Recently I found myself at the Game Data Analysis conference at TU Delft. I have no interest in playing video games whatsoever. My most dramatic exposure to gaming was getting sucked into ‘the Sims’ when I was a child.
But I couldn’t miss out on the treat of observing the precious species of ‘gamers’ in their natural habitat. It was illuminating indeed. Game designers toil away to engineer a scenario that is challenging enough to interest the player but never (ever) too complicated to upset him. Game analysts exert themselves to detect ‘choke’ points – moments in the game that could elicit the slightest irritation and lose the company many disappointed players.
This army of professionals is trying to win over the archetypal modern Western citizen – stressed, impatient, looking for immediate gratification. It’s his way or none at all. He will pay the developers if they cater to all his needs, but he will ditch the game should he encounter the most trivial frustration.
People will move onto the next game within eight seconds whenever they are dissatisfied with the ‘loading’ screen. The game hasn’t even started, but there you have it, the judgment is already there. If only this whimsical behaviour was confined to virtual reality.
People constantly play games with each other, pulling strings and seeking the right buttons to press to get what they want. Canadian psychiatrist Eric Berne catalogued some of the inventive arrangements we all use in his book Games People Play.
See What You Made Me Do is one of the most widespread games we indulge in. Imagine you have a teamwork assignment. Having trouble with group communication, you decide to be Buddhist about it and let it go. However, when you get a low grade, your first reaction is to feel resentful towards your teammates. They ‘forced’ you to compromise your otherwise immaculate working ethic.
You just brush it off and hope that you get better luck next time. You are good; it’s just the unfortunate thing that happened to you. It would be funny were it not so sad. There are lessons to be learnt from the reality of failure, the looming possibility of rejection. We love games as long as there is a scenario governed by rules. But how do you deal with unexpected diversions and cunning cheaters?