Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The possibility of losing

Tobold just made a good post about how video games are strongly tending towards making sure everybody wins.  Back in his day (which is also my day, pretty much) video games came from arcade games and they were actually hard.  How many people played Super Mario Bros and never actually rescued the princess?  A lot!  There were lots of pretty decent game players that I knew that were very familiar with the game but just couldn't beat it as the last few levels were actually quite challenging.  These days though games are much more strongly designed to allow anybody with a pulse to beat the game, though often they need to do so on the easy difficulty setting.

WOW sure followed this trend with its newbie game.  I remember levelling my hunter years ago and I had to be pretty clever to get a lot of things done.  If I wanted to beat a 3 pull I had to set up a trap ahead of time, shoot the mobs, get aggro on two of them, feign death when they got to me, keep one of them trapped permanently and burn them out before both me and my pet died.  It required skill and knowledge of my abilities to fight 3 guys at once and I felt good for being able to do so smoothly.  Contrast that with my most recent experience levelling a new hunter - I attacked 4 guys simultaneously when one of them was an elite and just shot them until they died.  I finished the fight with both myself and my pet at 85% health without even bothering to use all the relevant abilities on my bar.  Losing a fight and dying these days pretty much requires you to deliberately set out to do so or simply leave your keyboard for extended periods and I really felt no rush of triumph when levelling up - it was just a matter of hitting buttons a lot until I was max level.

I only ever beat Super Mario Bros once.  I remember that pulse pounding moment after so many failures

Who's your Daddy Bowser?  Who's your Daddddddyyy! 


That feeling of triumph over a foe that had eluded me for so long was tremendous.  Flow and fiero come from overcoming obstacles that are just at the edge of our capabilities, challenges that force us to be the absolute best we can be.  WOW has that challenge in the endgame of course; no one can deny that the hardest things in the game push anyone in the world to their limits.  What the levelling game of WOW, Farmville, and many other modern games lack is that rush that comes from a knife edge victory over a nearly unbeatable opponent.  People like to win but what they like more than winning is knowing that their win was hard fought and challenging to repeat.

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