Too Much Work or Not Enough Fun?

In an essay for Gamasutra last week, academic Lewis Pulsipher mused that games have become so complex as to feel like work, and the stratification of hardcore and casual gamers puts games in a far less inclusive posture than other entertainment.

Pulsipher analogizes video games to chess. Not only do the masters play a great deal of it, they study it. When the game became too much work, Pulsipher gave it up.

I felt the same way when I lost momentum in Batman: Arkham Asylum. There was something I wasn't getting about the Bane fight, sure, and realizing I'd have to study, wait for a FAQ or just trial-and-error it for another hour was so unappealing I put the controller down. And more than that, I resented knowing that I was worse at, or poorly prepared for, a brawling game challenge that most gamers could tackle in their sleep.

In these excerpts, Pulsipher argues that game development should move in a direction of inclusive accommodation. That rather than build titles that are either/or, core or casual, innovations that manage one's state in a game would allow more skilled gamers the challenges and fulfillment they seek, while allowing players less invested in that to still experience the title and its story.

Are Games Too Much Like Work? [Gamasutra, Sept. 4, 2009.]

Movies that resemble video games are often panned by film critics, but recently the well-known critic Roger Ebert said, about the movie Terminator Salvation, "It gives you all the pleasure of a video game without the bother of having to play it." (He gave it three stars out of four, quite a bit better than the Metacritic average — this was not a criticism.)

Is a future of video games actually movies like this? Or can we enable video games to challenge those who like to be challenged, but accommodate those who just want to ride along?

This requires us to find some way to either remove the disadvantage of failure from the game, or make failure less likely.

[...] Games can do something like Photoshop and 3ds Max: Let a player hit the "undo" key (usually Control-Z) when he gets in trouble or fails, and go back a few actions, or a minute, or five minutes, whatever interval he chooses, to resume the game at a point before the failure.

Yes, it'll take a lot of computing power. Initially, the "constant undo" capability might extend back only to the second-newest save. Nonetheless, if a game can record a movie of everything that is happening, as some games can, a player should be able to, in effect, rewind that movie to where you want to restart. And we've removed some of the work.

"Undo" will help reduce the tedium of game playing, but doesn't do anything for the people who just aren't interested in being strongly challenged by a game. For them we need an "autopilot" mode — like Nintendo's upcoming Demo Play feature.

[...] So we remove work from games, we remove "failure" from games. The hardcore will be disgusted at such wimpiness, but we've been working toward this in video games for decades, why not finish what we started? After all, they're games, not tests of manhood (or womanhood).
- Lewis Pulsipher

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