” or feeling that my victories were inherently meaningful or worthwhile. Again, “Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment.” I generally feel far more satisfied from discovering, analyzing and solving problems, overcoming obstacles, and using my good old noggin’ than from being meaningfully flattered by some brainless piece of mass produced software that even a ten-year-old can play. Or can’t you two read?

        • Grygus says:

          I am actually very good at reading. Unfortunately, unlike you, I also read what you wrote. You should try it. You now only say that satisfaction lies in the effort; but that implies that satisfaction is an individual trait, since effort is perceived differently by different people, which is something I would agree with and not bother to comment on. Your original post explicitly says that it would take self-delusion to enjoy a game as John does, which implies that satisfaction is an objective measure, at which he is failing, and incidentally a measure for which you possess the true definition.

          Those are not the same thing.

          • Pindie says:

            Not sure if arguments like “it differs from person to person” really works in this case.
            This is not related closely to your exchange here but I feel like pointing it out:

            I think we can assume all adults are more or less on similar intellectual level, so apart from entry level games for people who are new to gaming (yes, we need and have those) you can indeed make some assumptions about how hard the game should be.
            It is also not unreasonable to expect an adult person to be able to bridge the gap and train the missing skills if the game is somewhat harder than other games of the genre. We have enough intellect to learn, given we do not lack patience (also a trait of maturity).

            What I am saying is effort is similar but we might have different tolerance for taking it maybe? In which case it’s a matter of character and not intellect…

            Well, I don;t know where this is going but I am pretty certain effort is not entirely subjective.

          • x1501 says:

            My original post was a light-hearted jab at John’s quote, where he seem to have jokingly implied that his sense of personal worth was so inflated that it allowed him to delude himself into the kind of thinking where he could accomplish something that he knew full well required almost no effort to accomplish and still get an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment out of it. If you still don’t understand the main implication behind it, go check my far more straightforward (and less long-winded) “objective marker” comment below.

          • Grygus says:

            @Pindie: I think it is mostly subjective. Firstly, what is hard to me may well be different from what’s hard to you; I’m not much of a fan of first-person shooters because I suck at them, yet millions of people buy them so clearly they are not, objectively speaking, particularly difficult. Some people breezed through XCOM Classic in a few days, while I have still only beaten it on Easy. Besides that, it’s a subjective call as to whether even an objective amount of effort is fun; ever have a hobby that grew into an obligation? Some RPGs make you grind mindlessly and you don’t seem to mind, while others trying to do the same thing are just tedious. If you play RPGs at all, you will have thought of an example of each of those, but they probably aren’t the same as mine.

            @x1501 Well if you were being light-hearted then I misread your tone entirely and shouldn’t have replied to begin with. I apologize for mistaking you for a zealot.

          • ffordesoon says:

            @x1501:

            Yes, because it’s so light-hearted to accuse someone of having “awe-inspiring powers of self-delusion” and then assert that you are clearly superior to that person.

            I’m sure you did write that with a spring in your step and a song in your heart, but down here on Planet Reading-Comprehension, we need you to communicate your jocularity in a way that doesn’t drip with palpable disdain for another human being’s gaming habits.

            For example: “Gosh, John, I’m afraid I just don’t agree. I find I need to be challenged in order to enjoy a game. But your opinion is duly noted!”

            Light-hearted. Good gravy. If that insulting little screed up there is what you consider light-hearted, I’d hate to see you angry.

          • x1501 says:

            @ffordesoon
            First, light-hearted or not, my main point about effort playing key role in creating sense of accomplishment still stands. Second, if “Planet Reading-Comprehension” couldn’t see any jocularity either in John’s megalomaniacal statement about being ludicrously brilliant and outlasting lesser men, or in my “awe-inspiring powers of self-delusion” response to it, I’d recommend the named planet consider changing its name to something less ironic. That said, you were actually right in one thing. Considering that x1501 happens to be my patient number, you really don’t want see me angry, Clarice.

          • Droopy The Dog says:

            @pindie That’s a pretty ballsy assumption there, one I certainly wouldn’t be happy making. Especially without definining such a broad term as “intelect”.

            I’d feel safer assuming that people can be possessed of a wide range of “intelects” with individual strengths in differing areas, there’s a lot more evidence supporting that hypothesis.

            @x1501 Oh the delicious layers of irony, first taking John’s paragraph litterally then responding sarcastically about self-delusion whilst taking about how beating a set of arbitrary goals isn’t really beating them unless it was hard.

            Wether it’s satisfying or not is subjective, but you don’t have to earn a victory, saying otherwise is just another form of delusion.

            Followed by a slight misuse of irony in the context of planet reading comprehension whilst also being heavily ironic. So many layers.

  10. Pindie says:

    April 1st is still half a year away, what is this article doing here?

    Games have rules and they have punishment for failure. Even a pair of kids playing table tennis understand one of them is about to fail. Good parents will encourage the loosing kid to keep playing regardless, to build character (same parents will probably encourage his sister to play with dolls instead to ruin hers, we still did not get this part right apparently). You seem like a very timid person if you are stressed by computer games to the point where you cannot continue.
    By all means, pick a game that fits your sensitivity.

    In recent Gametrailers article creators of Resident Evil were asked why they removed puzzles from the game, their answer was they were so frustrating 50% players did not finish the game because of those…

    The constant urge from developers to remove anything and everything that is frustrating or unnerving is killing the industry and the constant attempts to make games that appeal to “wide audience” (lowest denominator gamer) is infuriating indeed.

    We do not need to worry about those games, they will not go extinct.

    I think you do not get the original article. The author was merely expressing his joy because of the fact we now have a choice instead being trapped in “your” style of stress-less gaming.

    What you wrote is pretty much like criticizing surfing as a sport because you can fall off the wave and it is punishing because you need to catch another one to continue or skiing because if you trip over you have to take another ride to the top. Now I am not an expert but I did not see many surfers with PTSD.

    • Grygus says:

      Well-stated, except that John explicitly says he’s not arguing against challenge or obstacles or the need to gain skill in order to win. Still, as straw men go, it’s pretty well done.

      • Pindie says:

        I cannot be blamed for lack of coherency in his writing, can I? You misunderstand him I believe.

        He is arguing for “challenge” without stakes and for consequences for failures to be very slight setbacks. It is quite obvious with using Minecraft as an example.

        You also need to look at his argumentation: the challenge needs to be mild because games are not supposed to be stressful.
        This pretty much means puzzle games cannot be hard either.
        Nothing in the style of old Amiga puzzle games which were infuriatingly hard at later levels.

        I know words “casual gamer” are treated as an insult nowadays but this is the mindset.

        • Grygus says:

          I think he is asking for reasonable punishment, and is saying that arbitrarily losing hours of play for a single mistake is not reasonable.

          • Pindie says:

            I think I just disagree about the reasonable part.

            Don’t get me wrong, I am all for reasonable punishment.
            Neither FTL nor the old X-com punish you with death for random events. they put you in trouble but you can still recover. The new X-com with just 4 soldiers I am on the fence about…

            There is also a huge difference between game that has randomized levels versus scripted and planned progression.

            Being insta-killed in CoD and having to restart campaign would make no sense because there is no benefit to playing the exact same level again.
            On the other hand if things go wrong in X-com and you play ironman you get an opportunity to try to plan ahead differently.
            It seems to me the more linear a campaign is the less sense it makes to force player to repeat it.

            Finally as much as failing in old X-com was painful it was never due to one messed up mission, the campaign was doomed anyway unless you would resort to massive amounts of save scumming.
            So in a way the game just saved you the hassle.

            I do not think loosing a couple of blocks of stone in Minecraft is anywhere near reasonable punishment, not with how damn easy the enemies are to avoid in that game. I think the game just took a turn towards block building somewhere and zombies and creepers are just legacy stuff left inside.

  11. Alec Meer says:

    Tomorrow is my feature ‘games are sort of okayish I guess when things go wrong’

    • Toberoth says:

      See my comment above :-P

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      Can we at some point expect a ‘Stop arguing that games have to be inherently easy or hard and start demanding developers add a decent selection of difficulty levels’ as well?

      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        And with ‘difficulty levels’ I mean of course ‘difficulty mechanics’.

      • Bob says:

        “Can we at some point expect a ‘Stop arguing that games have to be inherently easy or hard and start demanding developers add a decent selection of difficulty levels’ as well?” *Applauds*

        A case in point was Red Faction: Guerrilla. I was getting my ass handed to me on Normal and a hardcore Steam pal mentioned a few of his friends enjoyed the game after choosing Easy. It was something to do with the game’s difficulty curve. Anyhow, I followed suit and found the game immensely entertaining and not that easy despite the setting.

        • Pindie says:

          Another example would be The Summ of All Fears where Hard was the actual game while Normal and Easy were just a joke.
          The game’s realistic damage system and enemy AI did not kick in unless you were on Hard and all reviewers launched the game on normal and bashed it for being too uninspired and bland…

          I hate when games do that.

          I’d love games to have advanced mechanics that are disabled for Easy mode or AI that is scaled properly.
          Most games have CoD style difficulty where the only thing that changes are some 3 variables responsible for health and accuracy.

          I also think most games are only properly tested on one intended difficulty since it’s often the case playing the game on other difficulty setting ruins it by either making it effortless or unfair.

      • LionsPhil says:

        And for pity’s sake make them granular enough.

        I’ve lost count of how many times Sanctum/L4D2 have absolutely kicked our arses on Hard only to then be a cakewalk or Normal.

        (…ok. It’s “Normal” and “Easy”. :( )

  12. Lancezh says:

    To much hip, not enough hardcore.

    Games are only fun when stuff goes wrong. The rest is Hampsterwheeling made looking nice.

    • -Spooky- says:

      XCOM for example: “Dafuq? My sniper is in panic and shoot his mate down” – this is some kind of experience. Await the unexpected.

      • Grygus says:

        That was fun exactly once, because I thought I saw new depth in the system. Afterwards, I could see that it was in fact the opposite. It’s not as though you have any control at all over panic or the results therefrom. If Rookies sometimes came with low Will, and I chose to field those soldiers anyway, and they panicked and shot their teammates, it would be a strategic blunder on my part, a calculated risk that did not pay off. If there were a way to boost Will, but I prioritized satellites instead of Will Lounges, fine. If panic was a more predictable result, and so you could argue that it was my fault for letting a soldier eat a crit or a grenade, or seeing his buddy cut down, then I would accept it. But none of that is true; this is just a case of taking control away from me and then punishing me as though I made a mistake. I once had a soldier panic and kill a teammate because someone else got shot at (not hit, merely targeted.) That is not fun.

