And why some go so wrong
So many games have but a general few ideas, ideas that are all left over concepts from our perception of things, or how we have become accustomed to viewing and interacting with the world we live in, after many thousands of years.
Many games, even now, fall upon the old standard of two situations only, and that is “win” or “lose”. Likely this is due to how humans work things out in war, in chess, checkers and sports, etc. Of course, the problem with this is, it is not entirely accurate as a representation, as we as humans also often work things out diplomatically, where both parties get something that they want. That becomes, in a game world, strictly neither win, nor lose.
Consider a person fishing for a moment. In the real world, if the fish got away, the fisherman didn’t strictly lose, that individual merely did not catch a fish. But, the fish’s view is strictly one of winning, and likely keeping its life. In many storytelling focused games, the primary issue is one of telling the tale, (the developer playing forceful game master, causing the player to ‘chose correctly’) by making the player experience it, forcing choices that the character in the story would likely, probably make. So, at its heart, what the person doing is actually doing is playing a role, even if it is not actually a role playing game.
So, to ‘tell’ a story that forces losing (failure for improper action) upon a player is a fault that lies not with the player, but with the developer, for not being creative enough to craft a method of experience that keeps the story flowing, maintains tension, all while preventing a jarring loss of immersion from the story. In essence, what *might* be done instead of “win or lose” is creating a win only situation, making winning more difficult if said player is not succeeding. After all, if it really IS all about the story, and telling the player/audience what happened in it, no failure ever existed, and so any created failure is a false deception. (like repeated deaths)
Instead, it would be far better to have bad choices that would merely make things more difficult, (by messing up) and possibly (early on) the developer of said game would have caused the player to maybe do some homework on studying as to how the character (whose shoes they are now living in) would react, what they would do and chose, etc., in any given situation, and so succeed by playing that role. Add, having some form of incentive or reward for doing it very well (like an actor would) would cause a player to be competitive. It might be initially slow going, but would be enlightening as well as challenging to do it correctly.
Maybe failure would not exist, (such as merely different outcomes from the original story), or, things might just ramp up in challenge if the player wasn’t paying attention to playing their role fully enough. No failure, only hard won success. In real life, if we mess up, all that happened was ‘things didn’t go our way’. I mean to say, if you go to the bank and withdraw $100, and forget that money, life doesn’t kill you in the next 13 seconds. That is hardly comparable to the repeated dying and being reborn over and over into a new game life each mistake you make in some story driven games.
The crux of the problem of course is what graphics, sound, physics (some AI, but not much) has all become, and game studios desires to tell realistic stories without the ability to really do so, and the throwbacks of all that games used to be still dominating current games. Seriously, what difference is there between failure in an old arcade game from the 1980’s and a modern FPS? All that has really changed is perspective, sound, music, textures, lighting and added story. BUT the failure (“deaths”) in actual gameplay is still a throwback to the first videogames where you lost your quarter.
Of course, the other side of this is that some games have taken failure as an idea, and made them into an art form. The difference here is they are typically not story based games, but have a mere outline of the story. Those types of worlds typically focus on the player, not on the game story. In order to tell an accurate story where the story is the focus (too many games these days), either situations need to become all win/reward based, or looser in the telling to allow player freedom to act “outside” of the lines. Otherwise developers are basically punishing players for being unable to read their minds.
And, other methods of failure exist, such as not reading the correct emotions (or facial expressions) of someone we know. Not listening to what someone is really saying. Missing a few choice bits of critical information when someone speaks. All of these situations can cause us to FEEL as though we failed, whether we did or not, (because life doesn’t have a back button, and many of us are not humble enough to ask again) and so, cause us as people to change and adjust our decision making process involving those other people.
We live in a three dimensional world that games try to emulate (and don’t really do that well) so, why is there but a left and a right direction (pass/fail) in games when there are so many other possibilities unrepresented? What am I? In some lame school?
The issue with video games in their modern state is they force people to artificially focus on failure, which in reality, typically really only exists in mechanical parts that are unsalvageable or broken. Those parts have a standard, and so are labeled a “failed” part. Ok, maybe someone says you ‘failed the test’. That is truly only possible if you obtained a “zero” and could not answer a single question, as someone had to set a bar (constraints) of what “failure” constituted. But in strictest definition, it couldn’t actually happen unless you had a ‘zero’. In other words, you merely “didn’t succeed.” That is quite a leap from actually failing.
But, failure has become such common nomenclature that people think of nearly everything in modern life as potential failures. Whether we are discussing stories, TV, car design, relationships, attitudes, responses, buildings, food, dancing, etc. – all can fall under the heading of supposed failure, which is actually a word incorrectly assigned.
Dying in a game, (and therefore failing) constitutes a problem, as it harkens back to the above discussed, but has been directly cribbed from board games, where the player is punished by being sent back “X” number of spaces for a poor dice roll (not my fault!).”You drew a bad card – go back 10 spaces”, or “go to start.” As a functional method in video games, its just not. Either I am playing an emulated world, or I am not – so, make up your freaking mind and quit changing the rules every few seconds like a little child. Because at some point, the game feels like the developer is trying to cheat to win, and it is widely known that spawning bots have been used that way for years.
Anyone who plays a lot of games puts up with a lot of obvious broken aspects to salvage some fun. But, at some juncture, the frustration takes on a feeling (unless ignored) of dealing with someone who is terribly disturbed and mentally unhinged, because in no way would I ever let some person treat me that way. Seriously, if there was a dating simulation designed like some modern FPS games, you would DIE if your blind date didn’t like the way you smelled. (skipped breath mint! FAIL!!!). Or, maybe it’s a drawing game. (You are not Picasso! FAIL! DIE!!!!! show death screen…)
What is needed are new gameplay methods, and methods of ‘not succeeding’ in ways that do not club a player senseless.