"Failure, Inadequacy, and Why We Play" - a discussion about player motivation



  • I watched this video recently:

    Failure, Inadequacy, and Why We Play

    To briefly give some context of what it is about, the video tries to examine the question of why different games appeal to different players, and notably why this preference remains relatively stable across time. And the lens he is specifically looking through is the triad of: Player Motivation, Failure, and Inadequacy (hence the title). And if that "inadequacy" doesn't make sense, don't worry it is explained rather well at the start.

    Attempting to answer his own question results in the long 50 min essay I just linked, but watching it comes highly recommended from me personally (for whatever that's worth to you :P). I found it very enlightening and I'm hoping it could spark a lot of discussion!

    If you need a better picture of what the video will be like before watching, here's my final grand summary: the video introduces a very intriguing schema for classifying games into how they achieve player motivation by looking at a series of model examples in each category. That schema is the biggest payoff of the video (although probably not the only thing you'll get out of it). If you are like me and like to think about game design subjects on your own then you too may find it a very useful "new mental structure" that you can use!



  • hmmm 52 mins... can you give me the short version



  • @bigdude1

    hmmm 52 mins... can you give me the short version

    No? :) It's not condense-able in a way that I'd be happy with going "okay, now let's all just discuss the short version without having watched it". I'm really afraid it'd be a subpar discussion or even lead to arguments. I feel the author put great care to introduce and explain non-trivial concepts, to explain the model examples carefully and perhaps most of all to ensure that it was clear he wasn't passing judgement in the places where the risk can run high!

    It's also like... I watched the video 5 days ago and I still feel electrified and want to share and talk about it. Part of the reason I created this thread is to nudge someone else into the same position! If you notice, I did take great care to give "the short version".... of why you might get something out of watching the video. ;)

    (And if reading my first post and/or watching the first 5 minutes of the video makes it sounds like the essay is too deep into the ludo-analysis pool to be worth watching, then that's okay!)

    Finally, I feel that -- in my humble defense -- there is no monopoly on creating threads. This thread isn't about discussing player motivation in general or one short paragraph about motivation. It's about the essay. The freedom everyone has to create threads means those other discussions can happen if someone is struck by a desire to create them.



  • After your high praise about this video I was honestly a bit disappointed.

    The graph at the end, which is basically the conclusion of the entire video is cute. But it took him an awful lot of convoluted rational to get there. So I would respectfully disagree that the video is not condens-able.

    Fist, there is the huge and (until the very end of the video unquestioned) premise that we play games for the sake of resolving an inadequacy. And half of the conclusion (the graph) relies on this premise. Even calling it a graph seems a bit pretentious, since it amounts to four categories. That is all you have. There is no way you can make finer distinctions, although the creator of the video tries.
    I would indeed argue that there are a multitude of reasons why people play. Hence a graph with two axis and no gradation is too simplistic. It seems like a desperate attempt to categorize everything. Is almost as nonsensical as giving a game a numbered score how good or bad it is.

    At the end he even admits that the video is kind of pointless since much of the entire “theory” is highly subjective and players might relate different to games. Then he tries to justify his graph as a tool to improve “gaming journalism” or as means to facilitate the search for fitting games for one's own taste.
    I don't see how this graph could help me find games or how it could help gaming journalism. Whatever happened to watch a good old trailer or watching some game footage? Never before have there been so many easy options to get information about a game.
    Of course, if Steam becomes even more stuffed with content, then you really might have use for some sort of algorithm to find games that appeal to you. But then you might want to have a better quality control in the first place.

    But how could it possibly work when the categorization of games is so highly subjective? It already starts with the definition of the inadequacy of the game.
    Let's take his example Monster Hunter, in which he vaguely defines the inadequacy like: “I'm bad at hunting monsters.” That alone is such a superficial definition.

    If you want really want to talk about inadequacies, you might want to go deep into the human psyche (which presumably is to a large degree unconscious). In the video the word inadequacy is being used terms of a lacking skill or ability.
    I'd like to say that the word could also be used to refer to much deeper feelings, fears and inadequacies, which also influence our attraction to certain themes or types of experiences.