        Give me a complex system to learn, and I am happy to lose while doing so. You can even make it slightly chaotic with randomness, as long as the chaos is predictable. Missing a 99% shot chance is very frustrating, but in the end I have to accept that I took that risk with open eyes. Introducing arbitrary punishment undermines the rewards; you think you earned that victory, but it’s just as valid a view that the game simply didn’t decide to have your squad murder each other for no reason. Simply displaying a GAME OVER screen does not imply difficulty or challenge, and withholding it doesn’t imply skill. When it comes to panic, you’re not playing XCOM; it is playing itself.

        • Josh W says:

          At that moment you are experiencing x-com. The alien invasion itself is a misfortune that you cannot control, but it leads to interesting challenges. Equivalently, you could say that the test of the panic mechanic is not in how you avoid it’s effects, but in how you can react to it, how it breaks up straightforward strategies, and requires new plays.

          In other words, panic is random mission generation during a battle.

  13. Gnarf says:

    “Yes, no matter what level of involvement you have, no matter how simple or complex progression may be, you’re still just turning pages in an already-written book. But that, as too many seem to have forgotten, is a good thing, when that story is good enough.”

    You are misrepresenting the position you’re attacking. No one has forgotten that.

    • Grygus says:

      I would like for you to be correct, but there are comments on this very page that suggest you are not.

      • Gnarf says:

        Yeah, I was obviously lying. (And I knew that, but I was a little surprised that it would be proven in this thread.)

        I’d still say that he is conveniently attacking the stupider position, held by fewer gamers.

  14. Lanfranc says:

    I was reminded of the difference between the Lucasarts and Sierra design approaches to adventure games back in the 80s and 90s – with a few exceptions, you usually could not die in a Lucasarts game, whilst Sierra games could sometimes be ridiculously lethal. I personally preferred the Lucasarts way, which I think encouraged more exploration of the game world, but perhaps sometimes there could be a greater sense of accomplishment from beating a difficult challenge in Sierra games.

    That said, I don’t agree entirely with either Jim or John. Games (and indeed any kind of narrative in general) most of all have to be interesting. Just “piling problems on to the protagonist” as Jim suggested is not interesting in the long run. Always being stronger than the opposition (also known as the “Superman syndrome”) as John suggests is not particularly interesting, either, because you risk trivialising your victories. The challenge is to find a balance between the two, and to ration the challenges so that you get a proper rhythm of vulnerability and reinforcing victories (in narrative theory you’d talk about “upbeats” and “downbeats”, but that might get a little too technical).

    For some of the games that have been mentioned, I’d say that (or at least it feels to me) that FTL errs too much on the side of the vulnerability and Dishonoured on the side of the reinforcement – but on the other hand, being excessively difficult and delivering a power fantasy experience are more or less their respective sellin points. XCOM feels like it gets the balance more or less right, but, well, personal taste and all that.

    • Grygus says:

      I like your comparison, but I don’t think they are so different, really. Sierra games made death part of exploration; there were interesting and often humorous ways to die, and sometimes you’d suicide just to see them. While I died a lot more in Sierra games, it was relatively rare for me to get stuck on a puzzle because of it; once you ate a death (and yes, sometimes multiple flavors of the same death), you knew it was there and it typically wasn’t hard to avoid.

      I do agree that balance between the two is best, and that XCOM gets that balance mostly right.

  15. Gap Gen says:

    I think this kind of disagreement only serves to highlight the weakness in the Rockpapershotgun editorial staff, and heralds the upcoming collapse of the site and its credibility. True strength comes from unquestioning adherence to doctrine. I must away to prepare my family for the coming sectarian violence.

    • Naum says:

      There’s an objective marker in that Dishonored screenshot. RPS is indeed going to hell.

      • x1501 says:

        So what? It’s an important design element that shows John how ludicrously brilliant his navigational and location-finding abilities are.

      • Pindie says:

        If objective marker is on by default and it’s not in Options>Special Care Patients Easymode then it’s the way the game was designed to be played.

        If a game allows you to enable cheats with one click and no downside to it then not using it falls under “self imposed rules bs”.

        • Prokroustis says:

          The game may be designed that way (although there is the occasional critical info you can get by listening to some guard conversation) but it is certainly not fun that way.

          • Grygus says:

            That’s an excellent reason for you to not use them. Do you agree that the exact same argument can (and is) used to turn them on in the first place?

        • JackShandy says:

          Not true. The XCOM team apparently considers Classic Ironman mode the best way to play the game, but you have to turn those options on, because they suggest you go with normal for your first playthrough.

          The options that are enabled at the start are the best options for novice players, not the best options overall.

          • Pindie says:

            Difficulty settings should not be accessible while game is in progress. It breaks immersion.
            You should be able to lower difficulty level if you desire but that’s an exception.

          • Dances to Podcasts says:

            Have you ever played Hard Reset? You have to completely restart the game if you want a different difficulty…

          • Josh W says:

            Should you be allowed to raise the difficulty level?

            To me, the real question is whether the objective marker is actually the best choice for novice players.

            I personally believe that certain forms of easyness limit the game, because of how they bypass rather than teach the mechanics you need.

            For example, if you put yellow outlines round enemies, you still need to look for enemies. If they show patrol paths, you still need to think about how people patrol.

            Objective markers discourage you from reading the environment: I once played a skyrim game where from the first cave I charged off to the mages guild, swimming downstream like an inverted salmon to get there. Imagine if it had been possible to search for the mages guild; ask people, look for clues etc. Such mechanics, had they existed, would not have changed my experience at all, and I would have blithely glided past them doing breaststroke.

            This is what happens in dishonoured, almost all map navigation challenge is cut out of the game, and so the experience is lessened. A better working novice mode would have assumed you would like to learn.

      • Gap Gen says:

        I think we all need more objectivity in videogames, a medium in which there is clearly only one correct answer for every question. Perhaps that screenshot is alluding to the fact that we all need a little guidance and certainty in these troubled times. DEATH TO THE JIMITES.

  16. fooga44 says:

    How much story did classic games have? Zelda? Mario? Final fight? etc? They were all about gameplay. You can have a great game with a bad story but rarely the reverse is true. Almost all the top games still have solid enough gameplay because they are meant to be PLAYED. Any game that devolves into a watch-a-thon is not a game but something closer to TV, MMO’s and certain RPG’s are a real problem confusing gamers about what the essence of games are. A real game requires you to be in control and not an AI/scripts performing most functions automatically for you.

    Games are meant to be played, only since graphical horsepower has reached such speed have we seen the influx of non-gaming population who loves ‘story’ and NOT games.

    • Lambchops says:

      Thing is, I don’t think John is saying story is everything. He’s just saying he’d rather feel like he’s in control and saving the day rather than constantly being on the verge of disaster. I’d argue that at least one of the classics you mentioned, namely Zelda, has games that fall into this category. Rarely in Ocarina of TIme did I feel I was on the verge of disaster or particularly stressed by things. I had the tools to overcome any foe. So while I don’t entirely agree with John’s argument (I go through phases of what I prefer depending on what sort of mood I’m in), I think suggesting he’s prioritising story over gameplay misses the point somewhat; he’s advocating a feeling of control and power over a feeling of impending doom and potential disaster.

    • Metonymy says:

      This is a terrifying problem, because so few people seem to realize that it is a problem. It’s one thing to encounter the assumption that games have “stories,” but it’s something altogether different when the majority of the player base don’t comprehend that a game and a story are distinct.

      Certainly there are story-based games that succeed. Open-ended sandbox games are essentially stories which have been “powered-up” by giving the player the option of experiencing them in their own preferred order. The game element is not superfluous, because a player that is unfamiliar with the underlying idiom (usually FPS) will be unable to enjoy the story. But the game element and the story element do not combine, and both have to succeed at their separate jobs. The player has to enjoy both entities individually.

      Games whose goal is to combine story and game together eventually forces the game creator to remove all elements of the game which do not progress the story, creating what we now call casual games.

      • The Random One says:

        “Games whose goal is to combine
        story and game together
        eventually forces the game creator
        to remove all elements of the
        game which do not progress the
        story, creating what we now call
        casual games.”

        Casual games such as Grim Fandango?

        • Pindie says:

          Grim fandango had puzzles.

          Those puzzles would also get removed because they make pacing of the game unpredictable and are a possible cause of frustration for some gamers. They get in the way of story.

        • Outright Villainy says:

          Or the Longest journey, which I’m playing entirely for the story, and not the rubbish puzzles.

          Or To the Moon, where the gameplay is the worst part.

          The problem comes when people see these type of games, and see them as a herald of the end times. As if suddenly gameplay will take a back seat in every game. Which is ludicrous. The more of a spectrum that’s allowed to us in terms of a game’s focus, the better. To the Moon would be a better game if it excised the puzzles, which is pretty much the only “gameplay” in it. The reason it works as a game and not just a short story is that inhabiting and exploring a game space is fundamentally immersive, and a lot can be done with just that.

          You don’t see people saying there shouldn’t be any more artsy indie films because oh no there won’t be any more action films. Both can exist in the same space. I wish more people would take that attitude to games. (Including publishers)

          • Pindie says:

            TLJ has a really endearing story but the puzzles, I must agree, are mostly too easy.

            TLJ is a great as an experience and you can get lost in it like you would in really long movie but I must point out: most games that are designed with story ahead of gameplay really fail at both… TLJ is an exception in sense it at least got the story right.

            If you look at games “you play for story” like some JRPG titles… the story is not that great actually.

  17. Rao Dao Zao says:

    Games Are Best When There Is a Reasonable Balance of Things Going Right And Wrong.

    • Pindie says:

      You might have a point here actually.
      The balance should be set by difficulty lever you pick and you then end up with game everybody can play.

  18. mckertis says:

    “For me the very worst moments of Minecraft”

    What does this have to do with the subject ? Minecraft isnt a game.

