Electron Dance

Discussion: Hypocrisy

From something I call February's newsletter (sign up if you want to read it):

Hi, I’m the Into the Black guy. I ask why people want achievements and shiny things to reward exploration in games. It’s all BALONEY. Rewards kill the JOY. They invite DISAPPOINTMENT. I will keep on using CAPITAL LETTERS to distract you from my hypocrisy.

Dear subscribers, if you feel like chatting about anything at all from the newsletter, please speak your mind in the comments here.

Download my FREE eBook on the collapse of indie game prices an accessible and comprehensive explanation of what has happened to the market.

Sign up for the monthly Electron Dance Newsletter and follow on Twitter!

Electron Dance Highlights

Comments (11) Trackbacks (0)
  1. “I repeatedly turned to the Store Locator to find stores we hadn’t visited before. Stop your sniggering.”

    Oh my god. You’re like my colleague who wants to visit all the Wetherspoons. :-)

    “Biblical Rain Zone”

    That’s a Sonic level, right?

    “Torrential rain rarely makes for a memorable walk”

    It absolutely does! Indeed, it evidently did! Look at that picture of you all sad and wet. That was the minor (rain)fall before major lift.

    Hai and I often visit Padley Gorge in Grindleford in the Peaks. The reason? Aside from having a lovely forested walk that opens out into a beautiful meadow and stream (admittedly spoilt by other people, dogs and children — this can be solved with torrential rain), there’s an amazing cafe where you can get a pint of tea and some proper comfort food to book end your walk. We need to find more of these combos, minus the people.

  2. Oh my God, Gregg, I meant to delete the “rarely makes for a memorable walk” because, you know, OF COURSE IT’S MEMORABLE BECAUSE IT WAS HORRIBLE. I think I had two such lines and I deleted one… yet left in the other?

    But, yeah, there’s something grand about putting your feet up after hours of trekking across the slopes or through the woods. Like you’ve truly earned this beer or tea or coffee, instead of simply driving into town. The journey transforms it into the best beverage in the world.

  3. I’m glad you didn’t delete it. Gregg is right AND it doesn’t even have to be horrible! It also seems to be something everyone has done at least once.

    In 2005 I visited Scotland with a friend, the plan was to walk and see as much as possible in two weeks. The day after we arrived in Fort William we wanted to reach the top of Ben Nevis (definitely a goal, no off topic here), but since the weather was awful we thought it was wiser to spend the day along the Great Glen. We walked 25 miles under torrential rain along Caledonian Canal, Loch Lochy, Loch Oich up to Invergarry. Even though we were well equipped, when we reached the hostel the receptionist was shocked to find out that even our money was wet! So, it definitely can be fun, both if you’re 20 and if you look back and think “I was a fool when I was 20”.

  4. I have many stories with the rain, some sad, others happy. I love to walk just to think and find new places, some times I walk where there is “cafés” or other places that I can stop a minute and drink a cup of coffe. Indeed I like so much of coffe, that I even have a Barista course, I never worked as Barista, but I know how to make a great coffe! (@_@)

    I can’t elaborate too much right now, but as you put “collectibles” or “task” or “objectives” are kind of “stimulus” that make the “player” keep going, as the stimulus becomes the goal by itself?

    For video games, more than the act of gaming, like chess or sports, but the media of “video games”, I think that the “stimulus” is central to understand it’s potential. Another point it’s how this “concept” changes our persona, having a great role to model our believes, attitudes, etc. And since these products are produced by the culture (a certain culture of certain peoples in certain places) themselves, the consumer is reflected by these products, being influenced and influencing. Considering that video games are very attached to the market in it’s essence, it’s hard to separate from it’s capitalistic quality, tending to be nothing more than a “economic product”, with economic interests and economic class as principal consumer and creative producer. The consequence is a product made from an decadent culture, alienated from reality and so absent of meaning. Of course our first conclusion is to see that the “perfect” product of this process, are the games from mainstream, i.e games that are design to promote stimulus, where “violence” is the a stimulus by excellence, is the STIMULUS. But there is a catch, we are seduced to make a false dichotomy: STIMULUS X REASON, where stimulus is not related to any intelligence, thinking, etc. And more, we are not doing “violent acts”, we are playing with the “idea” of violence, therefore is inevitable that these games are formed and forming ideologies, i.e our many notions of the world. This absent of meaning is probably one of the motives we as adult lost interest very fast in many games, because they are in a certain way, irrelevant to our lives.

    To conclude, I think would be interesting to review the concept of video game, there is “video game” and there is a interactive media based on (“direct”) stimulus, one a product of a certain culture and history (since is related to the industry of entertainment, is probably more a “subproduct”) another is a concept of technology.

