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Opinion: Are Games Too Much Like Work?
Opinion: Are Games Too Much Like Work?
September 4, 2009 | By Lew Pulsipher

September 4, 2009 | By Lew Pulsipher
More: Console/PC

[In this opinion column, academic Lewis Pulsipher muses on ways to enjoy games without the focus on success, failure and competition, asserting that users must have that option if games are ever to be as inclusive as movies.]

Video games won’t be as widely accepted as film unless we find ways to allow participation by those who don’t want to be challenged by their entertainment, and who don’t want to have to work to be entertained.

Chess masters not only play a lot of chess, they study the strategy and the standard openings, memorizing a vast number of lines of play. They have to, in order to succeed. When I was 15 years old, I was an avid board gamer, though not a regular chess player; faced with the prospect of much more study, I “retired” from playing chess because, as I told people, it was “too much like work.”

Video games are at a crossroads. Despite what the hardcore call “dumbing down”, many video games are “too much like work” for too many people. If we’re to make video games as ubiquitous as movies, what can we do about this?

Beating The Game, Missing The Journey?

Traditionally, video games have been challenge-based. The idea was that the player, interacting with the computer, is entertained by learning how to overcome the challenges and, in the end, “beat the game.” Playing such games, which might more accurately be called interactive puzzles where only one player is involved, is a learning experience.

Raph Koster, theorizing about fun in games, goes so far as to say that “Fun” is learning in a safe environment (such as a video game). People learn how to overcome the challenges in video games until they master the game.

This challenge/learning paradigm has helped video games become a common form of entertainment, yet as the size of the game-playing public expands, the challenges have been watered down to be acceptable to the additional players. Hardcore gamer complaints that the game Spore is “too easy”, or that World of Warcraft is “for noobs”, are typical.

At some point, the challenge paradigm no longer works for the next group of potential players. God of War creator David Jaffe explained, "I don’t want to be challenged by my entertainment, here’s my 60 bucks, entertain me or go away. Hardcore gamers want to be challenged and emerge as bad ass gamers, but that isn’t fun for me." (This quote is highly expurgated.)

Yet my observation of gamers who boast about “beating the game” is that they often appear not to have enjoyed the journey -- that is, even for them, sometimes the game is more like work than fun.

Hardcore game players are accustomed to being challenged. Viewers of movies, which are passive experiences, are rarely challenged.

Far more people watch movies than play video games. Roughly speaking, a movie that grosses $200 million domestically is seen by more than 20 million Americans, and many more people in other countries, in a month or two, far outreaching the audience of the most successful video games. That doesn’t count how many will watch the DVD or see it on television.

How can video games approach this kind of audience? What can video game designers do to accommodate those who don’t want to be challenged by their games, who may only be interested in the story they’re being told, who won’t play games that are “too much like work”?

Removing the Focus on Challenges

One way is to offer an alternative to competitive “challenges” as the basis for a game. Many definitions of “game” include the idea of challenges and player actions, but we already see successful “video games” that have removed the onus of “failure to compete.” Wii Fit and Wii Music immediately come to mind, and the former is one of the best-selling “video games” ever.

However, I’m not suggesting that we need to abandon the challenge basis of games, I’m just looking for ways to let those who “don’t like work” to participate in such games.

Early video games had no story to speak of, and to this day in many games the story is just an excuse to get to the action. But many games include stories of sufficient interest to be praised for their own sake. At some point a player may want to "ride along" and “see what happens”, to enjoy the story. Can you do that with a video game?

At this time, not without a lot of action that many people call work. Should these folks instead be watching movies? Movies that resemble video games are often panned by film critics, but recently the well-known critic Roger Ebert said, about the movie Terminator Salvation, "It gives you all the pleasure of a video game without the bother of having to play it." (He gave it three stars out of four, quite a bit better than the Metacritic average -- this was not a criticism.)

Is a future of video games actually movies like this? Or can we enable video games to challenge those who like to be challenged, but accommodate those who just want to ride along?

Mitigating Failure

This requires us to find some way to either remove the disadvantage of failure from the game, or make failure less likely.

We see evidence of “easification” all over the video game map. Some games now help you aim your gun, some automatically heal you when you save, and so forth. “Bad-ass gamers” sneer at these features, but they’re there to allow people to do less “work” while playing the game.

MMOs like World of Warcraft have made playing much easier, much less challenging, in order to appeal to a larger group of players. “Old-timers” complain, but you can’t argue with the financial benefits to the publisher and studio.

We’ve seen the effects of failure mitigated in video games for decades. When you fail, ordinarily you “die”. Older games gave you several “lives”, and ways to earn more, to let you avoid most of the disadvantages of “death”.

Newer games provide the ability to save a game, sometimes automatically, so that when you fail (usually, “die”) you can go back to the last save and continue. In effect, you have unlimited “lives”. In the new Prince of Persia game, instead of the prince dying when he screws up, he's rescued by his magical companion, though this still takes him back to the last Save just as though he'd died. Yet it feels less “negative.”

Even this failure, however, entails work, as a player must go through a part of the game he’s already traversed in order to reach the point where he failed.
Haven’t we now reached a level of technology where we can have "constant saving" and you can decide where you want to continue from, so you don't have to replay anything if you don't want to?

Games can do something like Photoshop and 3ds Max: Let a player hit the “undo” key (usually Control-Z) when he gets in trouble or fails, and go back a few actions, or a minute, or five minutes, whatever interval he chooses, to resume the game at a point before the failure.

Yes, it’ll take a lot of computing power. Initially, the “constant undo” capability might extend back only to the second-newest save. Nonetheless, if a game can record a movie of everything that is happening, as some games can, a player should be able to, in effect, rewind that movie to where you want to restart. And we’ve removed some of the work.

"Autopilot" Mode

“Undo” will help reduce the tedium of game playing, but doesn’t do anything for the people who just aren’t interested in being strongly challenged by a game. For them we need an “autopilot” mode -- like Nintendo's upcoming Demo Play feature.

When the player runs up against a challenge that is too hard, or that just doesn’t appeal, or the player’s having a slow day and just wants to watch, then the game should have an autopilot mode so that the player can watch the game overcome the challenge(s), and he then continues on to the next part. When he feels like playing he can turn off autopilot and continue.

This is a true autopilot, not a tutorial, not a “show me how to do it”. The game will actually play through the section and continue until the player wants to play further, from that point: he’ll not go back to that challenge unless he wants to.

If the “player” is more interested in watching than playing, the entire game can be played on autopilot. In linear games this will work pretty well. In “sandbox” games the player may still need to make a decision about which way to go or what choice to make at various points, and the autopilot can pause and let him choose. But the primary purpose of autopilot will be to overcome specific challenges the player doesn’t want to deal with, rather than to play the entire game through.

So if I’m playing a game with the kind of puzzles I despise, I can let the autopilot take over, then go on with the enjoyable parts of the game. If a game has the occasional “twitch” section, I can let the game take care of it. And those who aren’t “real gamers” will enjoy “all the pleasure of a video game without the bother of having to play it."

Those who like to do will still be able to play the game that way; those who like to watch will also be able to play. And the sales of video games will increase as the market broadens. Someday, then, some best-selling video games might match the best-selling movies in audience size.

So we remove work from games, we remove “failure” from games. The hardcore will be disgusted at such wimpiness, but we’ve been working toward this in video games for decades, why not finish what we started? After all, they’re games, not tests of manhood (or womanhood).

Face it, in the great scheme of things it doesn’t matter whether you took only four hours to “beat the game”. It doesn’t matter whether you have 10,000 “achievement” points (as if those “achievements” amount to anything in real-life terms!).

It doesn’t matter that you’re a “bad-ass gamer”. The “interactive” way isn’t any “better” or more praiseworthy or more productive than the less interactive ways I’m proposing. People just want to enjoy video games, and we can offer more ways to enjoy them as computers become more and more powerful.

We’ll still have multi-sided games, where there are several human interests and the players write their own story, to challenge the hard core. Good human players are harder to beat than mere computers.

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Mark Venturelli
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I'm sorry, but this is the kind of article that I can't take seriously. Accessibility is important, and a lot of game designers often forget about this, but "watching" a game is something that I can't even think about without having nightmares for a week and taking tons of pills to calm down. Please, please, PLEASE stop comparing movies to games. All of you. We must overcome this frame of mind unless we want a world where "video games are movies like this". "Should these folks instead be watching movies?" Yes. Absolutely.

Christopher White
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I dislike the comparison between the film and video game industry. His benchmark for success seems to be audience numbers, which doesn't translate across these two very different mediums. You could just as easily compare the number of books sold, paintings bought or television shows watched, determine which has the biggest audience (and is therefore the most accepted) and try to force the others to emulate that success. In doing so, you'd take away the distinctiveness of that medium which attracted that particular audience in the first place.

He's trying to find validation for gaming, but what he wants already exists The audience he's trying to reach out to are already playing games (Wii Fit, bejewled, browser games) and his solutions have been around for the past 20 years. Remember the interactive movie games of the CD-Rom era? DVD games (Tomb Raider: The Action Adventure) are the latest iteration of this, and while they demonstrate the kind of game Pulsipher is pushing for, ironically they're not as successful as the challenge oriented games.

Lisa Morrison
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One point I will make with regards to this article, is that I find that games have lost that concept of Reward versus Failure. It is hard work to prevent failing in some newer games but there is little fulfilment if you actually do succeed. There should be minimal punishment for failure and similarly, a strong sense of fulfilment after completing it successfully.

A good example of a reward in a game can be additional content - more options for the player to choose after they finish, for example extra characters/customisation options or special equipment.

Take Okami as a particular example that springs to mind. With that game you can use the items you collect to 'purchase' new options like a weapon or 'funny heads' for your next play through. Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time shows another example of reward, if you beat Ingo on Epona you get to use Epona throughout your adventure, which also opens up new game play options with 'Poe' hunting and such.

The bottom line is to make games Fun To Play, Fun to Complete and Fun to Replay!

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Christopher White
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and in Russia, game beat you!

There's different kinds of failure, mind you. "Bad" failure is what frustrates most gamers, which is failure that seems beyond their control or that you are doing everything correctly, but still fail. In a platform game, continued failure at jumping on a ledge, despite pressing the right keys, is bad failure. In an RPG, having your characters well stocked with healing potions and weapons, but still dying at a certain fight, is bad failure.

"Good" failure is being able to determine what you did wrong, and if you correct it, then the next time you should be able to succeed. In the Prince of Persia games most of my "deaths" occur when I failed to jump or swing at the right time, which I could identify and correct.