    So how about we translate “bad at hunting monsters” (created inadequacy) to“being bad at surviving in the wild”, which might be a real (or capitalized) inadequacy.

    With other games he defines the inadequacy like “not being able to organize or to strategize”.
    With Xcom, how about you replace the inadequacy from “being bad a strategizing or decisionmaking” to “being bad at fighting aliens”?
    Suddenly the inadequacy turns from “Capitalized” to “Created”.

    Or with Tetris, what happens if you go from “bad at organizing” to “bad at stacking blocks”?

    Or with Doom the inadequacy is described as “you haven't killed enough demons lately”. I mean this definition seems so lazy, I'm almost tempted to say ridiculous. What about the definition “I feel powerless” so Doom delivers the goods (mighty weapons) to feel powerful. Again the game moves from on side of the graph to the other.

    The author switches wildly between superficial and more abstract concepts while defining the inadequacies. In some cases, he relies on the gameplay mechanics and in other cases he relies on the dramatic content or the narrative of the game. And he changes at will. In my opinion the entire “inadequacy” thing isn't working.

    I have a few of other question marks about the video, but I guess these are the major ones.



  • That's fine, not everyone is going to be excited like I was, Tarma! I think we also diverge because I see the value in the concepts and mental structures that I gained watching it, whereas you seem disappointed because this essay fails to be a "definitive" piece of work... something that can be considered textbox and ready to applied en mass (As you put it, you felt he was "desperate to categorize everything", whereas the air I felt was that he is less ambitious and sees own work as a starting point for others to work off of, not the endpoint.). The process of expanding widely used gaming vernacular and concepts is slow, and even though he uses reviewers and such as a reason why one should care about gaming language I don't think he is pretentious about his essay or even expects things to change quickly due to anyone else's efforts. i.e. I wasn't entertaining the idea of trying to take this introduced schema as a new omnipresent system that could be ushered into action right now, I was viewing this as an academic work ("not an answer, but a constructive way to talk about it"). So what electrified me so much is gaining new ideas, new perspectives and new ways of thinking. This opens up more ways I can continue to think about my own pet subjects about game design. For a person such as myself, those are very valuable and they don't have to pass the "well what about this problem...." test for me to treasure them.

    I'll try to be as courteous as possible with the rest of my comment since our emotional valence after watching the video were unfortunately polar opposites:

    Many of my main questions since watching the video are similar to yours. He describes the concept of "implied creator - game - implied player", but I question whether there is a single function that maps each game to an implied gamer, i.e. could you not produce more than one implied gamer? I also agree with you there are issues on deciding what the main inadequacy is for a game. For the purposes of the video, he gives one main inadequacy for each example game when again it feels like it could be a multi-valued function. Extending his framework in this direction complicates things (which I think is cool, but I'm not fully there yet to write what my conclusions are.)

    Your comment about "the Doom the inadequacy" is basically exactly the thought I had myself (not the "lazy and ridiculous" part, but the questioning part). I feel like I play some games for the same reason as he says the implied player plays Doom or Mario - "I haven't replayed enough of my beloved favorite X lately!" The distinction between implied player and actual player does help here to answer this question, but I'm not sure it avoids it entirely. I'm still trying to resolve how this type of inadequacy ("you haven't played enough _") can be "grounded" more clearly. i.e. I want to convince myself that for certain games it can be argued convincingly and less subjectively that this legitimately is the main inadequacy of the implied player. (Does the answer directly relate to the game's implementation difficulty and punishment?? Very interesting questions...) The lack of clear grounding is obviously a frustration you had (as you give several examples), but it has been an enjoyable mental problem for me for this past week.

    Fist, there is the huge and (until the very end of the video unquestioned) premise that we play games for the sake of resolving an inadequacy.

