The Evolution of Video Games and the Diminishing Relevance of Failure

By Thomas Adams

In class, we began discussing failure in video games. The most common version of failure in video games in gameplay failure. Gameplay failure is when the player fails to complete a task that he/she must complete in order to progress in the game. This could be failing to solve a puzzle (e.g. Portal), dying to enemies (Halo), or even losing a match against an opponent (League of Legends).  I will breakdown the evolution of games over time and show how failure in video games became less harsh and more importantly, different.

Thinking back to early video games, we have to look at the arcade genre. Because of the video game infrastructure at the time, these games were meant to be played at an arcade, not in your home. As such, these games were meant to be played for a few (but possible several) minutes at a time to allow for others to have a chance to play as well. Thus, the games had to be developed in such a way that allowed for meaningful gameplay progression, but also had a “hard-capped” end. For example, Donkey Kong allowed players to play the game for as long as they could, while they still had enough lives left. Of course, the game increased in difficulty and most players could never really play too long.

As companies began developing in-house consoles, like the NES, the gameplay paradigm followed. Many games for the NES still had a very “hard-capped” ending. Super Mario Bros., for example, had a similar structure to Donkey Kong. The player could progress as far as he/she wanted until they ran out of lives or beat the game. Having played the game myself, it is very disheartening to see yourself progress really close to the end, and then lose your last life. That’s it. Game Over. Now restart from the beginning.

As technology grew in the 90s, games could become more sophisticated. Developers could begin creating non-linear story lines and program 3 dimensional worlds. Take the Nintendo 64 games for example. Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 both became more forgiving when a player failed. Simply getting hit by an enemy didn’t mean death. Players began having health pools to take more than a few rounds of damage. Players also still had multiple lives. However, these two games in particular still had “Game Over” screens when a player completely died for the last time. (here is one for Banjo-Kazooie). As you can see, these game over screen are very disheartening and showing the player the results of their failures.

Fast forward another 10 years to the 2000s and even today. Technology has allowed us to put more content in games than ever thought imaginable. This new emphasis on content and story-driven games allows developers to be extremely forgiving with gameplay failure. This is mutually beneficial for both players and developers. The players get to continue their game without harsh penalty while also getting to access all the cool content that the developers spent millions of dollars on. It only makes sense, right? Why would a company spend that much resources on game content if the punishment for for gameplay failure was never getting to experience any of it? Nowadays, with huge thanks to advancement of technology, failure is almost irrelevant because of the willingness for developers to be forgiving and the perseverance of players in order to progress in those games.

Battling Braid

Starting off playing Braid, it was fairly reminiscent of the original Super Mario Bros games. Sure, it’s a more animated, up to date version, but the basic concept appeared the same. You maneuver through this alternate 2D world by walking left and right, jumping on little enemies and collecting pieces on your way to saving a princess. Soon enough though came the twist: the rewind button. Initially it appeared that the ability to rewind was simply an advantageous addition; a way to revive yourself with no consequences or to bring yourself right back up to that platform you didn’t mean to fall from. Of course, it wasn’t that simple. Rather than just being a beneficial tool, the rewind seems to give Braid an entirely new gaming element that separated it from Super Mario Bros and similar games: strategy.

As you work your way through a Super Mario Bros game, it isn’t terribly complex. You proceed through the various levels with the intention of reaching the ultimate goal of rescuing the princess and beating the game. Yet after a few minutes of playing Braid, you discover that the game requires a lot more thought than just reaching the door at the end of each level. Rather, you must consider how to use the rewind button to reach the next platform over a line of moving clouds, how to open multiple doors using only one key, or to kill your little foes in a particular order to reach that hidden puzzle piece. Each world presented a new challenge involving the ability to rewind and how it affects the environment around you.

The game continuously found ways to challenge you to obtain the various puzzle pieces, and some of the pieces seemed downright impossible to reach. While the game was certainly frustrating, the strategic component allowed the game to be more engaging and more rewarding than a game such as Super Mario Bros.

 

Matt R

To Play, Perchance to Battle – Ay There’s the Rub!

Before fully grasping the concepts of the Metaverse in Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, I imagined the Metaverse as a simple game with small characters similar to a colorless version of the Super Mario Bros. I thought of the game as cartoonish, bleak, and hardly three-dimensional.

This however, is the beauty of imagination.

Though my thoughts where way off target from Stephenson’s particular viewpoint of his own novel, (and everyone else’s viewpoint for that matter) who’s to say my imagined Metaverse wasn’t a well enough assumption?

No one can! My own thoughts and imagination are just as good as the nerdy kid who sits across from me, who thinks he figured out the meaning of life at age 9. I’m entitled to my own thoughts despite how unsound they may be.

I’ve always considered myself to be a dreamer; so living in an imaginary world is very common for me. Like every teenage girl, I liked to dream up my future down to my kids names and birth dates; it’s a chick thing! This is why reading about combat with swords and spears in Snow Crash, is far more engaging to me than virtual combat in LOTRO.

Now that I understand that the Metaverse is actually more of an outgrowth of the Interent and is a fully immersive three-dimensional virtual world, I now imagine the place more like The Matrix or maybe even like Star Wars. (What, I need some type of reference point!)

I imagine the swards and spears clinking together the way lightsabers do, and everyones characters are made out of a million different numbers. The idea of being able to dream up my own battlefield of the Metaverse is simply far more appealing then playing a game like LOTRO where I am limited to killing one thing at a time, using one weapon at a time, and living in one virtual battlefield that has already been designed for me.

Though it is compelling and engaging to battle in LOTRO, (my little hobbit looks so cute taking on the giant Spider) I would much rather have a battle in my head without any boundaries. I can always throw in some other random characters that aren’t even in the book and out of nowhere start slaying dragons. Because that boys and girls is the beauty of imagination; to read, perchance to imagine – ay there’s no rub!

~Adriana