As a game progresses, the challenge should increase but the amount of good failure should remain about the same. I recently played through NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits and noticed that while I was dying the same amount of time throughout the game, I was continually being challenged with newer, more complex obstacles.

Too many games coddle players and treat all failure (good and bad) the same. To me, a game starts feeling like work when there is no failure (read: challenge) and it becomes hours of simple patterned button/mouse pressing.

steve roger
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Games are a balance. Plain and simple to say. Very hard to do. Developers must pull their hair out trying to find hat balance.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Adam Flutie
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"undo" in games huh? I have experienced games like that by using an emulator to play SNES or NES games. You know what I noticed? I hate gaming with those features. The game provides no learning, challenge, skill, or entertainment value if you can just jump back 3 seconds or such. Maybe it was because of the 'type' of game... a game with no story to be had with an undo feature is painful. You are left with a shell of an experience that if you think about it makes you realize you just wasted all that time...

I will agree that more and more people want to finish games, they want to feel like they can accomplish games by brute force. There will also be people that want to be able to 'figure' something out, to solve the puzzle... unfortunately you can't provide both in the same package. Bioshock tried and failed. Even though you could turn off the vita chambers, few did and then complained about them anyhow.

Christopher Shell
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I'm sorry but I couldn't stomach reading the entire article. I'm getting quite sick of seeing games compared to movies. Do games NEED to be more like movies? Do games NEED to attract and collectively surpass the movie-audience watching?

Just like Mark Venturelli said, I can understand a desire for accessibility, but the idea of a game going into autopilot mode every time I meet a real challenge makes me sick.

You know, before game-related technology reached the point of capability for cinematic presentations, the entertainment spawned from rising up to and overcoming challenges. That is not "WORK". That is what a GAME is!

Without those challenges, you might as well face nearly lifeless dolls in Punch Out!! who do nothing but sit there and act like human punching bags while the game automatically dodges each and every punch they return. Or better yet, lets play a bullet-hell shoot-em-up with invincibility. You may as well just put the controller down and a weight on the fire button. Makes no real difference. But then, whats the point?!? You might as well just be watching a movie because it sure as heck isn't a GAME anymore!

Steven Conway
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If ever an "autopilot" feature needs to be implemented into a game, then we may as well concede failure there and then. If we take interactivity away from games, then what the hell is the point in making games? Why not just make a bunch of CGI movies?

Instead of asking for an "autopilot" feature, how about we ask that the designer spends more time making the game mechanic inherently more sophisticated/rewarding/fun, and less like work.

How about we ask that the control system is worked on to make it more intuitive, accessible and enjoyable.

Instead of papering over the cracks by introducing the measures suggested by the article, perhaps we should actually fix the cracks properly?

Glenn Storm
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Boy, this article riled me up. I have to strain to reach my hand out for some compromise. Okay, yes, there is a segment of the game audience that craves less challenge in their experience. I think it's well noted that Nintendo has led the way to that audience. Yes, film has been the pinnacle of the entertainment industry and has dominated in terms of dollars and in terms of artistic expression for a long time. ... That's all I got.

I utterly reject the premise this article is based on and the conclusions it draws. I will make an attempt to concisely and comprehensively rebut this argument. I just don't want the ideas presented here to take hold at all. There are many flaws of observation and reasoning in this piece, so if you'll allow me...

I just finished Csikszentmihalyi's "Finding Flow". It's an excellent book that details what makes one person love the work they do, while another doing the same job hates it. In short, brutal paraphrasing, a balance between the challenge one faces and the skills they possess to face those challenges allows for a state of heightened focus, more engagement, and a feeling of 'being happy' reported afterward. This is precisely what game designers focus on when balancing the difficulty of a game; meet challenges with the skills the player has acquired so far. Don't let challenges get repetitive or easy, or your player's skills will outweigh the challenge and they become bored. Don't let the challenges get too difficult too quickly in relation to the player's skills, or they will become anxious. Csikszentmihalyi also talks about Western culture and our current habit of assuming work is bad, doing nothing is good; which is out of line with the idea of flow. Sure enough, after conducting thorough studies, he concludes that we are much less happy spending our time on passive leisure (TV, film) than on active leisure (games, hobbies, yes, even work). Yet, our culture has ingrained this idea in us from an early age to avoid work because it is work, and so it's not surprising to me that a young Lew Pulsipher concluded that chess was "too much work", instead of seeing the work in a different way and finding flow.

I would like to challenge the idea that there is a new overall trend that is calling for less challenge in games. Yes, there is an expanding market for games. This market now includes more people, and just by the numbers, more people who would prefer less challenge. However, this does not reflect a general trend in the gaming market. To make that conclusion is specious at best. Yes, cater to that segment of the market, but don't loose sight of the market that got games to this level.

I would also like to challenge the idea that film is more ubiquitous than games. First, it's a complete misconception to take a single film gross example, compared to a single game gross, and use that to say games are just not that prevalent. News flash: there are more total games than films, more ways to game than to watch a film, more players of games on Earth than people who have access to watching film. To me, the idea on this just doesn't ring true.

Finally, I need to address the prevailing tone of this piece: "Failure is bad in entertainment". I think the author is reacting to failure as if it happened while watching a film. That would be an affront to the audience. In games, however, where the primary defining feature of the medium is interactivity, audience participation, audience action; there is a strong need for fail states. Failure is not intrinsically bad. Failure (with proper feedback) is exactly how we learn to do difficult things with no road map. If you could not fail in an interactive experience, as Csikszentmihalyi [chick-SENT-me-high] would say, skill would outweigh challenge and the audience would get bored with the interaction: a common complaint when skill/challenge is not balanced in a game.

Taking 'work' out of games turns active leisure into passive leisure, and with that turns what is best about our medium into what is worst about our recreational culture.

Tom Newman
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I thought I would agree before reading the article, but I have the same issues as some of the other posters. Games should not be like work, but we shouldn't have to dumb them down either. Like anything else, people are way to diverse to find a "one size fits all" solution. Not all games should be fun either. The most rewarding games are those that present a challenge that intrigues the individual player, and games will always present a challenge.

When games no longer offer a challenge they will no longer be games.

I thought this article would discuss how poor game design can make playing a game feel like work, which it can. You can be the #1 FPS fan in the world, but if a developer designs a poor game it will be a chore for the player to trudge through. I am a huge JRPG fan, but if a new game in that genre doesn't bring anything new to the table, and fails in keeping up the status quo, that feels like work.

Thomas OConnor
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I'm not sure the point is about comparing games to movies in terms of their entertainment value and personal experience.

It's really in terms of their cultural, political and artistic respect.

Things like Auto-pilot create experiences that help bridge the gap - by letting those who are a bit intimidated or initially turned-off by the 'effort then reward' system games primarily use. It's just one system that's possible, and seems credible to me by how much my girlfriend likes to watch me play video games.

Vince Dickinson
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Games (outside of casual titles) will be as widely accepted and respected as movies when they actually have something to say to the same wide range of people that watch movies. Show me the game equivalent of Ghandi or The Green Mile. Film covers suge a huge range of topics. Games are stuck on "Star Wars." That's totally fine with me, that's what I want from my games, but it's no surprise they hold no appeal to huge parts of the population. The acceptance of gaming has little to do with challenge, it has to do with what appeals to people.

Derek Bentham
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I find that as I get older, I get less interested in the challenges that a game can provide. Part of the problem for me, is that, yes I may be a bad-ass in the game. But when the game is shut off, what am I left with? Or in other words, the game has nothing to do with life, and so the challenges that the game offers in no way aids me in becoming a greater person. So, I don't really mind if a game is easy, although the "auto-pilot" thing... umm, personally even that goes a little too far for me. I do think I like the idea of the "rewind" though.

Jeff Beaudoin
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Overcoming the challenge and design of a game through brute force and perseverance is not fun.

Overcoming the same challenge because the game was designed to teach you how by playing it is fun.

The knee jerk reaction is to take the easy road and just make your game less challenging (or self-playing), rather than teaching the player what is expected of them and how to accomplish it through the design of the game.

See Portal.

Jeff Beaudoin
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Additionally, that quote by Roger Ebert is among the most offensive I have heard from him. "bother of having to play it"? Really? He clearly doesn't know anything about the medium and doesn't care to learn. Using his observations as a guideline for game design is insanity.

Nathan Mates
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Making things "easier" might be one thing to do for singleplayer, but that avoids one large part of the market -- competitive multiplayer. If people get rewards for being competent, or merely diligent in singleplayer, does that prepare them for multiplayer? Especially when people are up against griefers, or foulmouthed teenage kids that've played the game 60 hours in the past week, and know every trick in the book.

Some segment of the game audience is going to go for the fully competitive (or competitive-seeming, in the case of griefers) style. How should people be prepared for that? Should people be prepared for that?

Thomas Grove
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Re: Mark Venturelli


Lewis Pulsipher
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People don't want their entertainment to be frustrating. "A lot of people say, 'Well, I like a challenge.' I don't like challenges. Life is tough enough without any challenges." Jackie Gleason (a very successful actor and comic, among other things, you might recall)

It's always amusing to read what motives people impute to an author, trying to read between the lines to find something that often isn't there.

"He's trying to find validation for gaming..."? (@Christopher White) Where did that come from? Games are fine entertainment, what other validation do we need? On the question of "are games art", my answers are 1) of course, though not "high art", and 2) who cares, and why should we care--the vast majority of the *players* don't care. I am not one of those folks who feels games need "validation."

Personally, I don't play games for the story. I design rules-emergent games that are conflicts between (generally) more than two sides, a rarity in video games. I play games for the journey, not the destination. Who cares if I "beat the game"? If I have to measure my self-worth by the games I beat, I'm a sorry excuse for a human being.

Games are a poor medium for story-telling compared with movies and novels, yet we see millions of people wanting to play games for the story. If I want to learn history, I read an appropriate history book, I don't play a game. But there are thousands who would rather play a game to learn history than read a book. If I want a good story, I read a novel (or watch a movie, though movies aren't so much about story as about spectacle nowadays). Yet many millions of people would rather play a game for a story than read a novel. @Mark Venturelli, why can't we let these folks also watch games if that's what they like, rather than have to work their way through them? Games can accommodate this without taking away from those who like to play the game.

