I recently hit a point in Arkham Asylum where I just can’t go any further. I’ve beaten the game, solved all the riddles, collected all the trophies, and completed all of the stealth challenges. But I can’t even get two medals on the very first combat challenge. I just can’t figure out the combat system, which works very well, but requires an incredible amount of patience and effort to master to the point where you can string together combos and multipliers beyond the 5-8 range. I can’t even imagine what it would take to hit the 18,000 point target in the first combat challenge.
But rather than continue to slog along, making no progress, I’m probably going to give up and accept my 88% completion rate as having “beaten” the game. This realization made me wonder, though, why some gaming challenges make me play devotedly in the hopes of mastering them, while others inspire no interest whatsoever.
After thinking about it, I think there are probably three main elements to challenges that are of interest to the average player.
First, progress. There has to be some way for a player to conceive of the possibility that he or she might actually accomplish their goals, and this is often achieved by making the player feel some sort of progress towards the objective. At its most basic, this might simply be a checkpointing system; more advanced versions are trophies or medals, or a percentage counter on the screen. Interestingly, the most frustrating games - the ones that make me scream in silent rage at the television - aren’t the ones I have no hope of beating, but the ones where I come so very close and yet fail anyways.
Second, competition. This might simply be competition with yourself, such as in Bionic Commando when you play a challenge room over and over again to perfect some combination of moves. Multiplayer offers another aspect to this, where you can test yourself against other players. And leaderboards are the ultimate version, because they give you a direct, tangible, and difficult goal.
Finally, reward. Whether simply recognition (as in leaderboards or publication in a magazine or blog) or a tangible in-game reward (consider Shadow Complex’s gold guns), a player needs to feel that the goal they are working towards is worthwhile. I suspect people are motivated by different things; if I get nothing useful from a challenge and don’t particularly enjoy the challenge itself from a gameplay angle, I don’t much care about it.
I have to confess though that I am left with one big puzzle: the appeal of leaderboards. I have absolutely no interest in leaderboards, mostly because of the progress angle: there is absolutely no chance that I will ever be the top player in the world at anything… so why invest a ton of effort to be player #58,203 at Call of Duty? Yet a ton of players will play obsessively to do just that, wihtout any hope of additional progress. It’s the great unsolved mystery of challenges to me.Posted in Etc, Geoff |