  19. Metonymy says:

    On one side of the spectrum you have the undesirable and maddening pressure of a RTS game, and on the other you have the stupefying completionism of casual collection-fests.

    Both of these endpoints are a living hell, and I believe the only solution is to connect the ends to each other.

    Place the player directly into the apocalypse, but then remove penalties for failure, allowing the player to take however much time they need to discover their preferred playstyle. Clarify objectives into very specific points, but increase their number and range.

    • Pindie says:

      But wait, how is that any different from just letting the player start a new game and try to learn the mechanic again?
      The process of learning in FTL is very fast because you can experiment with different ship builds rapidly, instead of being stuck with badly put together ship and attempting to retry the fights from a save state.

      • Metonymy says:

        The difference is competition itself, which is simply the desire of a young male to defeat the other young males and win the attention of a female. It’s not accidental that typically, only young males enjoy competition. It’s a biological, chemical ambition, that most people are not currently experiencing.

        Overcoming challenges without actually being forced to destroy someone else in the process is a pretty good place to start for gameplay, and it’s quite disappointing to me that every game in the world is:

        storytime
        kill other kids
        do-the-obvious collection time

        I mean obviously, I’m changing the subject completely here, but this is where the conversation is eventually going. Mayhem vs predictability is definitely a perspective rather than a fact, and the exact same gameplay elements can produce very different experiences, just by changing player goals.

        There’s a reason why all that seems super vague, because game design is creative and not procedural. I’m simply stating we’ve exhausted the possibilities of those three things I listed.

        • Pindie says:

          It’s ok to skip ahead in conversation if it’s headed in roughly the direction…

          I do not think competition against other males – fake or real – is necessary, just like violence is not necessary.
          I quite enjoyed the Against The Wall alpha which is a puzzle game. I do not necessarily need challenge to be in form of agent (real human opponent or AI) it’s just that it’s easier to make a good game with one.
          Even in games that have opponents it’s arguable the impulses you mention have leading role.
          You could for example argue, and I think you would be correct, the drive for participating in arena shooter genre is not competition but the need for group identity since the group of enthusiasts of given game is somewhat of a small elite with special knowledge that you might feel inclined to belong to.

          Look at platformers: many people noted the addition of AI enemies makes a platformer game much more enjoyable.
          You could say it’s because of the competitive-drive-argument thing but you could also argue that’s because having elements of level that observe player and have a feedback exponentially more the system exponentially more complex as player now has to plan not only for results of his actions but also for the feedback loop effect – i.e. how enemies will change the level.
          It kind of depends on how much player empathizes with the pixels. If level of empathy is zero then they are obstacles, elements of level and this is how I’d argue a veteran gamer will perceive game mechanic. I’d argue only new gamers would have tendency to assign agency to simple and transparently fake AI enemies.

          I am perfectly OK with games that are singleplayer experience where the challenge comes from game designer in form of puzzles. I think there is a bit more to gaming than two males competing for female. Sometimes you are playing just to be amused or experience something new – which also causes endorphines to release since humans are curious animals.

          Humans have, apart from the reproductive impulse you mentioned (let us ignore you lumping violence and reproduction together), other drives such as curiosity and need for exploration or the joy of learning new skills and mental gymnastics.
          To me when playing old X-com the joy came mainly from figuring out and testing out new unorthodox strategies and tactics in a sandbox-fun fashion. It was in some aspects a puzzle.

          • Metonymy says:

            You wrote an impenetrable thesis about an introductory point that I made.

            This is why I don’t like posting here, or anywhere, really.

    • fooga44 says:

      RTS actually commits the same gameplay automation sins as RPG’s because the player focus is reduced (i.e. youcan’t do cool action oriented moves using 20 units for one person for instance).

  20. MOKKA says:

    I can’t see any reason why one thing excludes the other.

    For feeling nice when things go right, you have to have at least some kind of peril. Otherwise your emotional state would remain completely indifferent towards what’s happening to you. On the other hand, constant peril is only then rewarding when there are moments where you succeed and be it only for a short moment.

    • El Mariachi says:

      “Things go right” vs. “You fail” is hardly the only axis available. How about “You learn some interesting stuff” vs. “You learn some different interesting stuff that you wouldn’t have had you taken the path that lead to learning the other interesting stuff?” Even the old Life boardgame had endgame options of “You become a wealthy magnate” vs. “You retire to a cabin to study philosophy.”

  21. RaveTurned says:

    So, Jim likes his games to treat him rough, while John prefers them to be gentle with him? o_0

  22. Cinnamon says:

    The ancient stoics taught negative visualisation as a way to prepare for things going wrong in life. Every day you spend some time imagining everything going horribly tits up. This helps change that sort of tits up, shit life throws at you experience into a challenge that you almost want to happen so you can test out your preparedness. It also helps deal with not being able appreciate what you have. Like in a game if you kill lots of mud crabs and make a palace made out of mud crab hides you get a rush of satisfaction when it is complete but afterwards nothing, it brings you no joy. But if you can imagine something bad could happen that would leave you with no mud crab palace then you start to appreciate it more.

  23. Skeletor68 says:

    I can see a lot of merit in what John says. While I love both types of experience some days I can’t really handle it.

    For instance, I’m under quite a lot of stress at work with extra hours, pay cuts, recession and all that. Money is very tight for us and my gf is under pressure as her PhD nears an end date. Her father is also very sick with cancer. When my Kingdom of Scotland and Ireland started falling apart in Crusader Kings 2 I just stopped playing, completely missing the point of the game. I had gone through the usual trials and tribulations to get there, but faced with a war of attrition and an inevitable slow decline I opted out and played some Saints Row and then TF2. It’s a fantastic game but I do enough ‘managing against the odds’ in my normal life so sometimes a more comfortable experience is a welcome relief.

  24. ruskyandrei says:

    I disagree with this article.
    Personally I prefer the panic moments described in the other article, but I do understand that some people look at games as more of a story than a game, more like a movie.
    It’s what most large publishers are putting out these days anyway, games where you have a movie like story, where you have some form of limited interactivity while making sure you can’t really fail since nobody has time for that right ?
    I enjoy games where there is a challenge, where you have a set of rules and you need to win/overcome a difficult situation with the available tools, and if you fail, you fail. You can simply try again until you succeed, take a break, give up, etc.
    Removing “stress” from a game is akin to removing the “game” from a game. It turns a game into an semi-interactive story and nothing more.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      It’s not necessarily only about cinematic games – think about a game like minecraft in peaceful – no cinematic storyline there, but the fun we had building a replica of Ankh Morpork are amongst the finest stories of my gaming life!

      • fooga44 says:

        Minecraft is a shitty version of CAD with some programming elements. Minecraft is technically NOT a game but software you can just tool around in.

    • El Mariachi says:

      “Nothing more” is pretty derogatory towards semi-interactive stories. If they’re designed and marketed as games but provide nothing more than illusions of challenges skillfully overcome, there you have a point. But a well-designed interactive story has its own distinct “failure” modes; for instance, in Dear Esther you can’t die or get a Bad Ending, but I’d argue that if you blow through it as quickly as possible without taking time to notice the scattered details that eventually tie into the story, then in a sense you’ve lost, even though you never got a premature Game Over screen. It’s like if you walked through a gallery of Monet’s Water Lilies paintings while fucking around with your smartphone — sure, you made it through the museum without getting killed, but you entirely missed the point of the endeavor.

  25. bodydomelight says:

    I’m glad this article got written, since the last one and many of the comments on it (and on this one, for that matter) led me to the obvious conclusion that I’m not a Real Gamer (TM).

    It leaves me in a state of baffled shock when people still profess 1337-style arrogance about gaming in 2012 without a shred of irony. Not that the previous article did, mind. But sometimes reading various opinions leaves me struggling to equate them with people playing games rather than conquering some significant and meaningful personal challenge.

    It’s cool if that is what games are to you, no problem here. But sneering arrogance about how others might play is not becoming of a gentleman.

    • x1501 says:

      If you want to understand why so many treat the encroachment of extremely casual with such hostility, all you have to do is to take one good look at the current state of MMORPGs and most AAA titles. In theory, we can all live peacefully together. In practice, however, it almost always is a zero–sum game. Where the casual newbies gain, the more experienced gamers usually lose.

      • Lanfranc says:

        Why is that?

      • bodydomelight says:

        I understand why a ‘hardcore’ gamer might resent game designers catering purely to what such a gamer might perceive as the lowest common denominator. I’m a big LOTRO player and the forums are a constant war between raiders and non-raiders. I can empathise with both sides of the argument. But I’m not really talking about genuine grievances. I’m talking about idiots like the guy a couple of posts below me.

        LOL U ARNT A REEL GAMER L2P NOOB, only framed in an attempt at a genuine argument. And then we wonder why our hobby/sport/whatever isn’t taken seriously as a mature pastime.

        • x1501 says:

          Regardless of what you may think, I can hardly be considered a hardcore gamer in any possible sense. And yet I still find casual-friendly games like Dishonored or SWTOR so insultingly easy and simplistic that I am unable to enjoy their experience without getting bored out of my mind. For those of us who have years, if not decades, of gaming experience under our belts, it’s not about establishing our superiority over others, but about keeping ourselves engaged.

          • bodydomelight says:

            You seem to be associating experience with ability. The two might have a weak causal link, but it is tenuous at best. You also seem to be assuming I am a relative newcomer to gaming. I’ve been playing games for decades myself, and I rarely set the slider up to Insane/Impossible/whatever. As an example, to me SWTOR isn’t particularly easy. Even at Level 50, I sometimes struggle with landscape mobs on my Jedi Sentinel (at least, without my healer).

            I think there is room for a variety of skill levels in gaming, and it is up to developers to provide that – either within one game or across a spectrum of them. But players of limited ability (or who lack the desire to have their abilities challenged) deserve to be catered for as much as players of advanced ability do. This is a hobby, not a competition.

            Also, you seem to think I am referring directly to you with my arguments. I’m really not. They’re a blanket statement, aimed at no-one in particular.

          • x1501 says:

            If you want to see the link between experience and ability, look no further than your own shoelaces. You may have found the shoe tying experience complex and engaging back when it was new and you were a kid, but now, with the help of something called procedural memory, it is probably something can you no longer do. As for catering for everyone, let’s take another analogy—reading. Imagine if we only had several noteworthy book releases a year, and all of them would increasingly cater to the illiterate and aliterate parts of the market at the expense of the more well-read part. Would the well-read have no right to feel disgruntled? Not in my view.