@Christopher White. Yes, for commercial purposes (this is a commercial Web site, right?) I do equate size of audience with success. I recognize that the most widely consumed books, movies, and games are often not the highest quality. (Monopoly is a very weak game design, but has sold 200 million copies. It is the most successful commercial game ever.) If an industry is going to prosper it has to sell lots of its product, and if designers are going to prosper, their designs must sell lots of copies. If they do that, they'll have the chance to make high quality material.

@Christopher Shell. We've already taken much of the challenge out of video games because you can't lose! Persistence and a modicum of skill will ALWAYS succeed, but "persistence" isn't entertainment. (Notice that in non-electronic games we still have winners and losers, though even there, "Euro" style games have minimized conflict and competition.) Why not offer the option of passive entertainment to those who want it, games can accommodate both the hard core and the passive "players."

@Lisa Morrison mentioned loss of the concept of Reward vs. Failure, but fundamentally there is no failure in most video games because you cannot lose. Play a game directly against someone else (as in most non-electronic games) and if you fail, you lose.

@Vince Dickinson. People don't go to the movies mainly to watch Ghandi or The Green Mile, they go for Transformers and Indiana Jones and Iron Man--look at the numbers. Star Wars IS what the general population likes, yet games can't deliver similarly easily-experienced entertainment to a similarly large segment because they are "too much like work" for many people. Games CAN do that, and still be what the less passive game fans like, at the same time, if only we recognize the possibility.

@ Steven Conway. Are you suggesting that if autopilot is added to games, the "real" game players will then use the autopilot? Instead, won't they ignore it? So how have we ruined games by adding autopilot?

@ Tom Newman: "When games no longer offer a challenge they won't be games." We already have software we call "games" that isn't challenge-based, such as Wii Music or Katamari Damacy. Yet (sorry to be repetitious) we can in one game accommodate both those who want challenges and those who don't.

Why is this sacrilegious?

The "video game industry" is really an "entertainment software industry". Are you in the business of making software that entertains, or educates while entertaining in the case of "serious games", or are you in the business of making challenge-based interactive puzzles and video games? Nintendo knows they're in the entertainment industry.

In this article I'm talking about what will make games appeal to an additional segment of the population. This takes nothing away from people who like to play games. Is it taking something away from the sad cases of people who measure their self-worth by "beating" a game, because with autopilot anyone will be able to complete the game? In the end, autopilot and rewind are just extensions of the difficulty settings.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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A lot of arcade-indoctrinated mindsets in the comments eh?

I think this article is right, right, absolutely right. In fact, I thought its thesis was common sense by now - but apparently it's still forward thinking?? The volume of posts disagreeing with it is proof that this article needs to exist. But I think I know where the disparity arises.

It's because we still call them "games" right?

What if we called what we make "interactive entertainment"? It's a little long winded, but it captures the essence of the true artform of which "challenging games" is merely a subset. If Lew replaced the phrase "Video Game" with "Interactive Entertainment" in this article, would it settle better with you? Maybe a better opening paragraph would say "Interactive Entertainment won’t be as widely accepted as film until we realize they don't all have to be games."

I think this is a very healthy mindset because it justifies works of interactive entertainment such as Benmergui's Storyteller (, which I thoroughly enjoyed for a brief period of time _because_ it was playful without being challenging. I think our fixation on challenge stems from our fixation on "games" as the only type of interactive entertainment, when it is just a subset that matured faster due to the arcade business model. See also Storytron (, or Chris Crawford's views on the medium in general.

So is the disagreement semantic or philosophical? If semantic, then can we come up with a shorter, catchier phrase than "Interactive Entertainment" to label the hierarchical root? If philosophical, then we must come to an agreement that "Games" (or "interactive entertainment instances") absolutely can be enjoyable and purposeful without challenge as an essence of their design; the artform will be stunted until we do.

Huxley Hobbes
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Whilst games are a business as well as an avenue of creativity and art, to suggest that the things in this article should be implemented is specious. As some commenters have pointed out, games should not be compared to movies in the manner that they are. The only parallel, really, is that movies were the previous major new form of entertainment on the scene.

There aren't many people who think games should go back to the old days of being nigh-impossible (Contra without the code, for instance) but at the same time there seems to be a widespread belief that 'easy' is synonymous with 'simple', which leads to dumbing down. I've not seen any criticisms of Spore which hinged on it being easy, and certainly my own problems with it aren't about that - the criticisms are that it became far too simplistic in the name of being accessable. I don't mind an easy game, in fact with Spore I was expecting something of a sandbox where you didn't really lose, you would just adapt to new circumstances. But compared to what was expected from the infamous GDC '05 video, the game itself delivered a simplfied and dumbed-down experience. It wasn't fun. Not because it was easy, but because it was unrewarding. Sure, I can make a vehicle that looks awesome, but it has no ramficiations. I'm not finding out whether my mech really would be viable against tanks, or whether an asymmetric leg configuration is a viability.

Not all games need to be complex. Gears of War is a great game I enjoy a lot, but it's not exactly Men of War. The thing is that if the entire paradigm of gaming is shifted towards to sort of thing expressed in this article, Gears of War will be at the 'hardcore difficulty' end of the spectrum. Games hinge on success and failure of the player, and a carefully balanced system of rewards. Consider Dwarf Fortress' motto, "Losing is fun". It is a mindset that is required if you're going to play DF, because it's a complex game (And in this case, is dreadfully obtuse and fully open to criticisms of being difficult to get into.) which you're not going to do particularly well in at first. Even once you've got the hang of it your work can be undone by bad luck. A single unlucky death can cause a chain reaction that leaves your fortress, and hours of careful work, in ruins. The converse is that when you succeed you feel great. Whether that success is simply setting up a forge and smithy and successfuly outfitting a soldier, or completing a ludicrously complex and precarious megastructure in the middle of hell made manifest, it would have much less value without the initial difficulties.

There's room for more casual games, but surely the whole point of getting more people into gaming should be so that we can get more games like, and more people can experience games like, X-Com: Enemy Unknown, SimCity 4, and yes, Dwarf Fortress? If people want to watch a movie then why not just watch a movie?

Edit: On reflection, I should clarify including SimCity 4 in the final paragraph. Whilst it's true that it's sandboxy, actually getting the hang of it can be quite tricky. It certainly stands up as a better example of gaming than the much easier and simpler SimCity Societies.

Edit2: On further reflection, I should also clarify that I don't have any sort of problem with easy or simple games. Lord knows I've spent long enough deliberately setting myself up as powerful in various games, whether through legitimate in-game means, difficulty levels, or cheats and then stomping around. The point I'm trying to make is that at times the prospect of failure and the obstacles presented by games provide experiences that no other medium can. No other medium can replicate the feeling of landing in Tokyo, at night, and seeing a Chrysalid outside the Skyranger. Without the risk of permanently losing your soldiers, of failing the mission and losing funding, or even seeing Japan turned to alien sympathies, the game simply would not work.

Rodney Brett
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Interesting read, including the comments. I can tell people's ages just from those alone. I've been playing games since the Magnovox Oddysee, and I'm kind of on both sides with this issue.

Tom Newman
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"We already have software we call "games" that isn't challenge-based, such as Wii Music or Katamari Damacy"

no challenge? really? Ive played both those titles and while I did not enjoy Wii Music, Katamari is a favorite, and I find that game very challenging.

Reid Kimball
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People need to remember this line from Lewis' article:

"However, I’m not suggesting that we need to abandon the challenge basis of games, I’m just looking for ways to let those who “don’t like work” to participate in such games."

His suggestions if implemented properly can be supplemental options for players who want to access the game in different ways. If other players want a challenge, it can still be there in the game.

The convenient thing about games is that they are data driven. A game could even dynamically assess what challenges the player is best suited to and change the content to match their play style.

Lewis Pulsipher
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@Tom Newman. I didn't say "no challenge", I said "isn't challenge-based." Heck, it's a challenge to walk, but most of us have had the good fortune to figure it out so that we rarely have a problem. The games that aren't challenge-based are enjoyable even if you don't meet the challenge. For example, KD is fun for many regardless of whether they meet the artificially-imposed time limit. (Imposing a time limit doesn't turn something into a game; if it were, anything you do in life can be a game.) The point in these "games" is *not* the challenge, and in that respect they're more toys than games.

Tom Newman
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@Lewis Pulsipher

I don't mean to be disrespectful, but have you even ever played Katamari?

You have X amount of minutes to get your Katamari to a certain size, if the timer runs out, you have to restart the entire level, not only that but there are levels where you cannot pick up certain objects, or need to make a katamari out of only a certain type of object, or go over a certain size. The later levels of each game took me a dozen or so repeat tries to complete, and my score still sucks. Not only does Katamari present a challenge, it's one of the best examples of a challenge!

Lance Rund
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There's a misconception here I'm seeing in the comments (and the original article).

First, the thesis statement is that "video games are too much like work, and you can be more successful by making games resemble 'work' less". But the article then discusses something different: the concept that heavy challenge and failure limit a game's audience, and therefore elimination of challenge is desirable.

Those two statements are not the same thing, and are only tangentally related.

If you want video games to not resemble 'work', then you have to carefully examine what the player actually DOES. What aspects of game design and player action are 'work-like', and what aren't? "Challenge" is not the same thing as "work"; when a player is enjoying a challenge, I can pretty much guarantee they don't think of what they're doing as "work-like".

It's not "challenge" that is "work". It's "boredom".

So the task therefore is not to eliminate challenge, or the risk of failure. The task is to eliminate boredom in a game... to eliminate forcing the player through unenjoyable drudgery to get to the good parts. Examining what common game design elements are boredom-inducing (repetition, time-sinks without reward of their own merit, etc., and "failure penalties" that force the player into the aforementioned repetition and time-sink) is what we need to be doing. A good designer with the aegis to do so should be able to craft systems in which repetition is minimized, in which there's always something worth experiencing, in which pacing is not enforced by worthless time-sinks, and in which there is plenty of challenge nonetheless.

Work is "bad" because work is "boring". Eliminate the "boring" aspects and nobody will be complaining about your game too much resembling work.

jaime kuroiwa
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@Lewis Pulsipher

I can see what your proposal is addressing, but "autopilot mode" seems too short-sighted, in that it only addresses the issue of difficulty. The problem with difficulty settings is that they all achieve the same goal -- playing the game in easy difficulty gets the same results as playing the game in normal difficulty. Adding "autopilot mode" to the mix only makes playing the game less important because of the same outcome.

