Sinan Kubba talks about saving Mirror’s Edge and delivering a sequel. I’d love a sequel to that game, but then again I wanted a sequel to Portal and came away wondering if the original was diminished by its descendent. Portal 2 is not to Portal what Half-Life 2 was to Half-Life. But Sinan is right about the title; I never liked “Mirror’s Edge” and there’s a weak attempt to justify the name in Faith’s dialogue. I don’t know if it’s down to Rhianna Pratchett or down to the marketeers. Either way, I’ll find out your address, hunt you down… and offer you a cup of Earl Grey, hot.

I was pants at the time trial though. Getting three stars for any run was diamond hard; I think I got the gold for the first trial and then gave up. There’s a lot of puzzle in there, in the sense that you have to find the most optimum route connecting the checkpoints. To pull off these outrageous solutions, you need a veteran understanding of the Mirror’s Edge playground. Which means repetition, lots of.

But with the emphasis on reflexes and movement combos, it was the kind of game that made me feel old. I worry about that. It’s common knowledge that games are getting easier with modern design methodology eating away at the hardcore punishment of our formative years. The first Sonic the Hedgehog, for example, is the hardest of the entire Sonic series on the Megadrive (Spinball excepted). I can defeat Half-Life 2 in my sleep, but Half-Life still requires patience and TLC at certain points.

When I played the time trial mode in Mirror’s Edge, I just didn’t sense any gradual improvement in my skills. Some of those super-ace moves involving a wall hop flowing into a reverse vault and a cat leap were beyond me. I understood what I had to do in my brain. But there was a disconnect somewhere along the wire between brain, hand, mouse, CPU, graphics card and monitor. I’d better go defrag my hard drive just in case.

So are games making me feel old? Is this my cue to step away from rockhardcore gaming?

Oh, it’s a long long time from May to December
And the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
And you ain’t got time for the waiting game

Whoa, whoa, whoa now. I’m not in the September of life. I’m still hanging in there in my thirties. By my fingertips, yes, but still hanging in there. Maybe I need to get more sleep to improve my brain-Faith coordination, because I just don’t get enough sleep these days. You know you’re in trouble when you doze off in the middle of a Portal 2 puzzle. Look, I’m still good with muscle memory and super-reflex because I got every damn trinket in VVVVVV. I… actually VVVVVV is a bad example.

VVVVVV has its challenge modes and the Super Gravitron. I am terrible at both. For a long time ten seconds was my limit in the Super Gravitron and not through skill but through luck. It was luck that enabled me to increase that to twenty seconds several months later but the most important thing was this: my skills had not improved. VVVVVV had circumscribed my limits, dividing the world into things I was and was not able to learn. Was it age? Or was I always like this?

There were many games in my Atari 8-bit days so crushingly hard that the endorphins in my brain simply packed up and left for greener pastures. There wasn’t enough incentive to persevere. Then again, I got through some awesome insane crazy hardcore torture on the Megadrive. Probotector (Contra) was ruthless and brutal but I played and played again until I saw most of the endings. I never completed Treasure’s Dynamite Headdy, with its wanton surreality and narrative story tricks. The final boss, Dark Demon, demanded watertight reactions, forcing me to depend on luck. But luck was never enough. In a world without saves, a game in which most players rely on randomness to win will lose its audience well before the final cut scene.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother. Jonathan Blow tells us that most games are worse than slouching in front of the TV, encouraging behaviour that has no physical benefit and feeds us mental dross somehow worse than The X Factor (sorry, X Factor fans but, well, no). It’s pretty damning really. If it’s just a drug for the head, maybe I should be taking it in moderation.

Zero Tolerance is one of those games you regret in hindsight. As far as I recall, it was one of only two FPS games available on the Megadrive, pushing the hardware to its limits (the other was Bloodshot/Battle Frenzy although there was also something called Cybercop/Corporation which I hated). I was desperate to play a first-person game – my only other 3D exploring experience was Paul Woakes’ landmark Mercenary – and Zero Tolerance had been given a thumbs-up in the reviews. But it was more repetitive than watching rolling news on the day of the Royal Wedding. Enter room, aliens race towards you, shoot aliens.

