The benefits of making your players suffer (and maybe throw up)
Bennett Foddy, creator of QWOP, GIRP, and CLOP among others, likes to play with his players, and he suggests that more of us should be doing the same.
At the top of his talk at IndieCade on Friday, he asserted, “I'm going to try to convince you to put more suffering in your games.”
Learn a lesson from the Olympics, he says - it's all about the suffering. It's all about the pathos of second place.
“Nobody cries when they come second in a video game,” he notes. “Nobody lays down and cries. Why not?”
In track and field video games, “The way that you run is to either hammer a button really fast, or waggle a joystick really fast,” he says. “There's no joy in that, the joy is in the panic - in your friends watching you injure yourself as you hit the button.”
“It's not just that games are easier - though they are,” he says. “To me it's that games these days are more comfortable. There's less discomfort. My worry is not that games are getting too easy, because easy games can be wonderful. My worry is that games are getting too comfortable.”
What's so good about suffering anyway? “When you're suffering in a game, it makes failure matter,” he says. Counter-Strike uses boredom. If you fail, you have to just watch everyone else play, but frustration is more widely used.
“It makes success matter if there's suffering in the game,” Foddy says. If you get to the end, you feel like this huge weight has been lifted. Thus, “this talk is a love letter to games that put you through Hell just for the sake of it,” he says, “because we enjoy the suffering itself.”
“Often when I start designing a game, I start by thinking about the aesthetics of the input,” he says. Would the interaction be fun if there were no game? “Most sports pass that test,” he says, noting that playing catch is fun even without rules.
One example is drumming your fingers on the keyboard - it's sort of inherently satisfying - and that became the inspiration for CLOP, which uses the H, J, K, and L keys.
“I'd like to have an anti-ergonomic game where it's physically challenging to play the game, and you could say to your friends 'I played for three hours, and I had to go to the hospital,'” he said.
Foddy has been researching pain, confusion, and nausea in games, to make games that give players those sorts of feelings.
Wolfenstein 3D makes people nauseous, but it doesn't make you feel good. “The reason I don't feel good about it is that it's not the point of the game,” he says. “I think you could make a game where nausea is the point of the game, and people would enjoy it.”
Motal Kombat gives you Fatalities, as an example of humiliation. “You might think that's for the pleasure of the winner, but I don't think that's right,” he says. “The computer does it as well. I'm supposed to be enjoying it as a player, even on the losing end.”
Ultimately it's all about playing with the player, as a developer. “The reason I'm cataloging these various dimensions of suffering, is why would frustration feel good? Why would confusion or humiliation be nice?” he posed. “I think one reason is it represents the developer playing with the player.”
The idea among many developers is that confusion is an engineering failure. This means developer is teaching you how to stay interested in the game, rather than playing with you. “To me that's a warped way to look at the interaction between the developer and the player.”
So in a single player game, the developer should be player 2. “Playing” is just an agreement that you won't kill each other - if you take it down to completely not hurting each other, it loses its teeth. “That's the flag football of video games,” says Foddy. “I think you should make the real football of videogames.”
If you do this, he says “you're playing with the player, rather than providing an environment for players to play with themselves.”
Don't worry too much about frustration, and playtesting. “Maybe you shouldn't care so much about what people will think,” he posed. “I wonder if Marcel Duchamp would've put a tutorial into his video games, if he made them? He wouldn't have focus tested his games.”
“Don’t water down your games. I think art should be difficult, I think it should be painful, it should be nauseating,” he says. “It should be more difficult, more nauseating than music or other art because it's more complex,” he concluded. “Don't make the easy listening of video games.”