    There is some psychology theories (old ones) that are founded on that relation: stimulus, objective, but so concerned in being physiological, that becomes “scientificism” and human being not so different from dogs…

  5. I think I am with your daughter on this one – I feel very strongly about the pie shop at the end of a decently long and hot (this time of year) bike ride. I am all about the pies.

  6. They do a corned beef pie, and a cauliflower and cheese pie. It’s like dinner at my nanna‘s place, only you can put it in your pocket. http://www.oldfernvalebakery.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/OFB-Menu-2012.pdf

  7. I live in Los Angeles, that town that. in the immortal words of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, “is a great big freeway.” The reason that it’s a great big freeway is that you have to drive (in bumper to bumper traffic) to get ANYWHERE, including a place to take a decent walk, unless your idea of a decent walk is to stroll down an endless grid of sidewalks past ranch homes, bungalows and faux Spanish-style strip malls. Now that we’ve moved a little further out of the city proper, we have a few local parks at our disposal and there’s a reasonable amount of scenic nature in them, but to get to the really beautiful walks you still have to get on those damned freeways and DRIVE to them.

    All of which is to say that I don’t recommend LA as a place for a decent walk, unless you want to see that tacky Hollywood sign and wander through faux scenery at Disneyland. Though pretty soon they’ll be opening Star Wars Land, where you’ll be able take a beautiful walk through lovely Tatooine. accompanied by several thousand tourists eating Bantha Burgers and buying plush Wookiees. Honestly, the best scenery in Los Angeles is on movie screens and you can see it without even leaving the comfort of your home town.

    Speaking of Starbucks, when we visited the UK two years ago, we were amazed that you have far more coffee shops than we do and they make much better macchiatos than our local Starbucks does. And here I thought you guys only drank tea and ate crumpets (whatever the hell a crumpet is).

  8. Fede

    I wanted to delete the lines about “not being memorable” because it was obviously memorable – I was quoting the story :) I had no intention of removing the story!

    However, this isn’t an important memory –
    useful for this article, I suppose – and would have happily done something else less wet at the time! Walking 25 miles through rain, though, that’s a special achievement, really :)


    I’m assuming that readers are familiar with Into the Black. It suggests that rewarding exploration with something tangible is in danger of invoking the “overjustification effect” where a reward undermines personal enjoyment. So I wanted to turn this around and use real world examples to review this hypothesis. Personal game experience seems to track with the my theory – once I have collectibles/similar that I tend to chase those to the detriment of the genuine exploration.


    Tsk tsk shilling for corporations again. How much did they pay you? £5? £6? How can you put a price on trust? ;)

    Do you bike for the pie? Or do you refuse to bike without the pie? Which is it? Which is chicken, which is egg?

    PS you made me hungry goddammit


    We’ve had our fair share of exploring city centres (there are tons of interesting office blocks in Tokyo, all with shops at their base and sometimes roof). I haven’t been to LA (went to SF once) so it sounds like there isn’t too much going on there. But Disney Sea is one of my favourite places on Earth. The sheer attention to detail and dedication to theme – I’ve never been anywhere like it. There was a big Twitter thread on it a few months back (not mine!) and it was nice to see someone else list everything that was just amazing about Disney Sea.

    That’s an amusing anecdote on Starbucks, but I refuse to be dragged into a crumpet discussion again.

  9. I will happily ride for no pies, although I do try to make sure my riding routes are pie-adjacent when I can.

    Slightly more on point to your newsletter (not that being on point is a #lifegoal for me):

    In recent times I have been inspired by Into the Black to change the way I approached the horse riding simulator RDR2. The first game I rinsed, not quite getting to 100% but still working to complete challenges and generally letting the meta-game dictate what I did and how I did it. I do remember some sense of satisfaction, but the shooting and such was not so good that I remember really enjoying the experience.

    This game I am letting the story push me along when it felt right, and when I felt that Arthur would just take off into the hills to get away from all the awful people in his life (his own self included) I would put on my woolly coat and ride into the snow and hunt to eat and just look at the amazing scenery and find weird little things in abandoned huts and it was perfect.

    So I would say that ignoring the meta rewards has greatly increased the rewards I’m getting from the game’s amazing sense of place and time.

  10. This is probably a banal observation but I find it hard to explore without a bit of structure, even if the exploring is the point. Back in the discussion of Full Bore I was saying, in response to the critique that the gems don’t do anything and your response “Yes, why play the puzzles in a puzzle game?”, that you could do something with hard-to-reach spots and let the player go figure out how to get to hard-to-reach spaces, but the gems give the player goals, and let them know which goals are attainable, and generally give them structure.