Some over-careful play was necessary to extend your life span, which made the game tediously long. As I neared the end of the game, slogging through the utterly boring basement levels, I found myself running out of ammunition. The only way to resolve this was to go back and replay a couple of floors, optimising my shooting to give my guns longevity. What drove me onwards was the fact I knew I was near the end. I had to take down that boss.

You can see where the comparisons to addiction come from. Games are gambling machines. They entice you with disco lights and candy but by the time you see the reality of the game for what it is – whether it be a mindless shooter or pointless trinket hunt – it’s too late. You’ve paid in too much time. If you throw in a bit more, maybe you’ll finish the experience and all that time you frittered away will have been worth it. But some games just don’t know when to quit. They go on and on like a racist taxi driver who thinks the blacks have ruined the neighbourhood. Just shut up already.

And maybe that’s what is behind my failure to improve, a lack of dedication. With great age comes great responsibility, if I remember my Spiderman correctly. Games become compartmentalized and you start to see through the bait-and-switch of the disco lights for the gamble of grind. Score, prestige or achievements – they’re all design illusions, trying to paint a sense of worth over actions that are provably worthless. But it just doesn’t work any more, because time is too valuable to waste on something which is empty and unrewarding. You see the whole damn lie for what it is.

And that is why gamification will not change the world.

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32 thoughts on “The Retired Gambler

  1. Nice post, I vividly remember all of the games you described on the Megadrive as they were all games I got really stuck into. I think there 5 endings in Probotector and I only got three of them.

    The one that required you to rotate in fron tof the poss while using the ground and ceiling at certain points to doge the spray was brutally hard and I am not sure if I ever beat that one.

    Interesting the way you see Score, prestige and achievements and even though I agree that they are hollow rewards (and this partly why my obsession with achievements waned 2 years ago and has not returned to full strength except on very particular examples) I am not entirely sure that gamification won’t change the world.

    It is my belief that pretty much everything we do in life is some way a game, that clocking our 37.5 or 40 hours a week is almost a way of keeping score. That striving to lose weight or meet a quota are all ultimately hollow targets but targets that we place on ourselves to give it purpose and meaning. Gaming is just a digital set of accomplishments, that they have taken on a lesser meaning in life when there are more important things to do is totally fair but it doesn’t mean that your goals, rewards, and achievements haven’t just shifted in focus.

  2. I thought Zero Tolerance was more interesting in concept (characters with different skills, inventory system, an exclusive FPS on the Genesis at all) than execution. Terminal Terror on PC came out the same year and is much, much better (but annoying to DOSbox with).

    Although I’m 22, reading opinions like yours have made me more aware of when games are wasting my time. I can still put up with things in games taking a while- I’m even sad that Phantasy Star Online stopped working on my computer a while ago despite its lengthy grind at higher levels- but I don’t obsess over getting 100% in most games these days.

  3. I was supposed to be writing a short Friday night ramble, but suddenly found myself hurtling towards gamification, totally unexpected considering I started with Mirror’s Edge. The tone of this is a little harsh compared to how I actually see things – look, I’ve spent countless hours blasting through the magnificent Everyday Shooter – but I thought I should just leave it as is. It’s about time I got some controversial content on here. Kris Ligman called it cynical.

    To some extent, this is a *positive* response to both The Second Game (I have no time!) and The Abstraction (gamifying may destroy reality) by saying: you can’t gamify away something inherently tedious, your brain will see it for what it is, so don’t worry about missing out on a few grinds.

    @BadgerCommander: I work a 50-hour week and I have no intention of seeing that as a high score!! Low scores win, man, win every time. I’m sold that gamifying may work in certain settings, but we’re not stupid. In the end, grind is grind. And, really, what kind of people will we be if we can’t do anything without it being a game?

    @BeamSplashX: Saints Row 2 remains unfinished. Both Mrs. HM and I wish we’d just given up on GTA: San Andreas well before the final credits. Mrs. HM aborted Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider: Legends. They may have cost money, but it’s better to lose just the money rather than the time if you’re not having fun. Saying all this, there are longform experiences I miss and want to go back to – like Sins of a Solar Empire.