            Edit: fixed a funny foul-up.

      • MattMk1 says:

        I wish some of the people freaking out (an some acting like real 1337ist douches) over this article would point out the part where the author advocated making all games like Farmville.

        As far as I can tell, he’s saying that he prefers games that are about immersion first and difficulty second, and that he actually *likes* games to be challenging but not genuinely stressful, with hours of effort lost as a result of failure.

        Get a %$&^@#! grip – this is an opinion piece, “Games are best when…” is a rhetorical tool, not a binding policy statement from the High Council of the Guild of Gamesmiths.

        • Outright Villainy says:

          Exactly. Even if he’s just playing Devil’s advocate it should be said, because games (or any other medium), shouldn’t just be 1 thing for 1 group of people. It’d be a very boring world if that were the case.

    • Pindie says:

      Each medium has strengths and weaknesses.
      The strengths of video games are:
      - they are interactive
      - players can shape their experience
      The strength of movie are:
      - the audience can relax
      - the narrative, pacing and outcome are predetermined

      These are mutually exclusive!
      Attempting to make a game that has strengths of a movie and no strengths of a game will end up with game that is not as good as a movie would be. It will be a failed movie-game creation.
      Just like making an movie interactive is a bad idea (FMV hell).

      I am sorry but if you want a story and 2.5 hours of relaxation GO WATCH A MOVIE. Why do you insist on games to deliver the movie experience? Why are you playing video games at all?
      Why turn to video game if what you want is a movie?

      Let me give you an example: I watched “The Scent of A Woman” just recently. No video game can ever get close to replicating the kind of experience. It had suspense, it had tension, it moved me.
      If you want a movie type of experience a video game will deliver a mediocre movie experience but what is the point? Soap dies? Big deal. What a failed narrative that was.

      • bodydomelight says:

        Why are you even talking about movies? Baffling. Watching a movie is patently not the same as playing a game on the easiest setting, or playing a game centred around storytelling rather than challenge.

        • Pindie says:

          “Watching a movie is patently not the same as playing a game on the easiest setting”
          The difference is marginal. Pressing forward button and occasionally reacting to enemies that give you epochs to kill them is no more engaging than operating a remote IMO.
          If a game is designed in a way where you have to make so little effort to proceed then what is that difference actually?

          There is a reason why many people just watch Let’s Plays on YouTube and never buy the game.

          • bodydomelight says:

            The difference isn’t marginal. One is an active experience, the other is passive. What takes little effort for you may take significant effort from others. I understand how to watch a movie. I understand how to play a game. I have never struggled to differentiate between the two, because they are unrelated activities that require entirely different skillsets and input, even when playing a game where you just press forward as cannon fodder enemies run towards you.

            Referencing movies is irrelevant. It’s so irrelevant it’s not even reductive. It is off the map.

            I’m genuinely not sure if you’re trolling or deluded, but either way your argument isn’t actually an argument. Watching a movie is not a viable alternative to playing games on a lower difficulty setting than whatever you play on, because they are different things. That’s why they have different names. And formats. And websites. And magazines. And hobbyists. And why developers aren’t called directors, and why gamers slag off Kotick instead of Bay.

            If you want to engage with my point in some way, why not try talking about games? Or if talking about games is too much for you, why not try angling for carp, or running a triathlon? THEY’RE THE SAME THING. THE DIFFERENCE IS MARGINAL.

          • Pindie says:

            An interactive tour of museum is interactive and so is Dear Esther. I wonder if there is any difference at all between the two save for the fact one is clearly not intended to be a game.
            Now if you added some insultingly easy enemies to Dear Esther would it make much of a difference? I have my doubts.

            I think there is a spectrum between movie and classic games you are missing.

            There is a difference between having player input that nearly does not matter because of how little difficulty there is and having no “player” input but “start, stopo, pause, chapter select”.
            What I was trying to say is I doubt there is a difference in level of engagement it causes with the viewer. I am well aware of technical difference.

      • Grygus says:

        I take it that you don’t go to the cinema. There exist many, many movies whose premise and success are based on the audience not relaxing. The entire horror genre is an easy example. Any movie with a significant suspense component is relying on tension within the audience. The genesis of the derided “Hollywood ending” was to release tension and send people into the night feeling relaxed and happy; they would not need that release had they already been there. The fact that many, perhaps most, people say that they do not desire that release shows that relaxation and happiness are not paramount when they consume film.

      • Skabooga says:

        If the experience is meaningful, who cares what medium it belongs in? Or which mediums it mixes? Furthermore, I’m not convinced by the assertion that any mixing of the two would automatically result in an inferior product.

        • Outright Villainy says:

          Prodding and pushing at the limits of a medium are important for its growth. Novels were derided as being thrash when they first came out, because hey there are rules for this sort of thing don’t you know.

          I think gamers have a poor opinion of this dilution of pure gameplay simply because of how poorly it’s handled so much of the time. So many games have gameplay-cutscene-gameplay as discreet events, or have pseudo-cutscenes where they artificially restrict player movement and interaction a la Call of Duty. The problem here isn’t in downplaying gameplay and having more story, games like To the Moon or Dear Esther prove well enough you can trim down almost all gameplay and have a meaningful experience, and in my opinion 90% or RPGs I’ve enjoyed would be better off without any combat. The strength of these games come from immersing you in their world; you may not be able to affect the outcome in Dear Esther, but your character avatar feels like their a real physical entity in the world, which can be effective at tethering you to it.

          The type of games I mentioned previously with the stop-start dynamic actively destroy immersion, because you were in control, and now you’re suddenly being yanked around like a puppet with no say in the matter. Or the goals of the gameplay don’t compliment the cutscenes, i.e. In Max Payne 3 I don’t want Max wandering around being sad in the cutscenes when I’m having so much fun in the combat. Or in GTA 4 where you’re given a sandbox ripe for destruction and mayhem, and then the story is super serious and po faced. The “cutscenes” in Half life 2 work a lot better since the transition from gameplay to story is completely seamless, even if it is a bit flawed since it still has to bar you in quite often so you don’t run off. Gains have been made in Portal where the story segments are more seamlessly integrated via audio; it’ll be interesting to see where they go next.

          • Skabooga says:

            Well put, and a good examination of the nuance of the matter.

    • Gnarf says:

      “I’m glad this article got written, since the last one and many of the comments on it (and on this one, for that matter) led me to the obvious conclusion that I’m not a Real Gamer (TM).”

      Is it important for you to be a Real Gamer (TM)?

      I think there’s this thing, where there are a couple different possible outcomes, like winning and losing, and you’re really not sure which it’s going to be but you’re aiming for winning. I think of it as a pretty gamelike thing, and I think that different “games” have more and less of it.

      Some times I start episode 1 of DOOM on Ultra-Violence and play until I die or beat the episode. Other times I might mess around in Toribash, controlling both the players and just trying to do some nice looking moves or something. I think of the former as more “gaming” than the latter.

      Point is, I could probably more or less go along with some definition or another of Real Gamer, and (an exaggeration of) that might be something about roguelikes and multiplayer deathmatching and whatever and none of those things with stories in them. But that’s about definitions or taxonomy or something, not value judgement. “What should games be” does not equal “what things should be” or “what things should we like” or anything. Etc.

      So, uh, two thing. First, I don’t really get why one conclusion would make you happier than the other when it comes to whether or not you’re a Real Gamer. Second, there’s this vibe of “I like this conclusion so I’m going to agree with the argument that leads to it” that I don’t like a lot.

      (I obviously don’t know excactly which comments you are sort-of-responding to. And might not have read them. So disclaimers and stuff.)

      • bodydomelight says:

        It’s not important to me at all whether I am a REAL GAMER. Because I don’t believe such a thing exists. That was kinda my point. Every medium is there for whoever wants to enjoy it, however they want to enjoy it. Playing non-failure state games as a method of relaxation is as valid a pursuit as playing Starcraft 2 to win steaming great wodges of cash in competition.

        Looking down on people who enjoy The Sims or wandering round an MMO solo taking down one mob at a time is the equivalent of deriding someone because they kick around a ball in a park instead of playing against professionals. It’s baffling. To me.

        There is no rulebook telling you how to enjoy something.

        • Gnarf says:

          Okay. I mostly agree then.

          That was almost my point. Only it was more like, we can define a (less ridiculous term than) Real Gamer to be this thing or that thing, and it doesn’t follow that anything outside that is “invalid”. Only that it is less gamelike or whatever. (I get that a bunch of people are saying that it is “invalid” stuff, and I totally agree that it is stupid to say that or something.)

          Often people argue something along the lines of “things outside the category X are not bad things, so let’s not have category X (or let’s expand X to include all the good things)”. Might not have been what you was getting at.

      • Gnarf says:

        So I just saw the “GO WATCH A MOVIE” stuff and felt the need to add that I’m not agreeing with that or anything. And if it was mostly just about that kind of thing then maybe fair enough.

        • bodydomelight says:

          It was indeed mostly about that kind of stuff. I have no problem with anyone who wants to be challenged, wants games that will challenge them or wants to create games purely built around challenge.

          I just think that a spectrum of difficulty and approach is important, and any perception that there is a right or wrong way to play a game or conduct a hobby is bizarre self-important arrogance.

    • Josh W says:

      People were pretty arrogant in that period. The hundred years war for example.

  26. Gassalasca says:

    Why don’t you just admit it, John, this is all about healing.

  27. caljohnston says:

    Many of us enjoy the challenge and stress without the actual danger that video games so uniquely provide. No offense but have you considered that maybe video games just aren’t for you and that maybe you should stick to movies and books, instead of imposing your own failures on a medium you don’t like and ruining it for the rest of us?

    • Grygus says:

      But if merely stating an opinion ruins the medium, why would you take such a risk yourself?

    • Skabooga says:

      Cal, I do not want to be offensive or attacking, so I say this with all possible gentleness, but your statements appear quite hypocritical.