Why not adjust goals instead of difficulty? Changing the goals of the player would better address the issue of accessibility because each player would be able to complete the game, yet have a unique (i.e. fun) experience. Also, the developers wouldn't have to mess around with statistics and balancing for each difficulty setting, and focus on the game's intent instead.

The player shouldn't have less "work." They should have a closer goal.

Christopher White
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@Lewis Pulsipher

The article's subtitle: "...asserting that users must have that option if games are ever to be as inclusive as movies."

The comparison between audience numbers of films and games (with the former held as the benchmark) also gives them impression that the one should emulate the other, become more widely accepted which, to my mind, would be validating.

I agree with many posters in that I'm tired of the comparison with film. This thinking has influenced game design dramatically, giving rise to the 20 minute cut scene, trailers and "cinematic" production values which I feel has come at the expense of experimenting in actual game play.

My suggestion: What if for one year, we stopped comparing games to movies, and instead compared ourselves to installation art. Would we start making more abstract games, ones without defined goals or challenges? Could we start to envision more sensory oriented styles of play (other than touch and sight)? Would it even affect the way games are promoted and marketed?

Adam Bishop
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It's so odd the way people get defensive about the idea of other people playing games differently than they do. So you don't think it would be very interesting if a game let you skip sections. Well OK then, but why should people who are not you be prevented from doing so, so long as it's optional? In what way are you or your play experience harmed if someone living 700 km away decides to skip a tough level in a single-player game? And who really cares whether something follows a strict semantic definition of "game"? Isn't the goal to create things that our target audience finds interesting, regardless of how we label it?

I'm curious what the people who find the idea of skipping sections so bothersome think about World of Goo. In WoG if you fail a level a few times you're given the option to simply skip over it and move on to the next level. Is there even a single person here who felt that their experience in WoG was harmed because of that option?

Lance Rund
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@Adam : exactly. This attitude of "if person X does Y my Z is magically devalued" shows up in many social issues, and it's no surprise it crops up in gaming. It's the same impulse: whatever you think you're good at, or are "special" because you do, should be the basis upon which human value is judged. I'm a great gamer! Therefore great gamers are the best of all possible humans, and dumb n00b things like vaccine research, PhD's in electronics, sacrifice on the battlefield so those who outlive you will not be subject to a tyrant, etc'... irrelevant. IT'S ALL ABOUT GAMERS PWN PWN WTF ROFL.

There are days I don't particularly like much of the playerbase.

As repugnant as attitudes based upon the "you being rich makes me feel poor, so now I take your money" (for whatever the "currency" is, cash, power, gamer cred), it is nonetheless human nature. It's pervasive, and we as game developers have to work with it (or work around it). Taking it on head-on is a risky business proposition. I think it can be done, however, and one of the methods of doing so is to simply state "my game is not intended to please the self-labelled 'hard core' gamer crowd. If they play it, great, but if they don't like it while a more general audience DOES... screw the 'hard-core'."

It takes courage to do that.

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Books are too much work, why don't they put little screens on each page so I don't have to move my eyes and make sense of those characters? That is essentially what you are proposing. Know what they did instead? They took books, adapted them to an entirely different industry - movies, and *gasp* made a movie out of them! They didn't include the movie on each page of the book for those that didn't want to work while still providing the "hardcore" readers the option of making sense of those characters.

Games are interactivity and challenge, plain and simple, if you strip the interactivity and challenge out of them then they're movies. If people don't like interactivity and challenge then they're not going to like video games; if people don't like moving their eyes and making sense of characters then they're not going to like books. Sure, we can have casual games with "undo", that will be our cat in the hat picture book, but take it too far and you have cat in the hat with Mike Myers.

Luis Guimaraes
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@ Lance Rund

I agree with all.

@ FF

Adding: and people who don't like games won't pay $50 to watch a semi-movie.

Steven Conway
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I am not suggesting at all that an autopilot feature will ruin the game.

I am suggesting that by even considering an autopilot feature, the game designer is admitting their game is already ruined; in failing to make the essence of their creation (the GAME play) as engaging, thoughtful and enjoyable as it should be for all people.

Basically, if we NEED to add a feature such as autopilot, are we not avoiding the real issue here? That is to say, instead of fixing the heart of the problem (boring, "work-like" game mechanics that are indeed a problem), we would be taking the easy way out, admitting the mechanic is awful, yet refusing to address the proper error.

If people want to skip the challenge in the first instance, then we need to figure out how to make the challenge appealing and rewarding to them, instead of just saying "yes we know it's boring, press X to skip".

Aaron Knafla
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Tetris is widely accepted... and challenging. Accessability comes from great interactive designs.

Tetris is lightweight enough for real people to manage. It's easy to learn and doesn't require any large time investment. Most importantly, the game is fun.

Truly great game design is about inviting users to challenge themselves for fun. This article crosses the line of 'stupid'. Go play Tetris. Experience a mass market work of GAMING genius.

Lewis Pulsipher
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@ Tom Newman

Several years ago I watched college students playing Katamari on several occasions, I found it more amusing to watch than play.

Setting a timer makes for a challenge, but that challenge in no way resembles a game, as far as I'm concerned. I can set a time limit on how long it takes someone to type five pages, that's a challenge, but it's not a game. To me the timer in KM is absolutely irrelevant to whether the play is enjoyable. If the designer(s) prevent the user from continuing because he or she failed to beat the required time--I cannot recall now--then they have arbitrarily punished the user rather than contributed to enjoyment. The user should be able to ignore such artificial (and pointless) constraints.

Lewis Pulsipher
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I played Tetris a lot in the late 80s. There would be no point in autopilot there because it's a puzzle without story. My suggestion is for games (common nowadays, not in the 80s) where the story is intended to be a good story (in many games it's just an excuse to get to the action).

Though I'd see no harm in putting autopilot or rewind/undo in Tetris. Maybe some people would like to watch.

Kevin Wei
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Wow, you guys getting all riled up...over what? These are all opinions.

Look at Tale of Tales. Was "The Graveyard" a game? No. Some people enjoyed it and some didn't. Whatever, who cares. Games shouldn't be anything. If you're a developer, make what you want. If you're a consumer, play what you want.

Less discussion, more action.

Aaron Knafla
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I'm just echoing what others say: games are interactive and challenging by nature. That's the hook.

By the way, Tetris has grossed over $2 billion. Sounds like it has been taken seriously to me.

Video games are taken "seriously" when people play them. Wii Sports bowling is also being taken seriously. People are playing it and smiling.

They don't want to watch a story for hours. They want to pick it up and play it--for challenge and fun. That's the heart of great game design.

What you're suggesting is still too complex for the audience you want to attract. Sounds like another complex game mechanic for them to deal with to me. How does this remove the intimidation factor? You're just adding another layer of complexity... Are you going to add another menu option to toggle your new game mode?... I'm sure these casuals just love scrolling through menus, right?


I can't adjust Tetris' gross for inflation. But, I will make an assumption here... I think the income will exceed the income of Star Wars. Sounds pretty serious to me.

The key to getting a wide audience is to simplify the game design itself. You have to remove the time investment and get people to pick up and play.

Great games are easy to learn and difficult to master.

Your suggestion doesn't make a modern FPS any easier to learn and it removes the satisfaction of success.

Adam Bishop
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I'd still like to hear one of the nay-sayers explain how the option to skip levels that you failed in World of Goo ruined the game. Because presumably if allowing players to skip bits they don't like or find too difficult ruins games, World of Goo would be a great example of exactly how awful it is.

Aaron Knafla
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Also want to add that Lewis' background is in board game design--not video games. Frankly, I question his qualifications to be published here; and I am NOT alone.

His articles here make his distaste for video game abundantly clear. Frankly, I'm getting sick of hearing about it.

Forchissake, Lewis... go watch a movie. Go play a board game. Do something you like.

Time and again, this site publishes your material to get traffic. But, I just don't understand why you are given a forum. You are not an established video game designer. I have more credits in gaming than you do; and I have never worked outside the mobile sphere.

Please go away.

Andy Hayward
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Trying to make one product that will appeal to everyone is a business mistake, based on the fallacy that you can appeal to everyone. You will end up with a bloated product that does nothing well.

Look at businesses that have existed for a length of time, and you'll see that they have accepted this. Car manufacturers do not attempt to make a luxury-sports car-SUV-minivan-pickup-truck that gets good gas mileage. Why not? Because people who like sports cars would buy the Ferrari instead, and the Ferrari would probably be cheaper than the everything-mobile. Movies do not try to create character driven romantic action science fiction fantasy docudramas, because it would require sitting in a theatre for 12 hours, and the average person would only enjoy 20% of the film where things are blowing up and sleep through the rest.

If video games need to appeal to a wider audience, developers need to make different kinds of video games, rather than try to put features in one game that will make it appeal to everyone. Not only will you have better products, but you will actually make more money (rather than having everyone buy 1 copy of the uber game, you'll have some people buy the no-challenge game, others buy the challenging game, and still others buy BOTH).

Blizzard has apparently decided that the best audience to target is not the challenge driven, hard core gamer anymore, and they are focusing their new development efforts on creating less challenging environments that people can play through while chatting with their guild members, watching TV, cooking dinner. They've also modified a lot of the pre-existing content to reduce the difficulty. Note that they are not creating more levels of difficulty in an effort to satisfy everyone. They are focusing on a market/audience that they feel provides the most revenue potential, rather than trying to make everyone happy. This is a sound business strategy in my mind, rather than trying to build options into the game to satisfy every gamer.

Luis Guimaraes
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@ Aaron

Man... relax! Forchissake, go read other posts. Write yours. Do somemething you like...

Lewis brought up a point to think about. His solutions aren't the best yet, but not every problem got the first brinstormed solution to be the best one. But once you're searching, you're in the path to search in the right place. If this blogs were to show absolute solution, we'd not need a comment board then.

agostino priarolo
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"MMOs like World of Warcraft have made playing much easier, much less challenging, in order to appeal to a larger group of players. “Old-timers” complain, but you can’t argue with the financial benefits to the publisher and studio."

It's clear that you write because someone told you something that someone told to them and so on.

Next time you write, try to actually play and study a game. And loose a bit of your precious time on it, like many professionals do to understand.

WOW is so rich of content, gameplay is so funny and clever, and it's full of really hard parts for who wants challenges and easy parts for casual players.

It's not that millions of people play it because it's easy and less challenging dude.

They play it because it's a fantastic game with a fantastic design behind.