  4. Will Wright would say “play is the thing”, but I suppose he would also say ‘winning’ and ‘score’ don’t really matter in play.

    In a sport, which is a type of game, a score represents who completed the objective of the game better (or at least, more times than their opponent), but it doesn’t necessarily represent who had more fun playing the game.

    The idea of metrics such as score, or achievements, brings into question what we’re trying to measure when we play games. Is it skill, or fun?

    If we’re talking about “gamifying” everything, the answer to that question becomes paramount. Is a game most identified by a measurable outcome set by its parameters, or simply by the act of playing?

  5. Admit it, HM, this entire article is because I screwed up and made my Ludum Dare game too murderously difficult for you isn’t it?

    In seriousness, I have a really odd relationship with difficulty in games. My favorite games in the world (Mirror’s Edge, Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, Ninja Gaiden) all have a common thread of huge difficulty married to a control style that sets up a kind of dance between the player and the game. The type of game where listening and reacting to minute details at high speed is as or more important than taking the lead and making decisions.

    There are some types of games where difficulty turns me off immediately. I bashed my head against Dragon Age for a while, then chucked the disc in the trash with a nasty profanity. I don’t know why, but the way that game works makes me just wish it were turn-based and removes any patience I have for fiddling with tactics in real time. Deadly Premonition was another one of those, where I loved the open world stuff but found the frustration in the combat to be so completely unrewarding that I hated the game by the end of it.

    So I’m not sure what it is that makes some extremely difficult games immediately take me to a place where I feel in tune with every little thing they’re doing, while some immediately strike me as being designed by someone with absolutely no care as to what they would be like to play. Once I figure out the magic behind that, I may stop filling my own little trifles of games with so much unrewarding challenge.

  6. @Jordan: Games are so hard to get right, to splice their genetics with “fun”. We make exceptions for games that have something to say, promoting the content as more noble that a trivial sense of fun. Such games (Passage, Covetous) are coming to mean something else – you don’t read Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” and say “I enjoyed that”. Gamification, though, appears to be fixated on the concept of play. I am not convinced that many game designers have it in them to do this without falling back on crutches like score or achievement. Some of the media-related games are quite dull. Score will not save them.

    The idea of games as sport – I think that’s the interesting crossover where difficulty is vital. Most shoot ’em ups offer score but only some of them earn the right to use it and become something like a measure of player skill. Achievements are a low-res form of score and despite their formalisation, they can only be used for social competition but are no basis for a sport.

    (Perhaps one aspect I’m not considering is the social aspect. But is spending hours in front of a game to beef up your high score viable as a social channel?)

    But, I guess I’ve glossed over one point. No one knows what gamification means. Has anyone here read McGonigal’s Reality Is Broken?

    @Switchbreak: You can rest easy, I wrote this article before your entry Waterfall Rescue hit the web. But I wasn’t best pleased losing all my climbers when trying to swing across onto the heli!

    I think your idea of a reflex game as dance is quite interesting and Waterfall Rescue had its own rhythm as well (it’s all pendulums). I have a feeling a timer might have been good in that game, to encourage fast movement through muscle memory – but then again the physical result of catching a new climber is unpredictable… so possibly I’m talking out of my behind.

    I still have Devil May Cry 3 on my list after the comments exchanged over on 2PS last year. It’s a very fine line between being a shrine of athletic skill and a sewer of overwhelming frustration. Like skiing. I just didn’t grok skiing but I know many people do.

    VVVVVV is all about a state of flow, learning the lines of a script, like a boss fight that spans an entire game universe. And I love that. That feeling of focus and euphoria when it all comes together. But this sounds so much like a drug that Jonathan Blow’s words start to sting.

  7. I can’t say I agree with Blow that playing games is “no worse” than slouching in front of the television. I mean, I guess they are no worse in the sense that they’re cognitively better, but grouping games in with a passive activity such as TV is disingenuous.

    Provided you’re paying attention to the game, and engaged by it, you’re interpreting information, solving challenges, taking actions, dealing with their reactions, and so forth. The brain is much more engaged in a game than in a TV show.