  28. ikbenbeter says:

    The general consensus in the comments seems to be that challenge requires a failure state. Maybe it’s just me that enjoys them, but adventure games like Sam and Max or Professor Layton are always a lot of fun to me and have no failure states, or games like Sanctum/Rayman where dying is just punished with going back a few waves (unless your systems flawed, which never has been a problem for me so far). There’s much more joy for me in overcoming a high obstacle without real loss (except not being able to continue) if you fail then having a medium or small obstacle that will try to murder your babies if you fail.

    • Rusky says:

      I don’t think a definite fail state is needed *always*. In some cases, like your example, they don’t have to be too drastic.
      But, take for example the new X-Com. I feel that playing that game without the Ironman setting just removes a large part of the game. (for clarity, Ironman is a game mode where you can’t reload a save if you lose a soldier or something bad happens).
      While I can understand that there are people that don’t have the time to deal with failure or simply don’t want to risk losing their game to bugs (I had that happen myself), simply taking the option to load a save game whenever something goes wrong removes any kind of tension and tension can be a great part of a game which is often ignored these days (or some kind of fake tension is attempted).
      I have a friend who completed the new Xcom without losing a single soldier for example. But if you simply load an earlier save whenever something goes wrong, what happens to those epic moments when you overcome a terrible situation ?

      • ikbenbeter says:

        I am not defending savestatespamming. There’s little fun in a perfect run if you do it by just reloading after every mistake (I just let the ~5 people I killed in Dishonered be dead, although I tried to avoid murder where possible, and didn’t get that ghost rating on any of the harder missions). I find the penalty in X-COM quite well balanced, although it’s not the kind of game for me (the genre, not the dead penalty per se).

      • beetle says:

        I think some people enjoy the activity of playing games more than they derive satisfaction from the outcomes they achieve with in them. For those people, when half your team dies in Xcom, it just means that they are now playing a game that is more tedious because they have to be super-cautious for a while. If they succeed then the only reward they receive is a return to the more enjoyable gameplay that they were experiencing before disaster struck. — Its more complicated than that, but I think it’s important to realize that different people derive satisfaction from different kinds of things.
        And while it’s possible to frame any one of these kinds of satisfaction in terms of some moral failing or other, it seems to me to be unnecessary to do so.

      • Grygus says:

        What happens is that I overcame it by reloading and pretending that it never happened. I did this using in-game tools, just like you. Your method brings you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and that’s fine; mine is more efficient, and if I’m playing explicitly with the goal of getting through XCOM without losing any soldiers, then I am preserving my sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, rather than having to restart every time the aliens happen to roll a 100.

        I do not understand this newfangled hostility to reloading. Back in the day, we reloaded ALL THE TIME. In some hard games, that was the only way to play! Checkpoints are just “save scumming” done automatically, aren’t they? My point is that people can play the same single-player game differently without affecting anything. It doesn’t cheapen the game, it doesn’t cheapen other people’s play, and there is no reason on Earth that anyone should care.

        So why do you even care?

        • Rusky says:

          I don’t really care what other people do when they play the game. What bothers me is the very small amount of games that pose any sort of challenge or offer modes where a challenge is available, and the immediate assault on these games and game modes by people who complain that the game is “too difficult” or “stressful”, even though nobody is forcing them to play the more difficult game / game mode.
          There’s so very few games with the gameplay and options to make an interesting / challenging experience, that when one finally comes along only to be chalked up as “unfair”, I feel it is quite understandable why many people like myself feel rather defensive about the whole matter.

          • Grygus says:

            I think you are mistaking developer intentions for player influence. I think most often, a game being accessible is a statement by the developer that they want everyone to see the content, and not some sort of capitulation to a rant on a forum. Making your game difficult means a few things, and one of those things is that, by definition, most people won’t finish your game. I would expect that to appeal to a minority of developers, and even fewer publishers; you can get where we are with no player feedback at all.

            There are plenty of games with arbitrarily difficult settings that nobody complains about. Most of the Civilization franchise’s highest difficulties are, as far as I can tell, essentially impossible. I’m sure someone can play on those difficulties, but they are a tiny minority. Yet, I’ve never heard anyone really complain about that. Are people bitching about XCOM Impossible and being taken seriously? Not that I’ve seen. I don’t think the problem here are the gamers.

        • Gnarf says:

          “Checkpoints are just “save scumming” done automatically, aren’t they?”

          No. If you can save as often as you like, you can “lower the difficulty” by saving more often. Stupid example: save between each shot fired, reload if you miss or take damage. With checkpoints you typically can’t choose how much you do between each save.

          “I do not understand this newfangled hostility to reloading.”

          Um. I prefer saving progress to be dealt with in ways that do not let me save whenever and wherever I want. I get that for some genres and games it might be hard to pull that off and I’ll make do with save anywhere. I don’t care very much about how other people play their games.

          Chances are that a lot of the hostility is in reaction to stuff like that RPS article that more or less demanded that all PC games must let you save anywhere. Because then it’s no longer about which games this guy likes and which games that guy likes, but about how all games should be the games this guy likes.

          • Grygus says:

            Checkpoints already lower the difficulty; better yet, they lower the difficulty before you could possibly know that the difficulty needed to be lowered! How many games tell you that a boss fight is coming by displaying the autosave icon? There is nothing preventing a game from being just as “stupid” by autosaving every five seconds; granted, none of them do that, but then again nobody saves between shots, either. There is no inherent difference here, you’re talking about a matter of degrees of the exact same behavior. Your line is entirely arbitrary.

          • Gnarf says:

            “Your line is entirely arbitrary.”

            That’s not really my line. Not really about saving often being bad and saving seldom being good, but about who gets to decide.

    • Gnarf says:

      I don’t think the point is that all games must have some state that is recognized by the game as failure. In an adventure game, I’m sure giving up after not managing to solve the puzzles will do just fine.

  29. Feferuco says:

    I dunno I found the other article had a stronger argument. It acknowledged how victory is the final goal, how things are good when they turn out all right, but it accepted fully the challenge that makes the victory worthwhile.

    Anyway, this makes me think how maybe games are being done wrong. I know super pretentious of me. But I just don’t see the point of trying to tell a story while throwing a challenge at the player. These things don’t match, storytelling and gameplay tick on different paces, demand different things, they struggle for control.

    So we end up with games in which you kill countless men and none is made of it during cutscenes or games with brilliant polish and execution but that are tethered to reality, limited to shotguns and human legs instead of something more fun and imaginative, because story demands SOME realism.

    Challenge and story riding together is something that’s done since forever and something I don’t think many developers have put much thought into, in the end one of those two rides backseat. It is a convention, like exploding red barrels and healing spells, something that’s added to a game because that’s how things are done.

    Games can be fun in multiple ways. There’s fun in exploring, there’s fun in hearing a story, there’s fun in challenge, there’s fun in learning, there’s fun in creating. Why not take just one of these things and go with it, or find the ones that best work together.

    We need more games like Dear Esther, Thirty Flights of Loving, Journey. We need more simulations, games that are focused on what you can’t do, and they can be simulations of the impossible, like FTL or DayZ. We need more games that work as a creative outlet. We need more pure games, like Audiosurf or Cogs.

    Leave it to those with an absolutely brilliant idea to try the impossible of sucessfully merging challenge and storytelling. Despite all I said it has been done a few times.

  30. Gwilym says:

    This comment went in a ridiculously self-centered direction, based on a tiny part of the article, so I want to start by saying thank you, RPS, for both of them. I’m definitely in the Jim camp, but hearing the flipside explained like this is fascinating and valuable for everyone. Discourse! It’s good.

    I find it interesting that John ties his own anxiety to his dislike of it in the virtual world, since these past few days I’ve wondered if maybe my own is why I have such a soft spot for it in games. I haven’t thought it through much, but it stems from my horrible habit of believing that existence is easy for everyone who isn’t me, whereas I am utterly and immutably fucked*. I think the ease with which my avatar succeeds in most games has the exact opposite effect of empowerment; it just draws attention to my flailing miserably in real life**. When a game allows and encourages me to feel the same sense of impending doom, it’s something I’m instantly sympathetic to, and it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if I also took it as a tacit endorsement.

    Which I suppose is a fancy way of saying ‘misery loves company.’ And since I enjoy the games more when I’m not miserable, it’s probably not a great theory. But my mood’s been horribly low these past few months (it’s definitely lifting), to the point where I pretty much stopped enjoying games… aside from FTL and XCOM, for both of which I’d put ‘their sheer hope-crushing cruelty’ near the top of my favourite things about them. Of course they’re also easily two of the best games of the year, but so’s Dishonoured, and despite my admiration of that I just haven’t felt compelled to play it, at all.

    I guess I’m not really making an argument here, more just woolgathering… in kind of a terrifying public fashion. These are lifelong thoughts and feelings of which I’m deeply ashamed, but which ironically lost a lot of power when I stopped keeping them to myself. Of course, reading back, there’s a good chance John meant anxiety the reaction rather than anxiety the disorder, in which case I’m basically waggling my genitals in public for no good reason, but sod it, I’m okay with that. The world needs more genital-waggling, not less.

    *obviously I do not believe this, at all, but I can at times still feel it with absolute conviction. Stupid brain. Well no, it’s a brilliant brain, I just wish it was on my side more.

    **also not actually true! But again, the conviction can overwhelm.

    • Cadence says:

      Thanks for sharing, good you’re feeling better. Don’t underestimate how thinking positive will change your reality for the better (doesn’t matter if it is imagined or real).

      For sure don’t keep your dark thoughts to yourself, if you share them you will probably see that its not so big deal anyway, and that lots of people have same or similar issues.

    • ffordesoon says:

      Very interesting!

      I sympathize with you. I’ve had some hideous panic attacks for the past couple of months, and games have helped me recover. Interestingly, both the FTLs and the Dishonoreds of the world have been helpful in that regard for me. Sometimes I want a power fantasy, and sometimes I want to overcome odds that are genuinely stacked against me. I think most people are the same way, whether they want to admit it or not.

      Thanks for sharing! :D

  31. zebramatt says:

    I can’t speak for life at RPS Towers, but personally I rarely ever find myself as the last bastion of hope for humanity, with the lives of countless others depending on me. I rarely even find my own life in any tremendous peril. Generally speaking, the worst that’s likely to happen to me at any given moment pales in comparison to the situations in which I find myself in video games.