Glenn Storm
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This should have been a proper debate. One person gives an opinion, some comment, others rebut or challenge the opinion, debate commences. Instead the rebuts are not being given credit or responded to with respect by the other side, thanks to some flippant remarks of bad-ass, or hardcore, or sanctity of game, or some such. Reasonably supported positions should be responded to in kind.

Pointing out the inherit problems with catering to a market that is too wide is a valid concern. Seeing the flaw in judging games by another medium's paradigm is a relevant point of view to raise. Cautioning against opinions about the way games should be targeted that blatantly ignore their primary defining attribute, suggesting instead the targeting scheme of the medium they're currently replacing, is worth at least a response to the points raised. That, as opposed to a response that only addresses the character of another and makes irrelevant, erroneous assumptions about their age, experience, understanding, etc.

Back on topic:

At points in the original piece and now in the subsequent comments, it sounds like the author of the opinion is trying to have it both ways. Is this an opinion about the way games in general should henceforth treat the audience, target the audience and present difficulty to the audience; starting with "Are games too much like work?", answering yes, then taking the idea that work is undesirable, and therefore the desirable products we make will need to reduce the requirements of work, challenge and difficulty? Or, is this an opinion that we as an industry should heretofore manage difficulty carefully, give players options, branch out and offer new game products that can target the emerging audience without effecting the integrity of the gameplay experience for the primary audience? See, the latter is precisely what we do now and it just doesn't make sense that one would offer an opinion piece that appears to challenge convention, but goes on to essentially say, "Yay! We're right on track!".

Simon T
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@ Glenn Storm, some interesting stuff there about active/passive leisure activities and Western work culture.

@ Jeffrey Crenshaw, yes we need to start saying Interactive Entertainment sooner rather than later. Many of the above comments confirm this.

This article is attempting to address one of the most significant challenges that games face.

It is honest, and proposes solutions to inherent problems. It should be treated as such.

As to the proposed solutions:

I find an 'undo' option to be an inelegant proposal - it works for software, being purely functional tools. Games are a synergy of both function and form.

As for an autopilot feature, I see the sense in that it allows for those audience members wishing to remove the play aspect of games, though I must say I think the proportion of the population who would wish for such a feature to be minute. However, that is mere conjecture.

As in the case of World of Goo, a simple 'skip section' option or some recorded gameplay footage would suffice for those that simply wish to pass a difficult section. It can not be understated however, that this should not be used as a band-aid to poor game design.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Lewis Pulsipher
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@Gomez In Monopoly you play against other people, not against a computer that is presenting challenges. Fast-forward makes no sense in that context, of course, just as it wouldn't if you were playing Warcraft III against other people.


You're stooping to "ad hominem" argument, Aaron, as though it matters what my "qualifications" are. This is one of the well-known logical fallacies (look it up). A person's statements should stand or fall according to how logical/sensible those statements are, not WHO they are. You may be a 13 year old "kid" (which is what you sound like) or you may be my age (58): it doesn't matter. You may be an "established video game designer" or you may have no "qualifications" in game design at all: it doesn't matter to the correctness of your arguments. Ad Hominem attacks are one of the "last resorts" of someone who cannot find a way to refute what another person says, so they attack who the person is, as though that should make any difference. Well done, Aaron, for sinking to this really low level.

Quite possibly I was playing video games before you were born. I may have had commercial games I designed published before you were born (that's 30 years ago). Non-electronic games are quite possibly harder to design than video games, because it's not done by committee but by one person, nor can the designer(s) "hide behind the computer," or rely on making something just like everything else in the selected genre, only slightly different. The odd notion that video games are so fundamentally different from non-electronic games that there is no relationship or common ground between them, probably derives from the just-as-odd-notion that being a "video gamer" makes a person better than other people (look at Lance Rund's post of 2:13 PM yesterday). You're probably not aware that the best teachers around the country (e.g. Brenda Brathwaite and company at SCAD) recognize that to learn video game design you start with non-electronic games.

No, I do not worship video games, but yes, I would like to see them grow and become more mature. Unfortunately, there are many video game players who are immature (their actual age varies greatly), as other commenters have noted in this thread; and the attitude of those immature types, which we see exemplified in some posts here, is holding back the video game industry.

By the way; I rarely watch movies and almost never watch non-sports TV. As I've said before, *I* am not interested in games that tell me stories. I prefer to make my own stories through play of the game; but a great many people *are* interested in games that tell them stories.

It's worth noting that Miyamoto regards himself as an entertainer rather than as a game creator--he won't even call Wii Music a "game". (Does this mean, Aaron, that he's "not qualified"?) In his "Demo Play" he's looking for ways to entertain more people than he otherwise could, on a platform (DS) that is far from the "hard core". Gosh, how revolutionary.

Brandon Davis
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This guy has missed the point as to the interactivity that a game represents. He's making an issue of games being a differnt art form, than from that which is was intended. Anybody who has the perverse urge to 'watch a game' should go rent a movie!

Lewis Pulsipher
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Brandon, someone already made the point that not everyone looks for the same things in games, yet that doesn't mean there's something wrong with them. "Perverse urge"? Really!

"Intended" by whom? Games have always been a form of entertainment (at least, until betting on the outcome comes into play). If some people are entertained by watching video games at times rather than playing, it's still entertainment, even though it's not the kind of entertainment YOU like.

Andy Hayward
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Ahem. Ranting finished yet? Are we allowed to get back to the topic or are we required to continue attacking each other still?

Has anyone mentioned cheat codes? They've existed in games as far back as I can remember, and they were and are a viable way of removing some of the work and challenge from a game. I know that I've used them on occasion, and I'm pretty sure that even the most ardently proclaimed hard core gamers have used them once in a while too, either to experience the game in a different way (woohoo! god mode!) or to complete something that for whatever reason they were unable to do without the code.

The name 'Cheat Code' is unfortunate really, as it implies that you're cheating, when you're actually using functionality that the developers included in the game.

Thinking about this made me change my position a little bit on the original article. One mistake I think we all make sometimes is that we think of 'customers' as constants - he's a puritanical hardcore gamer, she's a casual gamer etc, when in reality none of us are really that constant. Our play style may change depending on the day we had at work/school, the game we're playing, the time of the month, or the age we are when we first play a game and then when we return to it a few years later.

For example, I hate 2D fighting games in general. I tell myself that I prefer a game with a story to it, or one that gives me the freedom to create a story of my own, but in reality it's because I can't stand practicing the same combination of button presses over and over until I get the timing right for super uber finishing moves. However, there are some beautiful fighting games out there these days, both technically and artistically beautiful, and I'm a little frustrated knowing that even if I pick the game up, I'll never really be able to experience most of the game, because I'll never get past the first few fights.

It would be nice to have a few different options available to three left thumb players like myself, so I could still see the game in action without having to go outside every 5 minutes to find where the controller landed after I threw it out the window. I've often thought about something like a pause mode, where the game freezes for a few seconds so you can select what move you want to do next, and then release the game to execute it. It would reduce the difficulty of the game, and would be distasteful to my fighting game aficionado friends, but it would allow me to experience the full game.

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@ Andy Hayward

Dissidia for the PSP is a fighting game with a RPG-like command mode which I believe pauses the game and lets you put in your next move. The command mode isn't the default of the game, but it is an option you can change in the options menu.

Luis Guimaraes
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I wish I could skip all the jumping puzzles in God of War, plus the annoying soul/experience collecting in Infernal...

Maurício Gomes
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I see that some newer games don't call them "cheat codes" they call it "secret codes". Or something like that.

I am a person that is getting annoyed too with the dumbing down of the current games, I don't mean that I hate "casual gamers" or something, I mean that people are missing the point, there are no such "casual gamers", there are in fact people that need good usability in the product. The first games had a clear manual, difficulty options, good tutorials and feedback. Why people don't put these back on the games instead of making the game mechanics stupid?

Seriously, I bet that a platformer game with hints of what to do would be much better than a platformer game that don't allow you do do it wrong (ie: Prince of Persia), not even if the "wrong" way would be actually be a sucess (I am the sort of guy that like doing stuff in wacky ways, like skipping parts on Super Metroid, or killing a boss with punches when I have a cannon, or finding areas that were supposed to be not accesible, like small crevices in the wall model...)

David Tarris
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This article seemed fairly reasonable until we got to "auto-pilot". In my experience, when there's a readily accessible feature at the player's disposal to help overcome a challenge, the temptation to abuse it as soon as the game poses any resistance is too high, and the player walks away feeling unfulfilled and without the sense of accomplishment games are supposed to provide.

I don't think games, or at least the kinds of interactive entertainment software we produce that we colloquially refer to as games, need to be challenging to be fulfilling. It seems to me that games provide two things things that books, movies, and music can't: challenge and choice. I'd personally like to see more games just explore some "what if?" scenarios and let me make the decisions without having to slay a bunch of monsters when the dialogue screen closes.

Mark Venturelli
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This post became a war between Mr. Pulsipher and the world, so I'm not going to post anything after this, especially because this question offended me:

"Are you in the business of making software that entertains, or educates while entertaining in the case of 'serious games', or are you in the business of making challenge-based interactive puzzles and video games?"

Taking your example, if someone wants a good story where he can interact with the actors and characters, he should go to the theather. But some people rather go watch a movie. Should movies implement a system that enables alternative scenes depending on public reaction? It's an interesting experiment (that has been done before), but I seriously doubt that this should become a standard for the medium.

We should not try to emulate what other types of entertainment do best while neglecting what we have been doing for millenia: I am in the business of making challenge-based interactive puzzles and games *that are entertaining*.

If I can't make my challenges entertaining and they feel like "work", then I have failed.

Andrew Dobbs
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It's a bit silly to assume that games are only getting worse and worse. You are just doing the same thing everyone does about past media: you forget all the shovelware and crap, remembering only your favorites. Movies and music are both going amazingly strong with plenty of gifted artists making some of the best work the world has ever seen. Hell, some of the people from "the good ole days" are still alive and creating.

Regarding challenge, there should always be a way to bypass something you don't want to play, so you can enjoy the rest of a game that is otherwise fun. I look forward to seeing what Nintendo does with this.

Sagar Patel
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Lew, I see that you don't really play games for story, and yet "challenge" becomes an issue at some point. While I understand that you don't wish to just be rid of challenge, I'm interested to know what DOES work for you? I know you used some games as examples, but what games fit your general rule of enjoyment? If you don't care for story, and don't care for challenge, then why are you playing games? Are you more of a Wii / sports / racing gamer then?

