Culture, Gender & Games
The Power of Brands

Beat Your Metaphor with a Stick

Every now and then you read a quote that you can't resist regurgitating:

The female sexual response cycle appears as a gradual (sometimes maddeningly so) upward slope from excitement to orgasm, with several "false peaks" in the plateau region. Anyone who's ever performed cunnilingus while kneeling on a hardwood floor can attest to the validity of this representation.

The male cycle differs radically. The transition from excitement to plateau in men is rather rapid, represented by a near-vertical line. The plateau stage is then almost horizontal for varying amounts of time (see: premature ejaculation) followed by another extremely rapid ascent into orgasm.

Playing video games often reminds me of the above.

It's from an article by Fletcher at Gamers With Jobs. The nub of the argument being presented is in the next paragraph:

This has happened to me a few times recently: I've been playing a game, enjoying it immensely, and then after a few hours of learning how to play it, followed by a few more hours of kicking ass, some internal switch flips and the level of difficulty jumps into the stratosphere, rendering it almost impossible (and certainly undesirable) to carry on.

There are two reasons why game do this, one is as a result of inadequate game balancing, the other is as a result of intentional design. Sudden jumps in difficulty are a means of cultivating the emotional payoff of fiero (triumph over adversity), a key element of what Nicole Lazarro calls "Hard Fun", and which we associate with our Type 1 Conqueror play style.

Our research suggests that there are many players who, like Fletcher, would prefer a smooth game experience to one involving these excessive challenges, especially those like the one he cites which is a "fail-repeat" experience - keep trying again and again until you can do it. Tolerance to fail-repeat play is another trait we associate with Type 1 Conqueror play.

The trouble is, when games don't appeal to this play style, they usually struggle to make themselves known - because a significant number of game evangelists (including but not restricted to game reviewers) do seem to prefer the Type 1 Conqueror play style. Such players will push through these problems and afterwards not even remember that what they just did was hard. As long as they remember enjoying the game (which, with sufficient fiero, they will), it does not register in their consciousness as being a hard game.

I encourage Fletcher and anyone else who feels this way to continue being vocal about their play needs, to make a fuss, to support games that offer them the play experience they want and not give up hope. Game developers and publishers are very lazy about their research - they often only listen to the people who make the loudest noise - and in our opinion, this is often players preferring Type 1 Conqueror style play. The best way to fight against this is to act as evangelists for any game you find that doesn't resort to fiero to sustain long term interest - especially those that other game fans are saying is "too easy".

I'd like to thank Fletcher for sharing his thoughts, and let him know that I am one of the two people who hasn't got around to playing Resident Evil 4 yet. I hope the sequence he alludes to doesn't give me the same problems when I get around to it.


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