I was thinking about “difficulty” in video games long while back and wrote a rough draft of this post. And now, I’m finally getting around to finishing it and posting it. Basically, I had noticed a connection between the “enjoyment” that people seem to receive from unfairly, absurdly, infuriatingly difficult games and the concept in Psychology of “effort justification”.
The tl;dr is that absurdly difficult games trigger a psychological phenomenon which tricks players into feeling that the experience was worth it, even when the experience was actually unfulfilling.
For years I have been arguing that digital games are too restrictive and need to develop the same level of accessibility as other arts and media (books, film, board games, etc.). I have argued that games lack the basic accessibility to let you skip around, browse, and engage with them on your own terms the way you can with a painting or a piece of music. You cannot freely explore digital games.*
I have also argued that there is a growing demand for something like a Free Exploration Mode among game audiences (players who have busy schedules so they can’t invest a lot of time and energy into a game they want to play, players who just want a more relaxed version of a game they like, students who want to analyze a specific part of a game without having to slog through hours of ancillary gameplay to get to it, writers/youtubers who want to jump to a particular section of a game to get a specific clip or screenshot to illustrate a point, etc.). I also predicted that, because of this demand from audiences, that some form of Free Exploration is inevitably coming to digital games.*
And, it seems the games industry is slowly beginning to move in the very direction I predicted.
Warlords of Aternum is a decent turn based strategy game buried underneath a lot of layers of pay-to-play, wait-to-play nonsense that permeates mobile gaming. I found it at random while looking for turn-based strategy games, because it’s one of my favorite genres of game.
I’m not here to talk about the game itself though, but about a few moments in which the game mechanics tell a story through its upgrade system, which is something that I wasn’t expecting from a mobile game like this.
[~1500 words; ~50 pictures]
[There are links to two easter egg posts at the bottom of the page]
Rune is a game about being a viking!
All gameplay revolves around roleplaying a viking! All story revolves around what it means to be a viking! To play Rune is to be Rune, and to be Rune is know the Viking inside yourself!
So, I wanted to talk about a type of gameplay that I’ve been thinking about lately, one in which the player can set things up so that the game continues, progress is made, but the player can choose to sit back and watch things unfold. It creates a very specific feeling, or sensation, of being in control, but also not in control; it feels both powerful and relaxing.
I first talked about it in my Fun Gun Award for the Resistance series, specifically when I was talking about the Mutator gun. Then in my post about Diablo 2’s Necromancer, I talked about it again regarding the Necromancers AI altering skills. And it was at this point (during the Necromancer post) that I realized that this specific type of gameplay/gamedesign/mechanic is actually a unique artistic device that you don’t normally see outside of digital games. And it’s a very specific and unique experience that I don’t think I’ve seen anyone explicitly describe before.
[The Lugaru Dev Team has been working on an OpenSource version of Lugaru. Along with being free, OpenSource Lugaru also has a lot of single player campaign mods pre-installed, including my own single player campaign, “The Seven Tasks”. Check it out: https://osslugaru.gitlab.io/]
[This post is about some stand-alone challenge maps I made for Lugaru. You can still download these challenge maps form the Lugaru forum here.]
Previously I did a postmortem of a mod campaign I made for the game Lugaru, by Wolfire Games. The editing tools for making maps in Lugaru were so buggy and such a pain to deal with that I decided to never make any new maps for Lugaru again.
But then, while daydreaming during my freetime, I ended up brainstorming different ideas for individual maps. I’d think of some gimmick or trick that I could use. I ended up having so many ideas that I decided I would make these maps after all.
However, I wasn’t going to make a single player campaign like I had before. Adding story and cutscenes would have been too much of a pain in this engine.
Luckily, Lugaru had a Challenge Mode where you could play a series of 14 challenge maps that didn’t have story and weren’t connected in any way. You just booted up a map and tried to rack up as many points as you could. So, I decided to make some stand-alone maps for this.
“Daniel Floyd Is A Fool And Raven’s Will Peck Out His Eyes”
There’s this video posted by Dan Olson on his Folding Ideas youtube channel?/page?/account? It’s Daniel Floyd (writer for Extra Credits) talking about,
“…the very first game that I played that really made me… start thinking and looking for ways that games could do something with the narrative that nothing else could.”
For him, it was the ending to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, which he states,
“… was the moment that lit the spark, that games can do something unique here, something that no other medium can emulate this in any way I can think of.”