    So I contest that the argument presented by Mr Walker above is actually one in favour of games filled to the brim with extreme peril. What better way to escape from the drudgery of our daily stresses than to immerse ourselves in a world where our actions, our worries, are writ large across the landscape of the world? Most of us matter more there than we ever will here.

    (Which is not to say I don’t enjoy my life, or somehow consider myself unimportant. But how can anything the world throws at me possibly hope to compare to being solely responsible for saving all mankind from a global alien threat?)

    Equally, however, I’m not a superhuman for whom no threat poses any real danger. If I were, I no doubt would find games like Dishonored to be dull and uninteresting – due to their lack of peril. The fact that in life when I’m opposed I can’t just overcome it through some feat of extreme dexterity or physical prowess, means I can escape in worlds where nothing can stand in my way. I prefer a challenge if I can get one, it’s true, but it’s by no means essential for me to enjoy – nay, love – a game. Sometimes just being able to lose myself in a world is all I ever need.

    If there really was a game which revolved around real world, every day stress – where I need worry about getting through my work; household chores; obligations to friends, family and creditors; and other such minutiae, in a timely and efficient manner… well, that’d be a game I gave a miss, for sure. But then that’s not peril any more than it is free-flowing success. That’s just life.

    So, in conclusion: Games Are Best When Escapism.

    • Neut says:

      If there really was a game which revolved around real world, every day stress – where I need worry about getting through my work; household chores; obligations to friends, family and creditors; and other such minutiae, in a timely and efficient manner… well, that’d be a game I gave a miss, for sure.

      Didn’t play Sims then? ;)

  32. Velko says:

    I find it immensely sad and frankly rather disgusting how people are so readily protesting against how another person plays his games. It’s like you go to a museum and start shouting at people how they should interpret the art on display, and that they are causing the death of cubism because they happen to like round shapes.

    • Rusky says:

      It’s an article, people can agree or disagree and then discuss the merits of both views.
      Your odd attempt at making one side of the argument feel out of place is what amazes me.

      • jrodman says:

        Except of course his comment did nothing of the sort, but yours did.

        • Rusky says:

          So, saying other people voicing their opinion is disgusting is ok but me pointing out how this is a discussion and both sides of the argument should be present is not ? Do tell me more, I value your opinion greatly.

    • Pindie says:

      Once you express your opinion in public it is opened to criticism and polemics.

    • Hardlylikely says:

      John says Jim is wrong in the first paragraph, and he did it on a blog full of argumentative curmudgeons. If ever someone was looking for an argument, that would be a way to find one. He’s fair game.

      • Grygus says:

        We are not argumentative curmudgeons! Such a position is so manifestly erroneous that I can’t even be bothered to demonstrate; in all my years I’ve never seen such wrongness.

  33. Yosharian says:

    Perhaps that’s what you feel when you play Minecraft, but for me it’s the opposite. The ‘peril’ of a creeper (or worse, with Technic) approaching my base is what brings the game alive for me. Minecraft isn’t perilous enough if you ask me.

    It all comes down to different people want different things from games, and trying to please everyone is a tricky thing. I think it’s better to focus on one particular goal or playstyle. Look at Thief, people who hate slow, stealthy games aren’t going to like it. Does that mean Thief should change? No, Thief has always been about that playstyle.

    One of Dishonored’s main problems is that it tries to marry too many themes/playstyles together, and succeeds at none of them particularly well.

    • Pindie says:

      To me Dishonored is flawed because it does not make you commit to one play style, not because it allows too many choices.

      In a game like FTL if you go for evasion and offensive armament upgrades you can no longer stealth your way in or use defensive measures.
      You sacrifice some options to develop others.

      In Dishonored you are still a killing machine even if you invest in non-lethal upgrades.
      I would expect a character built for stealth to be without a chance in direct confrontation, very much like Thief handled it.

  34. AmateurScience says:

    I think everybody’s right, except me, so just forget I spoke, all right?

    • Droopy The Dog says:

      This man has the right way of thinking!

      And I am also utterly wrong.

      (I hope the trope is true and at least one spambot dies reading this thread)

  35. Neut says:

    Seeing as we sort of already know John and Jim’s position on this, I’d like to see a feature where John is forced to play through all of Dark Souls or another failtacular game and write about why it is better, and similarly Jim with a relaxing story game that he can’t fail.

  36. wodin says:

    I was having one of those stress inducing moments with Mark of a Ninja..it started to drove me mad having to time everything just right and one little keyboard miss and it’s death and start again..over and over again..not fun..until I saw something I haven’t seen in many games..there was a different route I could take around said pain in the backside..this route was abit easier I had to take out some guards instead of dodging lasers dangling from a box..I was happy..I noticed they had done this on a few of the more tricky parts which for me was a great piece of game design and meant I could carry on with the game rather than never completing it.

    Games seriously aren’t fun if you keep on dying because your not timing each keypress perfectly. There have been many many games I’ve really enjoyed playing until a particular point where in the end I had to give up.

    • fooga44 says:

      Games with no challenge are not games, they are theme-parks. Why would you want to play a game ‘just to get through it’ if you dont’ enjoy at least some resistance? Why not just enable cheats?

      There’s something that has to come back : Cheat codes. I wonder if all these complainers would love cheats in their games and just remove all the gameplay elements just give them all infinite health + 1 hit kills from the get go, so as not to ‘ruin the experience’. I don’t think story based people have a clue what gaming is about.

  37. Hardlylikely says:

    If playing through the same content due to a failure state isn’t enjoyable, then either the game is just not good, it’s not the right game for you, or you are not in the mood and should do something else. I don’t understand games to be about consuming the available content in a timely manner, but about the act of playing.

    The more I think about it, the more that is coming to be one of my points of judgement regarding game quality. A good game is enjoyable to play more than once. It may be a fine piece of interactive story time entertainment, but if the basic act of play is less a pleasure than an impediment to content consumption or narrative experience, then that counts against the overall quality as a game. Similar to KGs opinion (I think it was) that if you have to wait for a game to get good, then it isn’t good.

    Also, the idea that we lie to ourselves about enjoying a challenge is really something considering the next sentences.

    Whereas when I play Dishonored, I will win. Because I am best. I have the best abilities, the best powers, and can outwit and outlast these lesser men. When I play Saints Row: The Third, despite being outnumbered by dozens of times, I’m so ludicrously brilliant that I will nearly always overcome, especially if it involves missiles.

    Talk about lying to yourself. If the game makes you excellent and you simply show up and get the victory lap almost no matter how you play, who really is the one kidding themselves?

  38. Daniel Klein says:

    Guess by a process of elimination we get “Games are best.”

  39. bwion says:

    I think my actual position is probably something like Games Are Best When Things Could Go Wrong But Don’t, but the more I think about it, the more I’m pretty sure they all reduce to Games Are Best When They Deliver To Me The Experience That I Want At Any Given Time.

    Sometimes I want a gripping test of my skill (whether that skill is at combat, stealth, running an empire, puzzle-solving, or working out how to make a game from 1982 run on a modern operating system), sometimes I want to feel like an Unstoppable God Of Murder (or equivalent) without any significant threats standing in my way, sometimes I want an interesting story with some audience participation, and sometimes I just want to kill some time dodging colored blocks to music. And the list goes on.

    And games can provide all of these experiences and more. Moreover, even the argument that Games That Provide Experiences I Don’t Want But Other People Apparently Do are drowning out the games I like in the marketplace doesn’t hold much water any more (though it arguably did at one time), just because we’re living in an era where basically every game that ever existed is available to be played now, and where a game doesn’t have to have a big studio or a big publisher behind it to be made and published, much less to be a commercial or critical success.

    Actually, I’m pretty sure my position ultimately actually reduces to Games Are Best.

    • Pindie says:

      Not sure about old games being available.

      Has anyone managed to get Heavy Gear 2 to run on a modern machine?
      AFAIK there is no similar game to replace it yet (some indie might make it in Unity, so there is hope but I cannot expect great graphics and good VAs).

      • Grygus says:

        No personal experience at all, but I do have a friend who plays Heavy Gear II in Linux after failing to get it to work in Windows 7.

  40. pupsikaso says:

    John, you need to see a therapist. You have issues. You’ve said it yourself, you have anxiety issues. And you can’t use games to cope with them forever. And you can’t say that games that increase your anxiety are somehow “doing it wrong” because of that. Because then what about masterful books and film that are all about tension? Are they also doing it wrong?

    It’s the relief from these intense moments of tension and anxiety that makes books, movies, and games so engaging to us to read/watch/play. But these moments of tension are FAKE. They are simulated. And we know this, subconciously, when we engage with them. If these fake moments of tension gave you the same levels of anxiety as, like you say yourself, a real life car accident then there’s something wrong with you, not with the game.

    • ffordesoon says:

      Yes, because works of art can never be therapeutic. That’s certainly not why we like it when stories take us on a cathartic emotional journey, nosiree. We’re all fine, and John’s just crazy. Riiiiiiight.

      No, art is not a replacement for therapy, but the creation and consumption of art is a fine supplement to it. Ask any therapist who isn’t awful at his or her job.

    • Wulf says:

      I’m sorry, but… you do realise how completely ridiculous of a statement that is, right?

      The fact of the matter is is that everyone copes in their own way. No two brains are built the same, but people can find similar solutions that help with their problems. You remind me of med-happy therapists who believe that all problems are solved by upsetting the biochemical balance of a client’s brain. And I am oh so well aware that those are bad therapists. A good therapist will tell you to find healthy ways to manage your mood and state of mind.

      Now, exploring new experiences in a game does wonders for me. I enjoy the escapism of being my power armoured manimal in Champions Online. And a good therapist would tell you that that’s a safe retreat. See, I don’t like games based around mindless slaughter. But hey, CO is a superhero game, and superheroes don’t kill. Plus, it doesn’t trigger my anxiety. And it improves my mood, state of being, and quality of life by dipping into it occasionally.

      Since in some ways, games like CO can offer me forms of escapism that no others can. (Such as being tasked with problems that I can handle in non-lethal ways, being able to play an anthro character, and so on.) To be honest, I’d only be worried about John if he was using games where killing hordes of people was the motif in order to cope. But he isn’t. He’s using escapism to deal with the stresses of day to day life, much as I do. It’s not about the killing. It’s about being someone and somewhere else, for a time.