I'm not sure where I saw this but I read that the future of DVD content for film was to allow people to guide a movie through selecting forking paths through a movie, which I suppose, is how one could merge "gaming" with "movies." Actually, let's replace "gaming" with "interactivity."

If anyone has played 007: Golden Eye, then recall how the difficulty levels in that game went. You didn't simply have a linear/exponential increase of "hard-to-beat" enemies, you had additional missions added to your To-Do list in order to complete the level. This made the increasing difficulty levels "challenging" through a more fun and engaging system.

Aaron Knafla
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Thank you.


For clarity, Lewis...

I have been reading you for quite some time. And, I am certainly not a child.

What I don't enjoy: being insulted. I didn't respond to you in this manner because of one individual piece. It's been building up for some time now...

As for Mr. Miyamoto, I would be excited to read his opinions. To be blunt: his experience and reputation have earned him a degree of respect you do not command.

Every game designer worries about the balance between a fun game and a chore. Every designer has to understand what kind of learning curve will be involved. In these ways, game design is no different than writing; you have to consider your audience.

What kills me about you, Lewis is your constant self-centered attitudes. You don't seem to understand just how wide the spectrum is; people have different needs and tastes. They also have different skills, abilities, and jobs. Just because something isn't right for you, that doesn't automatically make it broken or bad; it just means it isn't right for Lewis. At what point do you simply accept that something isn't for you and move on?

And, that's the constant thread that runs through all of your opinion pieces. You spot something that you don't like or can't do, and snipe it.

Time and again, you want to tell me what's "holding back the video game industry". I don't see anything holding the industry back. The doors are wide open. In fact, it's never been easier for an indie to bring new ideas to the table than right now. The only easier time? Tomorrow. It's only getting better, Lewis.

As for the subject of "teaching" game design, that makes me smile. There aren't many right or wrong answers in game design. There's only what's right for me or what's right for Lewis, etc., etc., ... It's up to the game designer to choose his or her audience.

There's nothing wrong with pushing things forward. But, I think most of the real forward movement comes from ideas in action--not hypothetical discussions about how a great idea would change the world. Either you have something great and you make it happen or... you're just a blowing windbag.

You brought up Nintendo's first party software house. Fine. Now, kindly tell me what it has to do with making games less work? Wii Fit certainly works me over. That's why I bought it. They broke the rules and actually sold me a chore. In fact, they're breaking sales records doing it... Go figure.

There aren't many right or wrong answers to be found. The only thing I do believe is that you can't satisfy everybody. You have to pick an audience and it's a given that people have different tastes. People are what divides the audience in entertainment. And, that's a variable you cannot remove.

In the end, this discussion will not solve or evolve game design in the slightest. It's just hot air. The real work will happen with real video game production. And, that's where you aren't involved Lewis--and it shows.

John Dossy
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No way dude, games totally ROCK!


David Olick
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Wow. When I read this article, I had a variety of feelings. For starters, you mentioned that games were puzzles, which I felt very few people have realized. I wrote a big long theory of games just based on this idea, which I feel encompasses nearly every aspect of games. The one aspect that it can't cover completely is the enjoyment factor, which you are trying to address.

Now, when I read the rest of your article I had the same reaction that nearly everyone else is having. The purpose of videogames are the puzzles and the sense of accomplishment you feel after solving it. If you remove the puzzle, you don't have that sense of accomplishment. However, lingering in the back of my mind was the fact that I will watch people play games on youtube. I find it fun and often interesting!

Yet, there tend to be differences... such as it's free in one case and not in the other. I wouldn't want to buy a game to watch it beat itself. Also, when I watch a game on youtube, it's because I either don't intend on playing it myself and are just interested in the challenges the game brings or because I want to get a preview of the game (I hate game trailers that are all cutscenes. I want to know what playing the game is like!).

Game difficulty is a serious issue and can easily cut out large audiences. You see, in movies there's very few axis' in which they differ. The most obvious ones are the genres (action, romance, etc.). And then there's the pace of the movie, which can either leave you on edge or relaxed (or bored). Movies, I believe, are just about as hit and miss as games. Games have an extra axis of difficulty, which as I have said can ward off potential customers. Easy, Normal, and Hard settings are not perfect. If you are playing the game on easy, you might get the feeling you aren't playing the real game. At the same time if you only include one difficulty setting... you can see where I'm going with this.

I don't believe a rewind feature is perfect for all games, especially the games made to push the hardware to the limit. You cant constantly be writing out the state differences as well as stream in data from disc or cut out a potentially large portion of memory either, where it could be used for other important game-related features. Prince of Persia's time reversing was limited to only a couple seconds. Braid wasn't a game that was so memory intensive and complex that it had to worry about there being a limit.

It bothered me that there was a skip level feature in World of Goo. It's not like it ruined the gameplay (other than my friend insisting I use it so we could see the ending quicker). The option just made every level seem not important. Like, there is nothing important that happens in any level. There's nothing you learn that's important either. Why not just have every level unlocked from the beginning?

It's really about the unexperienced and those that don't have or want a lot of patience in games. The skip level feature is important because some people may feel a level is too difficult and for whatever reason can't devote enough time to do it correctly or just aren't coordinated enough, or whatever. Megaman is a perfect example of a series bent on being really hard unless you've learned how to play them. A lot of people get frusterated easily with really hard games, me included. It also annoys me to go through tutorials in games that I already know 90% of how to play because I've played games in the genre before. So, how do you get this balance?

The author is giving his opinion saying that there should be a "skip challenge" feature or something very similar. Many commenters retaliated saying that if the game is too difficult, you should play a different game. If you don't want a challenge at all, watch a movie (although my criticism with this is that movies are portrayed quite different than games... it wouldn't entirely be the same experience).

I made an account today simply to defend the author because people (or is it a person? I haven't been keeping track) were attacking him for giving his opinion. His opinion, or idea if you'd like to call it, wasn't meant to be a 100% perfect solution to the problem and one that wouldn't cause other problems. It was his opinion, his idea, and that is all. It's a good thing he thought of something and spread his idea. Obviously it doesn't work for the majority of people who read this article (and commented). Spreading ideas is important and shouldn't be attacked.

Even if he's not a hardcore gamer, that doesn't mean that he can't offer his opinion on games to reach another audience or otherwise. The total stupidity of comments attacking his crudentials really needs to stop, because this is simply an opinion and a suggestion to those who make games to try something different (and we want games to try new things every now and then, right?)


I do believe that if a game can't be interesting to the hardcore croud and be able to bring up those not familiar with the game without it feeling like work for either crowd that that game might have to re-think its gaming model. But, that soley depends on if they are trying to reach out to new people or just attract others who love the genre and difficulty type to buy a new and improved game.

I don't believe that for a game to be successful that it needs everyone to love it.

Edit: It's possible that recording all game state changes isn't hard or memory intensive and that Prince of Persia's time limit was intentionally short instead of limited by hardware. I shouldn't assume.

Marcus Draaken
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This is a very black & white representation.

Games have a far bigger potential than even the most dreamy eyed industry insider is willing to admit. However robust GD won't ever reach the lost generations that were raised with televisions - their brains are simply too decayed with passivity to be unlocked. However that still means that by 2020 half a billion people can in fact me active gamers. Don't believe me? If so, ask yourself - how many *people* were online in 1999?

Things change fast, don't they?

The duality between casual (exploration, travel, socializing, creation, playing) and hard core (pawn, scoring, DPS, conquest, end game, game fascist) is a false and overly simplistic one. In my opinion there should be two referential grids, and both should (and will) cost a premium based on supply and demand.

The first duality should be genre. Any Game Designer should create a contextual setting for his game that is aesthetic, sincere and consistent. This are very simple statements, such as "terminator mechs do not belong in a harry potter setting", and doesn't need much explaining. Choices made at this stage will for the next 5-10 years determine gameplay and mechanics, but as Moore's law keeps up, and we as a society gradually move into fiber connectivity with gigabit speeds, the sky is the limit and we enter an era where we can more or less games not according to hardware /server /database /time /investor /morality /platform /interface constraints - but just "as we want them to be".

The genres I see will be stuff like - high fantasy - low fantasy - manga - porn - fetish - hard SF - spandex SF - cyberpunk - postapocalyptic - film noire - gothic horror - alternative world - surreal - horror - gore - mystery - urban jungle - comedy - historical.. (etc)

You get the drift.

the second niche grid we should look at is the niche a player wants to inhabit in a game. In my opinion, most games will be MMORPG, simply because eventually MMORPGS will be the only business model that has any chance to survive persistent piracy, and can be upgraded on a more or less continuous basis. Sure, I am not someone who wants to enter your home and take away your solo game, or I wouldn't want to FORCE people to play in a MMORPG with 12 year old screaming asperger puppies.

But I do insist that MMORPGS are, for mass-appeal, the future of entertainment, and this medium will, somewhere in the 2020s, have clearly displaced cinema and TV into the margins of entertainment. Yes I am talking hundreds of millions of highly diverse gamers by then.

The trick is to draw in a diverse variety of people in your game worlds. The era of linear quest lines and level-based adventuring will end. Likewise, the era of linear storytelling will end. It is unavoidable and even though many people inside and outside the business won't get it for years, the future of gaming will be one offering every single player a tailored experience, in single worlds or realities.

For example

If I were to port the highly illustrative example of Dungeons & Dragons into a MMORPG, set somewhere in 2025, I'd be able to play in a far more consistently, robust, sincere and thematically pure fantasy environment than D&D today. Right now D&D is camp, but by 2025 the worlds you play in won't be. They reason for this will be that irresponsible or immature conduct in *most* (though not all) of these worlds will be held in the most ruthless of contempt. It will be years before this starts becoming visible - but very soon oil and water won't mix, and every player will gravitate to his own experience.

This will mean in a D&D world you will have sandbox places where a character is experimenting with growing crops, in a management position, to make a profit. Regard this as a strategy game. A player will be overlooking gardens, tinkering with seeds, maybe even researching a few spells.

Another player will be adventuring, but not in the way the paleo-gamer is currently doing this. Adventuring in these game worlds will be a mix of fine acting, song, poetry, executing highly wiified dances (motion capture of actual real world activities, a la wii and milo) and semantics. Adventuring won't be just linear pressing of button - a player might use a blend of tools, macro's, preparations and knowledge of the world to attain goals - and these goals might not be "more powerz".

