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It all went horribly wrong...
by Justin Keverne on 05/14/11 06:03:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Having just completed a mission in Far Cry 2 for Nasreen I was heading to a distant safe house when my jeep was rammed. Jumping out I threw a Molotov at the pursuing vehicle. The Molotov hit the driver setting him on fire and killing him almost instantly.

Ducking behind my own jeep I drew my Silenced MP-5 and after a brief game of cat and mouse around some nearby trees I was able to to finish off the second mercenary with a burst to the chest. While I'd been otherwise occupied the fire from my Molotov had ignited their jeep and as I watched it started to spread toward mine.

I sprinted back in an attempt to reach it and drive away before it too could catch fire. I was forced to turn away at the last moment as, already damaged from the initial crash, it exploded, taking a significant portion of my health with it and leaving me standing in the middle of nowhere.

Automatically my finger reached out towards the F9 key, time for a Quickload...

Wait that's not what happened...

... I pulled out my map, orientated myself with the nearest safe house and started walking. Everything that happened over the next ten minutes, a checkpoint skirmish, a run in with a Zebra, and locating one of The Jackal's tapes, occurred because I'd managed to blow up my own jeep.

Grand Theft Africa..?

In one sense I'd failed, and in a myriad other games I would simply have reloaded and tried again. In other games there often develops a compulsion to do things 'correctly'. A need to isolate the optimum route through an encounter so as to maximise efficiency and minimize use of resources: ammunition, medical kits, time. Though I've fallen prey to that mentality myself I do wonder why it's so easy to fall into that mind set. A byproduct of the arcade era when failure meant death and the inevitable need to feed the cabinet more loose change?

Thinking back over games I've enjoyed I've found the strongest memories are not of moments where my carefully laid plans succeeded, but moments where everything went horribly wrong. Mistiming a blackjack attempt on a Mechanist in Thief II: The Metal Age and having to leap off a balcony to get away; the flight from the police in Grand Theft Auto IV that lead to a head on collision and Niko Bellic's body flying through the windscreen into the water.

There is a pleasure in succeeding, in forming a plan and executing it flawlessly, but there's also pleasure, of a different kind, in failure. Consider the moments in games you remember clearest, I'll go out on a limb and say that likely three quarters of those moments are not when things went according to plan, they are instead those times when everything went horribly, anarchically and brilliantly wrong.

There's something distinctly personal about failure. If you succeed you are following the the path of dozens of people before you, but each failure, and your reaction to it, is uniquely and specifically yours. Nobody else has failed in quite the same way or under quite the same circumstances as you.

It's time to embrace failure, accept it and keep playing, adapt and improvise. Some of the most interesting experiences you'll have with a game will likely stem from those times when you are required to think on your feet, to react to the unexpected and the calamitous.

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Glenn Storm
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You would enjoy Clint Hocking's great talk from GDC '10 on Improvisational Play; where he goes over this same kind of realization, reached during a live demo of FC2 at PAX, and defines a distinction between Intentional Play and this kind of failure-turned-opportunity. Yes, it's very personal, totally unpredictable, and cool as hell. :)

Stephen Hosmer
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It's not just failure, but the ability to keep playing despite your failure. If you had died in that skirmish, and had to reload from a save point, then you would have failed but not come to this realization. It is only memorable because you were able to recover from the failure.

I remember a time in Planescape: Torment where I went into a cave. (Spoiler Alert) I got in over my head and I ended up "dying." In most games this would mean having to reload a save, but in Planescape: Torment, I lost consciousness and woke up somewhere I had not been before. My failure actually drove the game forward instead of back. I could have successfully defeated all the monsters in the cave and gotten to the same point, but dying in the cave was also an acceptable path.

It's something I'd love to see a lot more of in games; not taking away the player's forward momentum because they have failed. For example, when you're doing the 100 meter hurdles and you trip and fall over a hurdle, you don't have to go back to the start of the race. You just have to stand back up, and keep going. Your punishment is having a slow race time, but you were able to finish. The players who want to jump over every hurdle perfectly, will go back and do that.

Christopher Braithwaite
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Agreed. I have always believed that games should 'reward failure as much as they do success. I really enjoyed the mechanic in Soul Reaver where 'death' meant returning to the spirit world and fighting your way back to having a body. I enjoyed stealth more in Oblivion than sophisticated stealth games such as Splinter Cell or MGS simply because getting spotted didn't mean the end of the mission.