    I really applaud the new trend in TV of shows that aren’t mindless or easy to follow. Lost, Game of Thrones, Deadwood, Fringe, Battlestar Galactica, shows like that are best appreciated when you really engage and think about them. That such shows don’t handhold viewers who miss episodes or start in the middle is a sign that they’re really ramping up the complexity of such work.

  8. Steerpike, from my reading, Blow worries about the benefit of games other than to squander your time and a single (engaging) game will pass a lot more time than a film will. If I play Robotron: 2084 for half an hour, that’s okay. But playing 10, 100, 1000 hours of the game – has it improved your life? RPGs came in for quite the skewering with levelling up being met with levelled up opponents – which means the stats are meaningless and your character is essentially standing still. We all, at one time or another, get sucked into playing for the sake of it.

    Quantifying the positive benefit of game play is a tricky one. I think games with a narrative do better at protecting themselves in this regard, but it’s a shame that design is king over plot (and then you have titles like Cryostasis with sound plot, but obnoxious gameplay).

    I’m not saying I agree with him either, but his talk made me sit up and think more carefully about the value of each game I play. I’m still concerned that the legacy of coin-op, games which were designed to maximise the cash you put in, has bred a future culture of time-sinks that mask grind. My memories of Halo are all “great start, wow” and then endless repetition. It’s just a more extreme example of the fractal self-similarity that afflicts FPS games. For me, the problem of the gamification movement is that it’s all about the people programming and nothing to do with the fun.

    And Steerpike – I can’t believe you left The Wire out of that list. Shame on you. Shame on you.

  9. Jesus, these comments are practically a brand-new article already. Although Devil May Cry 3 comes highly recommended from me in the game design department, it can be very exacting when it comes to difficulty (though I didn’t dip much below Normal myself).

    Gamification is annoying to me since I already think things like the education system have forgotten their original intents and have become a system that everyone tries to game. Making it a literal game would pretty much serve as an admission that they’ve lost the plot.

  10. It has been years since I was in education but I can assure you that when I bothered to do the education thing I always ‘gamed’ it. In the sense that HM talks about it I was always aiming for the speed run (least amount of time spent that garners highest possible score).

    I need to drag up that Escapist article where they talked about using D and D in an area near Minesota as a means for children to learn math, basic creative writing and social skills. I might have missed the point of gamification but that strikes me as what gamification /should/ mean.

  11. @BeamSplashX, I think I’m competing with that awesome thread on Tap right now (The Eleventh Colossus) plus I find this a bit nostalgic for the old days on 2PS when we used to write walls of text. That was great. I have to say Douglas Wilson has just tweeted out a friend’s Master’s thesis on gamification which I’m tempted to read. But it’s 160 pages long. That’s 16 times 10 for gad sakes.

    @BC: There was also an Extra Credit piece over on The Escapist about gamifying education I saw recently. I get so uncomfortable with the emphasis on “rewards” and driving people to do things. Of course, that’s the whole point, I know. I’m going to pin down exactly what I find disquieting sooner or later. And then I’ll write about it, probably, and bore you all to smithereens.

    And random fact. Did you know there was an unreleased sequel to Zero Tolerance? “Beyond Zero Tolerance” is available for download as a ROM for a Sega emulator. I’ve played it (for about 3 minutes and then I realised I didn’t want to play ZT all over again).

  12. I did try Beyond Zero Tolerance. It’s quite the same, but it does look a touch nicer. Could’ve been quite nice if it was redone during the Saturn/Playstation era (if they had remained insistent on being console-only).

    Damn, I remember listening to that podcast. I was still too shy about jumping into the dialogue then (or it was an old post already, can’t recall). Those are some wordy walls. I like it! What do you say to us bringing them back next time 2PS updates?

  13. This article and all the associated wall of text comments have been hit up by Critical Distance today. Go team.

    @BeamSplashX – the thing about the walls of text on 2PS is that I spent a while writing them and, these days, I’m more likely just to put the piece here and link to 2PS. Plus it seemed more fun when I was about the only person posting in the comments, now 2PS has more friends than I have hits per month. =( Then again 2PS are still holding onto an article I wrote for them in Dec so maybe you will see my wordy walls there soon. Fingers crossed.