    In a puzzle game that’s particularly important because it lets you know that that particular impossible-looking spot must in fact be possible to reach. Which I think is part of what I find alienating about score-attack games like Six Match and, well, lots of things. It’s all about setting yourself goals (a number of points, uncovering a certain unlock, whatever) and then dying. The game won’t tell you what it’s reasonable to achieve.–Come to think of it, this may be another place where 2048 had more mass appeal than Threes. The ultimate goal of 2048 is right there in the title, it can take you years to find out that Threes has an ending at all.

    Even games about non-difficult exploration usually provide you with signposts. Even if Knytt is about going around and seeing the world, it points you to the spaceship parts to get you moving. Dear Esther may be all about the journey but it’s decidedly a journey to a place you can see at the beginning. The two games I can think of about exploring that don’t give you goals are Proteus and Bernband, and even Proteus gives you a lot of distant landmarks to get to and animals to chase. (And didn’t Key talk about how he had to add the swirling lights around the time circle to let people know it was there?) Even Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love, which to a fault is about plopping the player down and saying “Here’s a bunch of arbitrary stuff you can explore, it doesn’t matter what you do,” has achievements up the wazoo.

    (While typing this comment I coincidentally put on an album from 1987 whose first track is called “Open World.” Hmm.)

    Another game I’ve been experimenting a bit is called Lone Spelunker, which is about cave exploration and which may eventually send you to procedurally generated caves where it’s all about freeform exploration–but the beginner’s cave I tried decidedly had an achievement for “reach this spot and take a selfie here” that let me know when I’d accomplished something there. It calls itself a roguelike but I’d say that a noncombat/nonPC side-view exploring game isn’t even a roguelike even if it does have ASCII graphics, procgen (when you decide to try it), and permadeath. OH LOOK A TRANSITION TO RESUME THE ROGUELIKE DISCUSSION FROM THE LAST THREAD.

  11. kfix

    “Not being on point is a #lifegoal for me” – I’d like to introduce you to Matt.

    Nice to hear you’re getting more out of the great outdoors after giving up on the collectibles. I need to go back to GTA:SA with my new Into the Black shades and just enjoy exploring. I was constantly chasing collectibles and things to do – and was then sore that the game had lots of areas without sufficient reasons to visit. You can see that I got myself in a little pickle, here.

    I tend to have little self-imposed goals these days – get to a peak, break into a car park. I tend to wander around buildings for an ingress. And so on.


    I knew someone would bring this up at some point. It’s a form of this: don’t we need “targets” in an exploration game that make us explore? If it’s a flat desert, who is going to bother? You must at least suspect that something is out there? I might dislike the fakery of collectibles but you’ve got to have SOMETHING, surely?

    Good exploration games are usually rich enough to offer structure if you need it. I remember the original Timeframe game, and you could see many interesting locations to explore and would chase those in the limited time you had before the world ended. Adding the collectibles turned it into “getting the collectibles done” and irritated me no end.

    Big exploration games need much stronger structure because, inevitably, they are padded out with null landscapes. What I mean are spaces which are barren, copy-paste or procedurally-generated. They add to the “on a journey” expereince but not of interest in themselves. Think, the massive landscape of FUEL or the island of Miasmata. While just pottering about can be cathartic, if you LOOKING FOR THINGS, wandering is not going to be good enough.

    Contrast with the tight spaces that Orihaus used to make – you could barely swing a cat for smacking into some weird abstract architecture.

    The problem with Proteus’ portal is that the circle is the one mechanic of the game. You need to enter it to visit another season. If you do not realise it is there, you miss 75% of Proteus. It’s a mechanic in a game that eschews mechanics and, looking back, I feel like it was quite dangerous. There are other playful mechanics in there, of course: the tower that teleports, the pagan totems summoning a spirit at night. But the circle feels less like play and more like a Game Switch. My gut, today, would be to do away with the circle and find an approach that was less gamey, no hunting the hotspot.

    (I didn’t like Cube & Star. To me, it felt like lots of mechanics without any purpose. I couldn’t find any value in it. I didn’t feel playful, but like a game in search of a design.)

    Apologies for not responding to your roguelike ESSAY yet. We seem to be going through a comment renaissance after a period in which I thought the comment section was dying. I’m finding it difficult to stay on top of them. I may be reaching that point where I just have to start letting go and just doing my best. (I never thought I’d get here, because comments have been slowly squeezed out by social media. But the 2018/19 has seen a significant bump in Electron Dance readership.)

Leave a comment

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail.

No trackbacks yet.