      It’s like I said in my prior post, there’s now Scientific evidence that people who aren’t neurotypical are actually creative. There’s a direct correlation, if you have brain damage, you’re likely to be a creative thinker, either in the fields of science or art. This is given proof positive by this point. And to be honest, I’d always suspected that this was true. As a creative person, reality itself isn’t the ultimate state. On the contrary, it can become boring and tiresome quickly.

      This is also why people with specific forms of mental atypicalness tend to be idealists. I have a friend who’s a brilliant robotics engineer, fantastic, top of his field. The man’s a genius. And he’s also an idealist, a dreamer. A transhumanist. This doesn’t surprise me in the least. In fact, this is a story that you will find commonly repeated. There’s loads of transhumanism in modern day culture, because creative people are longing for that. You can see it everywhere. Even stuff like how we fetishise Iron Man is a part of that.

      The fact of the matter is is that a creative person needs their escapes. It makes them healthy, well, and able to cope. Now, you sound like a highly neurotypical person, perfect mental health, sees reality as the ultimate state, wants for nothing other than what you are and have, that sort of thing. And as such you’re not able to understand the perspective of someone like myself. And that’s what makes you sound like a bad therapist.

      Maybe one day you’ll understand. Or perhaps you never will. But some of us need to reach further than reality as the ultimate state. To be honest, considering reality as the ultimate state is the most incredibly and mind-numbingly depressing thing to conceive for a lot of people, because we can understand in various ways how much better it could be. You can be happy with what you have in life, but a person who isn’t neurotypical can’t.

      And their ‘coping,’ as you put it, becomes a necessity. They have a reliance on escapism because it allows them to deal with reality as reality without falling prey to manic depression, random mood shifts, or worse, forms of psychosis. So what John’s doing is perfectly healthy. Same for me. And any good therapist will tell you that. In fact, telling people what you are telling them right now is not only ignorant and misinformed, but it’s dangerous, because some might actually believe you.

      • zebramatt says:

        My two brains are at least very similar, if not exactly the same!

  41. darkChozo says:

    Why is this turning into a hardcore vs. casual debate? This article is almost entirely about the punishment for reaching a failure state, and while games with strong failure states are overwhelmingly hardcore, they’re hardly [pseudo]genre-defining. Most precision platformers have negligible penalties for death (failure can literally mean losing less than ten seconds of gameplay), and yet I don’t see people deriding I Wanna Be The Guy as casual trash. Same with D[emon/ark] Souls; death is almost trivial assuming you’re not ridiculously high level and trying to grind souls, and yet they’re heralded as a return to an earlier, more hardcore state of gaming.

    Personally, I don’t see the threat of losing tons of progress as a positive unless the game is designed around it. Something like FTL works because you only lose maybe an hour of your time and restarting is relatively painless. Your experience is going to change based on what ship you pick and how the random number god is feeling. In some ways, dying in FTL is basically equivalent to starting a new level in any other game; you’ve spent some time on one experience and now get to move on to a new one. I’d argue that the fun isn’t in losing, per se, but in the fact that the game is designed about being played multiple times and therefore can use that as a failure state. In a lot of other games, the ironman/hardcore/whatever aspect is basically (often self-imposed) fake difficulty, and while I can see why someone might enjoy the thrill that flirting with death that may bring, it’s not something I enjoy.

    As for power fantasy games, I can’t empathize at all with anyone who thinks that playing that style of game makes you casual. There’s certainly room for both in your repertoire; I love games like Dishonored, Prototype, and Jedi Academy just as much as games like Dark Souls and They Bleed Pixels. They just take a different mindset; while challenge games are often all about dominant strategy or reflexes, power fantasy games are all about roleplay. Sure, Dishonored isn’t what you’d call hard, but there’s fun to be had in pretending to be magic Batman. I had tons of fun in Prototype going Musclemass and body surfing everyone, even if that’s not optimal or particularly hard. Jedi Academy is laughably easy to break with the right force powers, but go pure lightsaber or use some of the less useful but more fun powers and it’s great.

    And as a side note, the number of people nitpicking the third to last paragraph is amusing. It’s almost literally followed by a /hyperbole tag, seriously.

    • gekitsu says:

      i very much agree, good sir!

    • Droopy The Dog says:

      Why has it been shoehorned into a casual vs hardcore debate?

      I’m guessing because the simple answer, that people can have differing preferences of equal validity, is unsatisfactory to some people possessed of faulty logic. That same faulty logic lets them misconstrue any tangentally related arguement as good enough cause to ressurect the casual vs hardcore debate where they hope to finally prove once and for all that their opinion is factually better than everyone else’s.

      As for the third to last paragraph. I’ve long said it’s foolish trying to be ironic on the internet without using actual “/sarcasm” tags, if you don’t be prepared for comedy of errors level misunderstanding. Though I feel a little for John, since “/sarcasm” tags as probably frowned upon as bad form in formal journalism circles, stuffy old sods they are.

      • zebramatt says:

        If someone needs irony spelled out for them in order to understand its employ, they also need their brain removed and placed in a jar for antiquity’s sake.

  42. Laurentius says:

    I am totally like John, i like when things go smoothly. Free roaming Librety CIty, replaying Portal 2, Civ on Chiftain. That’s how i roll and people who think i am casual or i’m killing industry, well you are dead wrong, inaccesibilitiy and idiotic limititations to video game consuming is wieghting heavily on video games developement.

    PS. i love FTL, but i don’t feel this game is punishing me, it’s just that sometimes you hit and sometines you miss like in basketball, you can’t have 100% accuracy.

  43. Runs With Foxes says:

    This is the worst.

  44. valz says:

    This article primarily describes what makes me get tired of playing game and quit. Exceptions: story-centered games like Monkey Island and The Walking Dead. Otherwise, without a challenge, I don’t have a game, I have a toy. Toys can be great for quite a while, but eventually, I want to do something that’s rewarding, not just pleasant.

    • Wulf says:

      It is rewarding, just rewarding in a way that’s different to what you understand.

      You want an experience which is heavily anchored in reality, something like a job. You’re assigned a task, the task can be difficult, and you can either fail or succeed. If you succeed, you receive a reward pellet (loot), and you get a dopamine rush. Wheee.

      However, for another kind of person, simply having the chance to explore a different experience which is alien and foreign to them is rewarding in and of itself. And interrupting that too harshly can raise anxiety rather than make one feel good. This isn’t hardcore vs. casual, this is about what a person expects from a game. Some play a game purely to be a game. As a system of risk/reward, to supplement their free time. Others play a game for escapism.

      In a game like the Amazing Spider-Man (on easy) or Champions Online, when I’m cruising around, I don’t feel too threatened. But I’m also enjoying myself. I’m doing so because I’m fighting giant robots in Manhattan. Or I’m dealing with dinosaurs as a pirate werebear (with steampunk cybernetic limbs) on an island that time forgot. These are things which are detached from reality, so I enjoy them. And I enjoy partaking of as many variations and new situations as I can.

      I’m the opposite. I get bored and put off when things are too close to reality. The whole work->reward system doesn’t work on me all that well, my brain isn’t designed to adopt it, and as such I don’t get the rush that you do for almost failing but rather succeeding at something. I get my rush from experiencing something new.

      So ultimately – to each their own. But that’s how it is for different people.

  45. pupsikaso says:

    I’m dumbfounded why my comment to this article was deleted. All I said was that I believe John has some real anxiety problems in real life that he should address. Is that enough to delete my comment? It’s not intended as an insult, in fact John says it himself in the very first paragraph!

    All I was saying was that the reason why great movies, books and games have tension and put you under pressure is because the eventual RELEASE of that pressure is why we watch/read/play them in the first place. And that if these FAKE moments of anxiety give John the same levels of stress that, as he says, a real life car accident would, then there’s something wrong with HIM and not the GAME, and he should seek some help, because using the stress-free games available as a coping mechanism isn’t the best way to deal with this issue.

    • jrodman says:

      Perhaps it was deleted because you’re presuming far too much and by doing so are being insulting.

      Hope this helps.

    • Wulf says:

      Plus, you’re wrong. And you sound like a Very Bad Therapist. As I explained above. Your views are not only incorrect, but misleading to someone who actually might believe them. Again, I direct you to my post above as to why this is.

  46. gekitsu says:

    whats most interesting for me is that i find things to agree to in both of them, although being far more in johns camp overall. (as john and i already found out on twitter, based on reactions to the cardboard arcade videos)

    i most definitely agree with john that games stop to be a valuable pastime when the prospect of running them gets the ring of real-life situations one would rather not partake in because they are (or are thought to be) stressful for no apparent, meaningful reason. this does not have anything to do with the level of challenge the game provides. while sitting around a bunch of computers crammed into an appartment with friends and throwing some virtual rocks at each other absolutely contains an element of competition, and therefore challenge, it is not what the overall situation is about. achieving victory, and forcing failure upon someone, isnt the point of the whole thing. having fun with friends is. fun results when winning and losing doesnt mean too much – when great stories can happen and everyone gets a hearty laugh out of it. (side note: thats responsible for my disinterest in the prevalent concept of multiplayer. i am genuinely disinterested in anonymous competition for its own sake. when the point starts and ends with someone shoving his immaculately honed skills in the face of someone else, there isnt happening enough to hold my interest.)

    liek john, i find the ability of a game to provide fun is something largely independent of whether a game is free-form like minecraft or a pre-determined story well told. i also find it largely independent of how many systems there are to juggle. being confronted with an opaque number of systems will leave me unable to focus on anything because when i filed my tax return i must prepare the paperwork for my phone and electricity bills and, after that, there will be yet another chore thrown at me. in the end, i will get arrested for not being able to pay a parking ticket in time, all the while preoccupied with facilitating payment of bills instead of engaging a meaningful world. this is at least as frustrating as being told a boring story.
    that said, i appreciate when a game provides the possibility for unplanned things to happen, and i wager john would agree. after all, even in a creeperless minecraft, engaging the world through exploration will leave us giddy and excited when we hit upon a fascinating ravine, or an incredible vein of a resource we happen to need, just as much as when we find ourselves facing a much more challenging build because, say, where we supposed to be solid rock is in fact swiss cheese, or the road to the last few diamonds we need involves close skirting of a lava pools shore.