These changes in gaming will be mercilessly fueled by a changing world. Everyone who has his eyes open has a chance to see what will happen to PAID LABOR. As in, in ten years quite a few people won't have any, will never have any, or won't bother. Society will have to go through the incredibly painful transition of coming to terms with the idea that no matter how much people invest in retraining, schooling or dressing like prince charming, they will never be able to compete with outsourced bangladeshi, artificial intelligences able to grab bullets from the air, or evolved knowledge based neural nets amplified by JIT crowdsourcing.

The future looks set for new types of "engineering societal worth" or "generating personal meaning" or "struggling for access to scarce goods". Commuting is on the way out, telepresence and working from home is as unavoidable as plane tickets or animal meat being unaffordable. Even though people will roll eyes when I say this, those same people won't know any better than things did in fact change in fundamental ways by 2020. Which is another way of saying, 2025 will be vastly more different to us than 1995.

Gaming is very likely to fill holes - scarcity will be addressed by gamers being able to earn in-game "stuff" and bartering it for something of intersubjective real-world worth. Earning that will be not a measure of hand-eye coordination and DPS, but rather a range of skills that is far more in tune with what we all regard as meaningful and sensible. If you are in a game with half a million housewives you being able to slay dragons won't be a cherished skill set.

Imagine such a D&D-like game worlds blending remarkably comfortable 3D graphics (headsets?) as fine as Assassin's Creed 2 intro movies - where players engage in managing NPC's a la the sims, or monsters a la Dungeonkeeper... or where a bewildering variety of demographics, ages and tastes do stuff like "second life", build objects, or script objects, or just play with objects.

Those worlds will be rife with hacks, cheats and exploits - but all that sincere effort will also produce laws, customs, morality, ethics and traditions. Imagine a world where it is virtually impossible to attain any meaningful position in-world if you have the social graces of a rat. Imagine a world where people literally play with a supply & demand based metaphysical ruleset to program their own defensive and offensive duelling techniques, party moves, poetic monologues - or magical spells.

In such worlds there wouldn't be something like gold famers. There would be supply and demand - sensible game designers ask themselves "I know there are 50K bangladeshi willing go through this much misery to make this much euro... how can make use of this highly motivated labor force, keeping them away from making a nuisance, institutionalize this external mechanism in a self-correcting feedback loop, while I make an actual income from those "affluent nation" players who have money, and consequently less time, and give everyone what he wants and can afford?

It will be a careful balancing act putting all this in singular environments. To do this there will be "packaged systems", i.e. game environments that offer physics and metaphysics (a mix of resilience and flexibility) and world designers filling in a world, using the "metaverse suite". World editors. The managers of a world will be monitoring the system, and making adjustments - a little tinkering with the rules (what we now call exploiting or hacking) will become part of the game. A magician may for example research spells using a scripting language, balancing (min-maxing) various aspects of the game. A very powerful spell (or any such smart exploit) might last a while until the game managers correct it.

Likewise a massive demographic of players will be perfectly happy doing stuff that causes them to be held in unmitigated contempt by the leetists. Imagine this suddenly turning back on the leetists. For example - in 2014 a game world might be ruled by those who cause most damage with swords. But lo and behold, the game evolves, and by 2018 that same game might in fact an experience leaning towards the poetry-reciting, dancing crowd and "renaissance faire" type player (who STILL pays for this), and the combative types better tread carefully since it is 20:1 and the cityguard favors the buxom maidens in the world, irregardless of the fact if they are genderbending old men IRL and gain in-world power, real world value and a lot of satisfaction literally whoring themselves (visualise - they use wiii-like interfaces) in the local tavern.

OF COURSE this is the moment when hard core gamers will say - I WILL NEVER SET A FOOT IN SUCH A GAME - but I beg to disagree with them. Games may change. Game worlds may change. Game world designers will not say no to any potential client if that client is willing to pay 15$ a month to be a local mead-brewer, or "just like to chat". Who cares? Bigger worlds will have more amenities and offer wider variety of choices. Eventually the hard core gamers will give in, tolerate that their world changes to accomodate literally everyone, and every single player will do what he or she does best and be infinitely smug having done just that.

And remember - that beggar in the street you meet may in fact be a millionaire - or it might equally well be an AI subroutine run by some roma goldfarmers in kazachstan. And you might just need that beggar, since he knows *everything*, (he is The Voice after all!), knows everyone, can fix bewildering things, and the game masters, in their infinite cruelty, decided that in order to lean that unique double weaponed dagger parreying move, you first have to befriend the Voice and he has to recommend you to the Grande Fencingmaster.

Mark Venturelli
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Oh my god, just now I realized what I wrote!

" I am in the business of making challenge-based interactive puzzles and games (...)"

When someone says "interactive game", baby jesus cry.

Finn Haverkamp
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I have just completed Grand Theft Auto IV. It took me 40 hours. That's a long time. I imagine most people completed the game much quicker, but I didn't really get good at the game until three-quarters through, meaning I died a lot, and lost a lot of missions. In fact, on average, I failed every mission two times, meaning it took me three attempts to complete each mission. I take no issue failing missions, especially when I consider it my fault and not the AI or cheapness or whatever, but I really, really bothers me is the lack of checkpoints. Most missions in GTA IV feature two or three parts once the mission has already begun. The scenario commonly works out like follows: 1. drive to the mission, 2. kill people, 3. chase scene or escape from cops. Now, in GTA IV, when you die, you have to restart the entire mission from the very beginning. And when I've spent about fifteen minutes just getting to part three, only to die and have to start all the way from the beginning again, I get angry. I just did it. I had successfully completed parts 1 and 2, had bested the challenge. So why is it that I have to redo these parts of the mission? Particularly, when the first part, simply driving to the killing part, usually offers absolutely no challenge?

Rockstar did go through the effort of recording two different conversations for every drive, so the second time around, you'll hear Niko and whoever he is exchange completely different dialogue. While it can be nice to have this extra insight, why go through all of the trouble of recording double the voicework when you could simply restart the player at the second or most recent part of a mission? Basically, each time I failed a mission, I felt like I was wasting my life away. I enjoyed GTA IV; it was a super detailed game with some great characters and an intriguing story. And the combat gameplay was amazingly fun. But with a game this long, that features over 80 missions, I do not have the patience to play every mission, all the way through, sometimes six or more times. The lack of checkpoints in GTA IV absolutely kills me; I literally would have beaten the game in half the time if they'd have been included. While that may sound like a lame excuse, I value my time, and I really don't enjoy wasting it away on things I've already completed.

Perhaps more importantly, the fear of dying caused me to be high-stress during every mission; I really didn't want to have to restart the mission all the way from the beginning, so I would be high-strung the whole time, super focused, to ensure that I wouldn't die. Every time I found a health pack or body armor, I breathed a sigh of relief. I think that the challenge in GTA IV was spot on, neither too hard nor too difficult, except, except for the lack of checkpoints. Actually, I find it fairly elitist not to include check points. What that tells me is that the developers think my having to start their mission over again is more important than my time. What if I just want to experience the game and story without all of the stress of dying? Stress which was created very specifically by the lack of checkpoints.

This is all to say that I too find games too much like work sometimes. GTA IV has taught me this more than any other game I've ever played. I honestly couldn't wait to complete so I could move on with my life. The reason I played through it was to see the story and cool missions, plus the gameplay was a ton of fun. But because of the simple design decision of not including checkpoints, I enjoyed much of the experience far less than I would have otherwise. I think this serves as an example of how the design of games, aside from difficulty or challenge, can heavily influence the feeling of fun or work.

Josh Foreman
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"Americans say "I beat the game". Europeans say "I completed the game""

"and in Russia, game beat you!"

Hahaha... Actually... One of the only Russian games I can think of is Tetris, which does, indeed, beat you. Every time.

Been playing Kings Bounty lately. Developed in Russia I think. The bugs in that game are beating me to a pulp. Such a fun game to play for those 4 minute periods between hard lock ups and restarting my computer.

Dhamir Mahamood
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Upon actual deconstruction of the article I have came upon this conclusion. This is a 3-way standoff between -- in no particular order of substance -- movies, comic books and video games. The particular game that this article was inspired by is a prime example of post-modernist society’s partiality to commodify entertainment and if we deconstruct that even further we find that separately, those three forms of entertainment are also successful exercises in the commodification of the arts.

The following discourse on the comparison between movies and video games is inexplicable; and so is the debate about which of which should resemble the other. However, such discussions are crucial if we are to understand more about both forms of “entertainment” and their relation to the broader spectrum of what constitutes as art.

David Serrano
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There's nothing wrong with building challenges into games. The problem is too many developers are creating challenges that are just too physically difficult for the average gamer to complete. "Average" being the key word. Who who are current generation of games being developed for? Are they for the majority of players with average skills or the tiny minority that are hardcore players? Regardless of what some here claim, many developers have simply stopped giving consideration to what is fun vs. challenging. Instead, they provide the hardcore gaming community exactly what they want, extreme difficulties and near unbeatable challenges. Unfortunately, it's done at the expense of everyone else. Fun and enjoyment are no longer part of the equation.

For example, I'm currently playing Guitar Hero 5. I consider myself a average to slightly above average gamer plus I've studied and played guitar for years. Yet on medium difficulty, GH's version of "normal", I can barely complete many of the songs let alone the challenges that unlock new content. When the game includes a tutorial on how not to get physically hurt playing the game, it should be a sign to somebody there's a problem. Unlocking much of the content is directly tied to playing the game on hard and expert. Which means only the elite players can access it. So who did Activision design this game for? Clearly it's custom tailored for hardcore players even though the vast majority of consumers are average. There's absolutely no fun or enjoyment involved with playing the game, everything is based around scoring points under extreme difficulties. As Tom Hanks said in Big "what's fun about that?" Indeed.

I don't really agree with Lew that games need an "autopilot" to solve the problem. But the underlying message of his story is on the money. The problem is all based around the "pwn" culture and the mindset behind it. It's become a cancer on gaming. What the industry needs is a dose of common sense. Snap out of it! Everyone pays the same price for the games, everyone has the right to access to the same content and have the same experience regardless of their skill level. If hardcore gamers are against a basic concept like this, then it's time for the industry to leave them behind while it moves forward.

A good place to start fixing the problem would be for a group like the ESA to develop a consensus or standard that defines the abilities of a typical and average player. Start pulling people in and testing them. Not just elite players, not just hardcore players. Everybody. The ESA knows the demographics of the gaming audience, their buying power, etc... Now it's time to measure and define what an average person in that audience can and cannot handle. Developers could use the standard as a template to design games difficulties around and the ESA could incorporate the data to their rating system. If a developer decides to incorporate extreme difficulties into their games, it should be reflected in the ratings.