  14. And RPS visitors, you are always welcome here. Grab yourself a seat. You’ll find some spare cushions in the cupboard by the sidebar links.

  15. Ah, Erick, yes – you are right. I did hear of Duke on the Megadrive sometime after I’d left the console shores. Of course, all I really wanted was Doom, but you needed to get that damn 32X add-on for that.

  16. I didn’t know that piece of trivia. But I do know another.

    Rocksteady’s shooter ‘Urban Chaos: Riot response’ was originally called ‘Zero Tolerance’ until a legal dispute changed it to the longer one. Who be Rocksteady? Well they went on to make Batman: Arkham ASylum.

    Urban Chaos: Riot Response (not to be mistaken with the Dreamcast/PC game Urban Chaos) was a solid little shooter too.

  17. I read this before the weekend but was too busy to post a response!

    I’ve just finished reading The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and part way through a teacher tells the protagonist that he shouldn’t read storybooks or enjoy the arts because they’re useless. He is told to turn his attention to geography and history — the social sciences — which are more important and presumably more useful and applicable. I understood where the teacher was coming from ie. it would be more productive, but even so, there’s still worth in the ‘worthless’.

    This is all about recreation, about enjoying yourself and having fun. I don’t play games to improve myself in any obvious tangible way, at least not consciously. The same applies to other arts and media. On the basest level I play games to enjoy them. That’s what ‘play’ is all about. At worst they’re not fun, at best they’re provocative, possibly illuminating, sensual and cerebral experiences that I genuinely can’t get anywhere else. THAT is where the worth is. Whether it involves pipping my F-Zero GX best time, getting that damn shiny trinket or hunting down the last creature to snap in Beyond Good & Evil, if I’m enjoying myself then that’s all that matters.

    This argument sort of side steps the entire topic but I can’t see how a game, or a film, or a book, or music, or theatre or any of the arts can ever be worth anything in any literal sense. Even if you come away from a given piece of work illuminated and inspired by it, it’s what you do with that effect that deems whether it was productive or not. I dunno, am I speaking out of my ass here? I’ve spent waaaay too long thinking about all this and writing this comment.

    Anyway great piece Joel and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the above brain fart.

  18. @BC: Guess what. I haven’t played Batman, but it waits on my hard drive…

    @Gregg: The thing is Blow did tackle the idea of “just being happy” is not enough and I can’t recall the exact example now, but he put forward an example of eating junk food to death or something like that. Are we really nourished by the repetitive grind through endless levels of shooty things? As I was saying on the RPS thread (I answered a few of the comments there) we each have our own line beyond which it is meaningless and perhaps it’s more important to *have a line* rather than have it drawn for us. My youth trained me to push things to completion; my adulthood has been a struggle with that conditioning, learn when it’s time to put something down.

    These aren’t mountains. Just because they’re there, we don’t have to climb them.

    I sound like I’m sidestepping your points as well, but I can easily say the hours spent on Planescape: Torment were joyous and I wish I could relive them for the first time again. There’s stuff over here that I can say – good fun, worth it. And there’s stuff over there that I can say – why the hell did I bother?

    Perhaps its just being jaded as the years go on – being disappointed again and again that the usual tricks keep on being rolled out to extend a game’s length. Dead Space really pushed it, although on the whole I enjoyed it. World of Goo never stopped reinventing itself (I am going to write a special MY FAVOURITE WORLD OF GOO MOMENT some time) and there was never a reason to put that beautiful thing down.

    I’m not actually against score in all its forms, but its mutation into achievements and from that into psychological program code for the gamification crowd starts to cast a pall over the whole thing.

    I am rambling somewhat because these thoughts aren’t well organised like an article. There’s a reason I stopped writing after that final line =)

    This pulls in so many different topics that it gets really difficult to argue it all out. I’ll stop here. I’m sure I’ll come back on another angle on this down the line. Perhaps after I’ve read that 160 page thesis.

