It's OK To Feel Frustrated
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
There's a friend of mine who loves playing TrackMania. He spends all his free time trying to set a new high score, sometimes he fails and sometimes he succeeds. The most interesting thing about this is watching him play: everytime he fails to turn in the right moment or lands incorrectly from a high jump he gets all frustrated and starts all over again.
What is notable here is that he doesn't starts over
because of his frustration and bad mood, but because he thinks he can
make a better attempt. He has been playing TrackMania for more than
one year now and he has never quitted or given up even when achieving a
higher score is almost impossible.
Once I read that frustration is something that must be eliminated from games. The most important purpose on games is to entertain and therefore the logical way to go is to create nice feelings for the player.
I think maybe that's the reason why games today make it so
favorable to the players, making their characters almost invincible and
sometimes they are completely immortal, like in Prince of Persia or Braid.
However success doesn't feel that great without some frustration. The
feeling of having strived for something and succeeded is better than
when you succeed without having a hard fight.
Frustration is a very delicate emotion to handle because it is the previous step to giving up. Game developers purpose should be offering games that satisfies the players and not frustrate them. Because of this there are some points that should be taken into account when dealing with frustration if the game is meant to deliver a great moment to its users.
In the first place, giving up only comes if someone believes he will always be unable to achieve something. A person decides this by studying the possibilities and opportunities given at the moment and in the end it all comes to this person's analysis. Is like Henry Ford once said: "Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't - you are right."
In games, the player's possibilities and opportunities are always previously designed. This makes it possible to always ensure a satisfying experience for the players. The question now is how can a game handle certain level of frustration for the player without making the game too easy or too difficult.
The answer is that everytime a game mechanic, a level, an enemy or a boss is designed, a game developer should take into account that humans are pattern seekers. This means that a person will find something possible if he can find a pattern in the first place. If he can then he will continue with the next step: finding out if he has the mechanisms to bit the pattern.
A good example of a game which takes into account this is Megaman 9 (and also most of the Megaman games). This game is incredibly hard from start to finish but its gamers finish it because they know that every obstacle in the game can be passed because everything works with patterns and they always have the mechanisms to do this.
Is good for a player when they learn that their failure will never depend on luck, it's all because they strived, learned and finally succeeded. And at the end, all the fun from this type of games comes down to the joy of learning. Whether learning is thought to be enjoyable or not can be answered with the success of the brain training games (like the Brain Age series).
These games consist in making the mind learn from its mini games in order to obtain higher scores. The satisfaction doesn't comes from a good story, great graphics, or character personification but only from the idea of knowing that one is getting better at something.