But the first step to recovery is acknowledging you have a problem. It's time for everyone involved to take that first step. Like it or not.

Lewis Pulsipher
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I stopped reading comments on this article when commenters descended to the "ad hominem" logical fallacy, presumably because they couldn't think of any counter-point to the actual statements in the article. (One of my students characterized the comments as "mud-slinging".) Having read many comments on other sites such as Kotaku and GameSetWatch--which have not descended to ad hominem--I have a few observations, then I'll disappear again:

Another of my students fears the "slippery slope", if games get too easy and reach a broader market, he fears manufacturers won't make games with challenges any more. My wife's rejoinder: there are lots of "low" or broad-market books, that doesn't stop people from writing "literature".

Yet what I've proposed is an *alternative* to "dumbing down" games. We can have games be challenging to those who like challenges, and not overly challenging to those who don't like them, via autopilot/Demo Play and undo/rewind.

If "autopilot" does not become common, then we'll see games continue to be "dumbed down" to give them broader appeal, and the hard-core players will suffer for it. With "auto-pilot" the hard core can continue to enjoy their challenging games. Those of you who love challenging games should DEMAND an auto-pilot feature in games so that they won't be "dumbed down" to the point that you won't enjoy playing even on the hardest difficulty setting. Because "dumbing down" is the alternative to letting the computer take the player through the challenges the player does not want to face.

As a designer you'd love to be able to make a game that has something for everyone. But that's impossible. In non-electronic games you can have several different versions, from simpler to more complex, but that has distinct limits. In video games you can have difficulty levels from easy to very hard, but that too has its limits. Yet thanks to the power of the modern computer, in video games we can now do both: provide a highly challenging game, yet let people who may not want to take on heavy challenges still play the game. What a great situation! Let the computer play the game when necessary so that players can get past the parts they find most challenging (parts that will vary from player to player: some like puzzles, some hate them, some like "twitch", some just can't twitch fast enough (or don't want to bother)).

What makes games games, is not challenge or accomplishment, it's entertainment. Yet different people are entertained in different ways. Some like the provided-by-designer and implemented-by-computer challenges; some like the challenges of playing against other people, a very different situation. Some like to "see what happens". And so forth. Yet some people seem to think that games are "intended" to be only what they enjoy (e.g., challenging interactive puzzles that we call video games).

As for removing competition, believe me, folks, I know what happens in K-12 schools, where competition (and thinking) has largely been eliminated and anyone can pass if they show up. I'm a college teacher, and sometimes teach high school kids taking college classes. But school is an important part of LIFE, and how to cope with life, it's not entertainment. When we "dumb down" school, the students suffer for it all their lives. And the smarter kids KNOW they're being cheated by the current system. Games are entertainment. If you start to think of games as like life, you're distressingly confused.

One part of me boggles at all the "sense of accomplishment" people. One commenter said "Without the risk of failure, success is meaningless." Right, and you can't fail at a video game, they only take a lot of persistence. You can't LOSE a single-player video game, folks; where's the accomplishment in something you cannot lose? (But remember, I despise formal puzzles, some people love them.) If you could actually lose, then maybe you'd accomplish something when you win. Years ago I wrote a piece titled "Are video games turning us into a nation of losers"--because you can't lose, and because they were (and are) getting easier and easier, and often can be solved by trial and error rather than rational thought. (Btw, if you happen to find the article somewhere, I no longer agree with all of it, having learned some things from my video game design students about the social side of video gaming.) I perfectly understand the distress of people who dislike "dumbed down" games. Yet with modern computers we can provide a game that is both challenging and completely palatable to those who aren't looking for heavy challenges. Why not do it?

The "I'm extraordinary because I'm a video gamer" crowd typically object strenuously to any "devaluation" of game playing. They're evidently worried that they will somehow be "diminished" when some n00b can easily play through the same game the hard core person "beat", using autopilot and undo/rewind. Some video game players evidently glean a significant part of their self-worth, their self-esteem, from their abilities as video game players. Yet people not members of this small group don't care whether someone "beat the game", or beat it in a short time; they don't care how many "achievement points" you've scored. Beating a game, being a "bad-ass" video game player as David Jaffe puts it, counts for nothing in the real world. It doesn't help you survive, it doesn't help your family, it doesn't help your friends, it doesn't help the culture or the nation, it is "unproductive". In that respect it's no different than watching a movie or reading a novel. On what basis are we criticizing the movie-watchers, then?

In that sense, I am certainly not a member of the "video game playing fraternity." As Lance Rund said in a comment, "There are days I don't particularly like much of the playerbase."

(My thanks to those who have attempted to understand the article, and to explain it to some of the "fraternity".)

Lew Pulsipher

Tony Basch
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Several things here.

1. The definition of the word 'challenge' is never specified in this article. What kind of challenge? Intellectual challenge? Reflex challenge? Or in the case of Wii games, flail challenge? What about 'accessible?' How is anybody supposed to debate the merits of the ideas presented without clear terminology?

2. The ideas proposed here are nothing new (except maybe autopilot). He's merely redressing the "easification" of games that the industry is looking at as the gaming audience continues to expand. As the MMO market expands, the hardcore challenges that attracted the original hardcore segment that supported the genre is getting less attention. With the Wii, you've got grandmas playing, and they don't necessarily have the greatest hand-eye coordination. So you get Nintendo filing patents like this

3. Board games have an autopilot of sorts, which I will call Pulsipher mode. You take the game out, set it all up, then put your piece in the end square (if applicable) and then put the game back in the box. In Monopoly, you can optionally take all the money and properties and stack them on your side. ...But I don't think that's how they're meant to be played.

At least playing board games in Pulsipher mode let you enjoy the game's story without having to play it. ....wait a minute...

4. "Games are a poor medium for story-telling compared with movies and novels,..."

This is absolutely ludicrous.

5. You said Mr. Aaron Knafla's argument is invalid because it is ad hominem, and then write two paragraphs about how your game-playing experience indeed does qualify you to publish these ideas? You're refuting an ad hominem argument with more ad hominem? "Quite possibly I was playing video games before you were born." Well, my goodness, we SHOULD be listening to you then, and indeed all of the commenters on Kotaku, GameSetWatch, 1up, RockPaperShotgun, et al. They've been playing games, so they should know, right?

Do you drive a car? Does that mean you can make one? Do you take medicine? Does that mean you can make medication? I believe they call this inverse ad hominem (look it up).

Also, from Wikipedia:

"In Douglas Walton's Informal Logic: A Pragmatic Approach, the ad hominem argument is shown not to be a fallacy despite there being fallacious instances of the argument."

The funny thing is, I found that after I did what you said and looked up "ad hominem."

The reason people question your qualifications is because if you've made games, your ideas have been given a litmus test, first by your studio peers, and then by the audience as a whole, to judge the merits of the ideas presented in your games. The fact that you are not associated with a reputable company or college leaves open the possibility (but does not guarantee) that reputable companies and colleges that you have tried to get jobs with did not find your ideas and methodologies appealing.

The important thing is you haven't made any video games that have shipped to a commercial market. You have shipped board games, and I can respect that.

6. There exists overlap between board games and video games. I will concede that, and it lies mainly in game and rule design. But how does the presentation of story (as this article relates to) and autopilot relate at all to board game design? What board games present a continually unfolding story as you play? Clue would be a stretch.

7. You do realize that an "auto-pilot" mode would reduce a game into a 60-dollar movie whose running time is most likely less than an hour, right? Do you realize how economically unfeasible that proposition is? 2- and 3-hour movies cost $20. Nobody is going to pay three times as much money for one-third the content. You'd be better off shipping a separate DVD with all the cut-scenes glued together, but it would end up playing like a Nyquil-tempered fever dream because game cut scenes usually require gameplay experiences and environments for context and continuity.

8. I have one question for you that I would like you to answer honestly: Why do you write video game-centric articles?

colin graham
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I'm kind of surprised at the way a group of 'industry professionals' jumped all over Lewis Pulsipher for taking a different look at an old issue. "sickened"? Offended? Seriously?

He's just offering a different way of looking at a problem, a hypothesis how challenge effects our perception of fun. I think some of you guys need to take a deep breath, and get over yourselves

Sometimes it pays to look for a new direction, to approach the problems in a Lateral way. Although we may not agree with each point literally, there is some benefit to approaching the problems of "fun, work, and Challenge" from a different angle.

"You cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction." - Edward de Bono

I don't think approaches like this should feel threatening for game developers. I think this article is asking us: for the player, when does fun turn into work? How much work is too much work? Can we set up a system that can change the amount of work required for different players? How do we know how much work a player needs to do to find something fun?

I think the idea is quite interesting myself, and one worth thinking on further.

So I'd Like to say, Thanks Lewis for writing an article that made us think, and thanks to the commenters who also offered up some very interesting counter points.

Josh Foreman
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I was about to post a serious thing... but Colin ^2 posts up^ said exactly what I was going to say. If that article had zero validity and and was silly nonsense than would it really make people that upset? Generally if I get my feathers ruffled it's because there's an element of truth to the criticism. The article had noting to say about pipelines or procedures. It's about a philosophical direction possibilities for our industry. Who cares what the source is? If it's silly, ignore it. If it has some shreds of merit let's look into it. If you're afraid there are ideas that are "dangerous" to our industry just explain why. No need to personally attack the guy.

David Serrano
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@ colin graham


David Serrano
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@ Josh Foreman

The hostile response to the article is the problem with gaming right now. The hostility is just a reflection of the "hardcore" mentality many designers and developers have not only adopted, but openly promote. It's the standard nastiness and hostility directed at anyone who dare question their culture. "We made gaming what it is. We are gaming. You don't know what your are talking about. How dare you question us especially if you're not one of us. Your too stupid to possibly understand what we do". Which inevitability degrades into "noob, douche bag, faggot, bitch, etc..."

In the past, gaming was about civility, acceptance and inclusiveness. Unfortunately it's been replaced by ego, trash talking, bullying and humiliation. That's the real issue and problem. Everyone working in the industry should ask themselves is this really the foundation you want to build your futures on? You don't need to remove work from games, you need to remove "pwn'd" from both the games and the industry. On every level possible.

While I don't agree with anything Lew proposed as a solution, I believe his article does express the opinion of a growing majority of gamers. So really, think twice before you dismiss or ignore what he has to say.

Brandon Van Every
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Let the market decide. I had a friend who would fast forward through movies like "The Professional" to get to "the good bits."