  19. I’ve played with the junk food analogy myself — I didn’t know Blow had used it either… interesting.

    My question is: what constitutes a healthy, nourishing game? Braid and the star hunt? World of Goo? Portal 2? Portal? Planescape: Torment? If these are healthy games (and there are surely few to supersede them) then why exactly are they healthy? Is it the story? Is it the interplay between the story and gameplay? Is it the gameplay itself? Is it all these things? What about games like Super Crate Box or F-Zero GX or Everyday Shooter that are almost entirely about the mechanics? How can they possibly nourish or benefit us in any tangible way? Sure, it’s okay if you’re Garry Kasparov and the game can net you a career that’ll pay the bills, but otherwise you’re pretty much in your own little world squandering your time.

    This all boils down to being productive; using your time as constructively as possible and I’ve never been under any illusion that 90% of my recreational activities are anything but a waste of time in the grand scheme of things. If I didn’t value the enjoyment I have with them and cared more about being productive I’d be an activist or charity worker or get a second job or something. Maybe I’d live on Lidl instant noodles and donate my income to the needy. I think its folly to try and legitimise art and recreation for any reason beyond being good for our personal well being. Some works may be better than others but they’re all still ‘a waste of time’.

    This also comes full circle to the ‘only kids play games’ thing. I know plenty of people who’ve drifted away from gaming as they’ve grown older despite being fans for many years. Perhaps they decided that it was time to act like grown ups and be ‘responsible’ with their time, perhaps they decided that it was better to go and do exercise or grow plants or clean their car and driveway every weekend or learn to cook good food and lay off the junk. Reminds me of a song by Radiohead…

  20. Damn, I’m late to this discussion, and it looked so fun! My thoughts on it all, which will likely seem very disjointed:

    Thanks to the Tap Repeatedly forums, I just played and almost completed STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl. What started off with me really liking the game for its dark atmosphere and beautiful design soon degenerated into something bordering on hate.

    The short of it is that after playing through the games punishingly difficult last 3 or so hours, I found that I wouldn’t be able to complete the game despite being literally a few steps away from the last part of the game. Without going into details, it can be summed up in that I ran out of supplies, and the only way to traverse these last few feet would be to go back about 3 hours in gameplay terms, and try it all over again. I won’t be doing that.

    Which leads me to my thoughts on game difficulty. I for one can’t be happier that the coin-op mentality of making games next to unbeatable is a thing of the past, save only for fringe titles appealing only to lunatics. A good game in my opinion isn’t so much hard as it conveys the illusion of difficulty. I forget who said it, but Portal 2 did this very well. You’d come across a puzzle that seemed impossible, and challenged you just to the edge of your breaking point before you got that eureka moment, solved the thing, and moved onto the next challenge.

    Making a game punishingly hard isn’t “fun.” Making the player believe they just finished something that they perceived to be difficult, but was in fact carefully designed to push the average player to their limits before pulling back again is in my eyes a well designed game.

    Regarding your comment about RPGs scaling enemies with the player’s level (as in a lot of Bethesda games such as FO3), I think this is brilliant. What I think this does is while still gradually and incrementally raising a game’s difficulty, it keeps things playable. All the while, you keep getting new tools in your arsenal of approaches to any given problem.

    So the monsters in the room may be designed for your level 10 character, but your level 10 also has 4-5 new skills that your level 1 didn’t have, plus a range of new items/weapons/so on. These all provide a greater range of options and approaches, leading to a game that instead of getting too hard to complete (as many an older RPG were for me) become games about solving various puzzles/problems in a variety of ways.

    Finally, I couldn’t give two shits about game scores, but what I do love is game stats. If a game tracks my kills, number of shots fired, accuracy percentages, steps taken, pills popped, rooms seen, what have you, I’m all for it. It may not add anything substantial to gameplay, but it does add a bunch of pointless fun for me to browse while enjoying a sandwich. This of course could just be me, but I for one invite more of this sort of pointless stat keeping!

  21. @Gregg: So to get you to write on this site in length again, I just need to make a few J-Blow references. Got it =) I don’t really have any answers Gregg. But I think all of us can see certain games or sections as unhealthy. Look at Armand’s reaction to the endgame of STALKER. He’s right. That game is ridiculously hard at the end. It’s only down to the respect the game had earned that I persevered through to the end. The hours of creeping around corridors and popping rad pills every 2 seconds… quickload, quickload, quickload. It’s an astonishing game, but that’s just not healthy. Anything that makes you mad out of frustration cannot be good.

