Tuesday, March 30, 2010

EXP Podcast #71: Hostile Forces

For a medium designed to entertain and even calm, videogames can be surprisingly frustrating. Intense hostility can be elicited by games, be they single-player or multiplayer. This can result in high blood pressure, loud swearing, or even the destruction of property. Chris Lepine of The Artful Gamer inspires the podcast this week with his post on angry gamers and a shattered six-axis. Join us this week while we discuss breaking controllers, 8 bit anger, the calming affects of transparency, diverting hostility, and adversarial gaming. We encourage you to read Chris's original article in the show notes and leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Discussion Starters:

- What games have really pissed you off? Have you destroyed anything because of a game?
- Why does it seem modern games evoke less animosity than their predecessors?
- How do we account for potential hostilities when designing single-player and multiplayer experiences.

To listen to the podcast:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the stand-alone feed.
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking the title. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Run time: 36 min 26 sec
- "The Angry Gamer," by Chris Lepine via The Artful Gamer
- Music provided by Brad Sucks


  1. One of the older games inspiring anger is Chip n' Dale Rescue Rangers for the NES. It's a very good platforming game with a two-player mode. While it seems cooperative just like in Contra, I learnt the hard way that it also has friendly fire enabled. You can be stunned by projectiles thrown by your friend, and he can throw you as well. New Super Mario Bros Wii uses a refined version of this game mechanic. That particular incident resulted in one bruised preteen ego and one bruised head, courtesy of a NES controller used as a club.

    For me, that abrupt shift in gameplay from cooperative to confrontational was like the game throwing an obstacle that I could not see, predict or prepare for. But in this case, I could have. The manual did have detailed explanations of the game mechanics.

    Similar problems often arise in MMORPGs which have both PvE and PvP elements. A player that has grown accustomed to PvE will get angry if he is suddenly attacked by an another player. The developers should either change gameplay to match player assumptions, or to make player assumptions match gameplay more accurately. The former can be accomplished by isolating PvP from PvE completely.

    The latter can be accomplished by improving the sense of danger. The games could use threatening or foreboding imagery to accurately convey the feeling of danger, but unfortunately those signals are overused. The character is not in any more danger fighting a giant at max level than he was on level one, fighting a rat. During earlier gameplay, players have subconsciously learnt to ignore these meaningless signals, and are thus surprised when a gnome with two tiny daggers is actually a larger threat than the giant.

  2. Haha, that's a great topic! I actually feel very much like you guys. I used to get VERY angry at games. Nowadays, I tend to be able to deal with all sorts of annoyances. Even worse: I actually seek out those annoying experiences to understand the design mistakes better.

    I actually remember - as a kid I once got a Game & Watch game. I got it from my aunt. She imported it from Germany. It was considered a very expensive and rare entertainment device in Poland at that time. I was aware of it. Yet, on one fateful day, I had a rage-blackout and threw the device against the wall. It broke beyond repair. I was too ashamed to tell anybody for at least a year or so. My aunt laughed when I finally confessed to her. But it was an important lesson for me. ;)

  3. Hey Hirvox,

    Thanks for giving me rage-inducing flashbacks to the Chip 'n Dale game! So annoying, yet so fun.

    Interesting point about aesthetics undermining gameplay difficulty. Dangerous imagery can easily become mundane for regular gamers, which then leads to people being blindsided by a game like Demon's Souls.

    Hi Krystian,

    It's funny that you mention it: sometimes I'm more excited to play games that I suspect might annoy me. It sounds masochistic, but anything that provokes a strong experience is worth studying.

    Awesome story by the way. I'm guessing it must have felt great to deliver a beating Mr. Game & Watch in Super Smash Bros? ;-)

  4. Having just re-listened to this podcast for the first time since playing both Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and Revelations to 100% completion, I can say, and trying not to sound arrogant here, that any description of those games as forgiving is flat-out wrong. Multiple missions come to mind, especially a number of Leonardo da Vinci inventions from Brotherhood (with special mention to the tank mission where to get full synchronization you must not take any damage), that are completely unfair. Sure, those games make use of a an auto-save feature that will save your progress within a mission, but it will also save you as having failed the full synchronization objective as well.

    Things have gotten somewhat better in Assassin's Creed 3, where the reload last checkpoint feature is far more forgiving and will reload the last checkpoint to a state where you have not yet failed the optional objectives if you had reached that point with them not yet failed. However, there are still several situations where during the course of a mission, the next checkpoint is tied with the completion of some optional objective just prior. Which creates a situation where having just failed that objective, the game then saves and any reload puts you in a state where that objective is always marked as failed, thereby necessitating that you replay the entire mission again. Also, in addition to the multiple optional objectives they have introduced, there is another criterion for each mission that states something along the lines of "completed all optional objectives within the same mission play through." All of which taken together still creates some situations that are downright infuriating and rage inducing.

    To make a long story short, the Assassin's Creed games could only be described as forgiving or easy-going if you do not care about completing the optional objectives for full synchronization.