    This is a place where I can't really find a charitable way to agree with you. I do see the way he sets up Jesper's Juuls failure paradox and resolution as entirely reasonable. (And I'm really not trying to be rude with this next aside but: wasn't the first 60 seconds enough to nullify the part of your comment I just quoted? He clearly starts the video by saying the lens he is about to use is NOT the only lens to understand "why we play"). I would encourage people to be charitable and see this as a humble essay of his thoughts and no more.

    Certainly I feel one can base a video off Juul's work like he did and not have to constantly address that other conversations as possible. His essay is one conversation happening, and I'm open to other ways of looking at the failure paradox, but... it can't really be avoided talking about the paradox can it? For the "typical" kind of game with lots of enemies, combat and difficulty that "failure paradox" is an academic question that exists whether we like it or not. You may not think it's a particularly interesting question or think it has a simple answer, but unlike the author you had the option of leaving it unresolved or leaving it as not worthy of much note. The author had a fire within him and an essay that he needed to get out.



  • Yes sure, I took the comfortable position of "only" criticizing the content in the video.

    My take on the "failure paradox" is pretty simple indeed. The question is ultimately a philosophical question and should probably be treated as a question about human behavior in general. Humans choose voluntarily to go through all sorts of different hardships in any aspect of life. Some people choose to climb mountains in the most dangerous and hostile environments.
    So the most general and simple answer I can give to the question why we seek hardship, or a challenge, if you want to phrase it more positive, is the following. We need the contrast. We need the highs and the lows in order to experience different things. Or as Bob Ross said it: "Sometimes you need a little sadness in your life, so you know when the happy times come."

    So in life, as also in video games, you need a challenge to feel accomplishment. If the game is too easy and you can only press a button to win all the time it will get boring really fast.

    Well, I am ready for the follow up question, what is wrong with boredom? Why do we feel the need to be entertained in the first place? Or maybe I am not ready. Let's not go there.



  • My take on the "failure paradox" is pretty simple indeed. The question is ultimately a philosophical question and should probably be treated as a question about human behavior in general. Humans choose voluntarily to go through all sorts of different hardships in any aspect of life. Some people choose to climb mountains in the most dangerous and hostile environments.
    So the most general and simple answer I can give to the question why we seek hardship, or a challenge, if you want to phrase it more positive, is the following. We need the contrast. We need the highs and the lows in order to experience different things. Or as Bob Ross said it:
    "Sometimes you need a little sadness in your life, so you know when the happy times come."

    +1 to this



  • i always say if you can't consense a idea to simple points then its not worth listening to because they themselves probably dont understand what they are talking about.



  • i always say if you can't consense a idea to simple points then its not worth listening to because they themselves probably dont understand what they are talking about.

    As stated, it's not a "can't", it is "I think it is a worse choice". I could condense the video, but again I commented above about how 1) I have certain fears and 2) I was motivated to nudge someone out there to whom this essay would appeal to that they could watch it and get the same enjoyment I got. Sharing feels good, and all that.

    re: 1: The video was carefully written and took care to be considerate and respectful when talking about delicate statements that could provoke arguments (as in, angry emotional backlash or another kind of hot headed misinterpretation) if that speech wasn't fully present. To spell it out very clearly, if I wrote a few simple bullet points as a substitute for watching (which, re 2: goes against my motivation) I am afraid of --- for example --- a fan of Monster Hunter World reading the bullet points and thinking (incorrectly) that their favorite game was being categorized as a bad game by this particular person, or worse 'trash'. That would be unfortunate, unpleasant, and I don't want to create that situation for so many different reasons! This is a fear you may not relate to because you didn't watch the video or for any number of reasons if you did, but it is a fear I possess and it was my choice to benefit the EZA community by not introducing this risk of discomfort and unpleasantness, even if it meant the possibility of letting my thread fly away in the wind with little or no discussion because the potential participants don't want to watch the video.

    .

    .

    If I may be permitted a little sincerity, saying "You probably don't know what you are talking about" to me felt designed to hurt my feelings. @bigdude1, I would appreciate a reply that this isn't the case.


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