    I was just having a Twitter discussion with @helenlewis about the gamification argument and it suddenly hit me. I am wrong. Ian Bogost’s Cow Clicker proves that gamification CAN hide banality… Cow Clicker was a successful social app. I should probably delete the final line of the article and retcon the comments.

    DELETE comment WHERE text LIKE gamification.


    Sorry, what were we talking about?

    @Armand: Thank you for providing me with an unhealthy example for Gregg. It feels like I’m just redirecting the gel flow through a portal. The suggestion that RPG levelling provides a “flat” experience is interesting and I’m still not altogether sure what I think of that. You do make a point about the increasing options in later scenarios – but I wonder if it’s actually significant? Can we strip out the whole levelling and just have magically increasing options as we go along? Some RPGs pretty much are all about that.

    Most of the time, I’m unaffected by stats. I tend to care most about how a game makes me feel THEN and THERE and less about the achievements… apart from shoot ’em ups and some performance games like VVVVVV. But even they have limits. I still can’t bloody beat the 150,000 score challenge on Leave Home. Or the “destory mofa no death” challenge. But I only try once every two months, so little chance of a skill upgrade there.

  22. I think the mistake in STALKER’s case is that you can even get to the end of the game with insufficient resources. If management of resources is to be critical, the game should make progress early on difficult without it to clue the player in on what they’ll need to be mindful of for the rest of the game.

    I’d still love to try all three STALKER games, though I’d undoubtedly get mods for the first two.

  23. I have only played the first, but definitely headed to Call of Pripyat one of these months. The STALKER experience is unique, simply nothing else out there like it. I have no STALKER article for Electron Dance as so many other good writers have written worthy words on its wonderful world of wow.

  24. I wouldn’t be too worried HM, if your experience is accurate, Bogost will actually help to wear out people’s “points addiction” faster.

    Ie maybe some of those people really being influenced have not played pointlessly luck based games. Maybe this is their first experience of that stuff.

    Personally games like VVVVVV fill a place in my emotional landscape; the semi-meditation space they share with tetris. I don’t know whether the complexity of the task is too much for this to apply, but I have heard that a good way to solve problems is to go off and do something different, process it subcontiously while doing something else. Watching TV causes brain activity to reduce, (at least with the TV programs that have been tested) and I suspect the same is not true of games like VVVVVV.

    But the thing is that VVVVVV is not just about perfectionism, it’s about development and creativity on the part of the designer; by playing through that game you see the way that someone can develop on a set of simple designs, and see some of the paths (almost equations) that underly it.

    Even as you space out in one of those games and get a feel for the underlying patterns, you are still following paths of development and logic.

    I also love the game n, but that has nothing like the same feel of development, it’s just disconnected puzzles with a hillariously uneven difficulty curve.

  25. Josh, I think the trouble for me is that I am forcibly inserting games into my life when there is so little time. Prior to starting Electron Dance, I could easily go six months without playing anything. Now, because of this damn here site, I have to play something to stay relevant to all the young people out there and the quality of that game time becomes a serious, pressing concern. That is, they have ceased to be some sort of transcendental meditation and become more like fieldwork.

    Never quite gravitated to ‘n’ but it always reminded me of Lode Runner, even though they are two very different games. I spent many hours on Lode Runner when I was just a small boy with big ideas.

  26. I could not be bothered to read though all the comments, so this had probably already come up. But I find that as I have grown up and gotten a job and have less time videos games seem to have co evolved for my connivance. The prospect of Throwing 10s of hours of my life into a MMO seems like an unimaginable waste. However 8 hours of portal 2 over a few days is pure pleasure. Like wise with other ‘indie’ titles, playing VVVVVV is not a massive commitment; so I don’t mind.


  27. Hey again Adam. That’s pretty much what I’ve heard from other gamers who are getting older but I still find myself hankering after long-play games. I’m not much for MMOs but did lose a lot of hours to Mount & Blade last year. I’ve also got Morrowind and Oblivion round here somewhere…

    But I won’t argue that VVVVVV and Portal 2 are perfect elder gamer food, like a chocolate bar that you can eat one chunk at a time.

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