    the question, to me, is not whether a game provides me with an insurmountable set of systems that allow things to go wrong (a lot of the greatest games of all time manage just fine focussing on one or two such systems), or it allows me a safe line to steadily progress along (ikaruga increased the number of continues, the more total playing time you amassed – allowing everyone to see through the half-hour of game it provides. somehow, it didnt make me appreciate achievements any less. next goal was to finish the game while only using a default number of continues).

    the question, to me, is how well a game handles its chosen design path to allow me to have fun (i.e. having a worthwhile experience, which is quite the subjective thing.) playing the game. mindlessly piling on challenge upon challenge, adding system upon system with which to destroy what i invested time in, is not going to do that. exclusively focussing on a multiplayer experience where all i do is put skills to use against strangers for the total reward of a scoreboard is not going to do that. ensuring that no matter what i do, everything will go smoothly without any consequence at all, is not going to do that either.

    its a balancing act.

    being forced to replay the same areas over and over does not need to be a problem when it isnt imposed arbitrarily (dead space for example: o hai there, find us this part at the other end of the station. *pewpewpew* oh, now youre over there, we found something worth investigating over here, which forces you to backtrack through the whole place. *pewpewpew* please hurry up and bring that stuff home, run through the entire place again! *pewpew* wait… fuck off.), when the very act of doing so is fun, and there is a carefully tweaked limit of punishment (demons/dark souls, super mario games, ikaruga). an out-of-the-blue creeper blowing up something i invested time in can be devastating to my willingness to invest further time, unless it is carefully balanced how much such a force of nature can be controlled, and how much in can destroy. a creeper blowing a man-sized hole into my decorative panels because i missed a place where he could jump over my fence is something different than a creeper magically teleporting onto my heavily guarded dinner table and deploying a crater 50 meter in diameter. a linear story, even with excessive cut scenes, isnt necessarily problematic when it keeps my glued to the game (metal gear).

  47. Wulf says:

    I have to agree with John.

    I don’t find stress fun. I’d rather sit down with something like Uru as opposed to something sandboxy like EvE. Why? I want escapism, storytelling, I want beautiful worlds, and to be enraptured by the imagination of another person. I want to step outside of this world for a little time to see a gleaming, beautiful Universe that goes beyond the common constructs of man. There’s something in that that transcends the human condition.

    An interesting study recently showed that the most creative people suffer some form of brain damage. This isn’t just artists, but scientists too, because science requires imaginary numbers. My reaction to this? “Well duh.” It was a truth I’d always taken for granted. But the fact of the matter is that we might be ‘as binary as all that’ after all. But not in a good/evil sort of way, but rather in whether we embrace reality or not as the ultimate state.

    The more neurotypical you are, the more likely you are to accept reality as an ultimate state, with everything that you could want being found within it. The less you are, the more your imagination is likely to wander, as that study showed. That means that we can prefer different things. Imagine that. But what it means is that people who are more creative prefer it when things are less like reality, when things are clever and unusual, and unfamiliar. Rather than the opposite.

    So whether you prefer it when games go right or wrong?

    Games going wrong does tend to fall under them being more akin to reality as we know it, as that ultimate state. See, we’re familiar with failure, it’s a comfortable concept. You learn from it and you move on. As a neurotypical, a failure is a fact of life. It can sometimes even be a point with which you turn around your life and do something different. But it’s simply something that you have to accept that can happen. Along with suffering, death, and boring vocations.

    And then you have more creative people who don’t want things to be like this. They want this impossible reality, because they’re dreamers, they want to explore the unfamiliar, and they want games and similar experiences to take them away from reality. They want escapism. So according to this divide, you have the kind of person who plays Call of Duty, and the kind of person who plays Divinity II.

    But the separation isn’t always cut and dry. I would say there are more of the former than of the latter, and I would also say that there are extremes. I know that I’m an extreme of the latter, because I’m frequently sick of overly familiar experiences in games, and I want games to depart from reality as much as possible. I tend to be happiest when they give me a new and interesting thing to explore, without encumbering me with the trappings of reality (like blunt, overbearing failure).

    So whether you find things are better when things go right or wrong depends on how much you want to escape from the trappings of reality. If you’re okay and comfortable with the familiarity of reality, and you just want reality but in a slightly different setting, then you’re going to pick things which are naturally boring. I find EvE boring, to be honest. I don’t find that the thrill of it adds anything for me. There’s just no imagination present. There may be a lot of enjoyment to be had, but there’s no escapism.

    It’s boring.

    That’s why, despite it being a themepark, I’d rather play Champions Online. In Champions Online, there’s far less of a risk of crushing failure. In fact, it’s one of the most casual games I know of. When I’m playing that, I have a safety net, and I can be the most bizarre superhero that I can concoct. I can throw together these bizarre concepts, and I can go and save animal men from dinosaurs. That I find much less boring (than two metal hulks slowly flinging potshots at each other).

    I think that for a really creative person, you don’t want something breaking the flow of that. Because crushing failure brings you right back down to reality and out of your escapism, because you feel the need to take a break and to go and do other things. This is why I mostly prefer games which won’t punish me or cut the ‘flow,’ or games which have no threats at all. Because I can keep that flow going and I can continue to explore this strange place.

    That’s the only way I can explain it, at least. See, if you fail in EvE, it can be crushingly bad, but that’s just a fact of life. You go back to life and you do your day to day things. But for a creative person, there’s a more marked separation between escapism and reality, where they become two entirely different constructs. I find that a more creative person craves novelty, and the simple fact of the matter is is that we don’t want any interruptions to our flow of novelty.

    The occasional threat can be exciting, but so long as it doesn’t crush us and break that flow. Keeping that flow going is important. Making it fluctuate and introducing threats that could end your fun is entertaining, but if you make them too tough, then that increases your desire to simply stop and give it a rest. Whereas if you can keep going, you can keep enjoying it. And that’s why I usually play games on easy. And for me, that’s why games feel the most right when they’re going right.

    Of course, this has probably added nothing to the discussion, but I’m just doing my best to add something from my own perspective.

    Did anyone miss me?

    • Kaira- says:

      “This isn’t just artists, but scientists too, because science requires imaginary numbers.”

      I… uh…. what.

      • Brun says:

        Same thoughts here. Imaginary numbers don’t require any more creative thinking than real numbers. Their behavior is governed by a set of well-established laws and theorems, and you can learn these from a textbook or the internet.

        Maybe he means that they are “imaginary” because they don’t map to real quantities like feet, pounds, etc.? That’s all fine and good, but scientists and engineers typically use imaginary numbers to solve real problems – they’re a means to obtain the answer. If they are the answer, you’ve typically messed up.

        • darkChozo says:

          As an electrical engineer (working as a software developer but that’s beside the point), I feel obliged to say that imaginary numbers are perfectly valid final answer in some circumstances. Technically, anyway.

          • Kaira- says:

            As everyone knows, technically correct is the best way to be correct.

          • Brun says:

            Sure, they can be an answer to specific problems like “Find the Eigenvalues.” But real-world quantities typically aren’t imaginary. As an aerospace engineer I’d be pretty upset if I got an imaginary lift coefficient or angle of attack.

            But, if there were one place I’d expect imaginary numbers to be “happiest” it would be in the realm of electrical engineering.

          • jrodman says:

            But how would you feel about a complex lift coefficient?

    • Pindie says:

      Ignoring everything else you wrote, since there is a lot of it:
      The reason I will never play Eve is not because there is punishing difficulty.
      It’s because there is not enough difficulty to guarantee every player will need to restart from time to time.

      You see, it’s one thing if anyone can and will die and it’s a different thing when you enter a game and get ganked by players you cannot compete with and by the time you catch up the MMO is likely to be dead so if you weren’t there from the start just don;t bother.

      I find death easier to accept when it happens to everybody fairly.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      @Wulf

      I would also be very keen to see a peer reviewed study, printed by a respected publication, because your ideas seem to directly oppose proven concepts.

      On a related note, is anyone else watching cuckoo at the moment?

    • ffordesoon says:

      I must admit, I kind of missed you.

      Of course, that’s mainly because I like to read your comments in the voice of Daniel Plainview, but, you know…

    • tomeoftom says:

      I didn’t miss you either. You seem to be incurably narcisstic. Please, keep this drivel to your own personal blog.

  48. PopeJamal says:

    Excellent article. Well, I guess now we know why he’s in charge around here :)

  49. Janto says:

    Hey, I missed Wulf. I mean, like John, he’s so wrong it hurts, but the fact that he seemed to have been bullied off the site didn’t endear any of you fine RPS citizens to me.

    • Unaco says:

      He wasn’t “bullied off the site”. He was banned.

      • Wulf says:

        I was banned for basically getting annoyed at people who were hating on console games and gamers, and considering them a lesser, troglodyte-race for not gaming on a PC.

        But the thing is is that I still like John and his articles. So I drop by every now and then.

        • Sheng-ji says:

          It was probably because you had a long history of things like this:

          Someone posted that they found the idea of dance parties in MMO’s creepy because they imagined the people behind the screen also dancing – clearly a light hearted comment. Your response was to call them dead-headed and (some kind of slang for jealous?) jealling. You told them their view of the world was incredibly simplistic, called what they were saying silly. You then had the bare faced cheek to tell them that they were the ones dismissing the self expression of others with nasty comments. Pot, kettle, black.

          This behaviour went on day after day, essay long rant after essay long rant. I am surprised your ban has been lifted myself, but from what you’ve posted so far, you certainly seem to have learnt to respect other peoples opinion enough to not insult them should it disagrees with yours. You clearly haven’t learnt how to make your point concisely.

  50. Jesus H. Christ says:

    It seems to me the article is arguing that “I like the rewards of victory without any of the efforrt or risk.”: Well duh. But unearned rewards without risk are called guaranteed outcomes and are pretty dull for [i]some[/i] people.

    You know, the kind of people who like training for marathons etc. The problem emerges when the vast majority of game devs chase the biggest audience, and most people like rewards without effort or risk. So the vast majority of games cater to people like the author.

    thing is though, they aren’t core game players. And by that I mean the people who will plunk down $60 or more dollars without hesitation and become devoted fans. They are the backbone of the industry and, quite frankly, are increasingly ignored by the big corporations.

    I also think the fact that the author has to play games for his job means that his experiences are not trransferable to the larger gaming population as a whole.