Games Are Too Hard

11 Feb

 By Nick Halme

I noticed that Relic’s presentation on Friday where J.D. (sorry if I got the name wrong) went into interaction design – exploring a level above mechanics and delving into creating intuitive experiences – sort of ties in with this article, which is great.

Settle down. Before you decide to tie me to a rotisserie and sacrifice me to the gods of gaming, consider this: videogames are too difficult for the average person. Is this a generalization? Yep, sure is – but it’s fair to say that Joe Blow might be intimidated after the third time he gets roasted by a Hadouken fireball in Street Fighter. You know what? That’s even a little intimidating for me — but maybe for a different reason than just difficulty; the average gamer is not necessarily the average person, and we are designing games for gamers — even casual and non-games are guilty of targeting narrow audiences.

Recently Dan C, formerly of Epic Games, wrote a cute “breakup note” for Super Mario Galaxy on his blog, Lost Garden, where he muses that the issue at hand might be deeper than just casual and hardcore players :

“Sometimes, it is the player, not the design that is at fault. Somewhere along the way, I have diverged from the traditional gamer path. Those simple pleasures of twitching in sequence to bizarre spacial/temporal puzzles are lost on me. Instead of finding them fun, I find them to be obnoxious time wasters.”

Oddly enough, his wife loved it. Of course this doesn’t mean that hard games have to go; as Dan admits in his letter “If you fixed these things, it wouldn’t be a Mario game.”

Perhaps the problem is not that games are traditionally too difficult, but that they simply appeal to a very narrow player type. If you are compelled to believe the recent article on Gamasutra describing games as compulsion machines, then that might mean that most games simply do not satisfy the right compulsions for some people, and instead present them with annoying contradictory urges that they have no will to sate. If you have no idea what so-called ‘compulsion engineering’ is, then this will help you catch up quickly:

“Contrary to popular belief, humans do not act in pursuit of physical sensations. The taste of great food, or the physical sensation of orgasm, are not our primary motivations. These things do matter, but they do not drive major changes in our behavior. What is really important to us is satisfying compulsive urges and maintaining good emotional states.”

Objectively speaking it’s not so much that there is something intrinsically wrong with a game; it just might not meet an individual’s needs. This isn’t new thinking (player archetypes), but it certainly helps designers think differently about what they are providing for players: satiating needs rather than strictly providing challenges.

At any rate, if you have a few minutes to spare try taking the Motivations Assessment test – while geared towards an MMO, it still provides some insight into what kind of games you might enjoy. Dan C himself had some interesting facts to relay:

• “I’ll put up with fighting enemies or solving puzzles into order to see new vistas or get some coin to help outfitting my character. I’m not in it for the joy of the battle. “

• “For a person like myself, Street Fighter is the single dumbest game of all time.”

• “On the other hand, wandering about in Animal Crossing and planting sweet rows of pretty apple trees is pure crack.”

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