In any game there are nearly infinite loops to test and check what key is pressed, where the player should be, if the AI is falling, is the Player trying to run into a wall? These checks are done every ‘step’ of the game.
(Very quickly a step is a short period of time in which everything on the screen is recalculated to where it should be. Basically it’s like a frame but that only depicts what’s on the screen not the full checks done throughout the program. Just like frames more steps makes a game smoother and vice versa).
Now all these actions within a game have a success or failure outcome, a binary value. The game itself also has success and failure states overall e.g. Did the player kill the Boss? Did the player beat the timer etc etc. So why can’t gamers also have this success and failure outcome or mindset?
Well in reality they do. Think of any new game you’ve picked up, the very initial success or failure you’ll come across is your ability to move the character, your character, you (if the immersion is of a high quality) across the screen or around the map. Now good practice in gaming means that it’s usually the same controls as the last game, WASD or the arrow keys, the analog stick on your favourite console gamepad.
Imagine, if you will, that you’ve just picked up a Steam Controller, the one that didn’t have analogue sticks and just 2 tracking pads with buttons in a different place than you were used to; Now you’re in that success/failure condition, now you’re in a position where a continual failure loop runs until you learn how to control the character at which point it becomes true and you move on. Now realistically this would take a small amount of time, it’s the smallest and most basic barrier to entry so it should take the shortest period of time. If the game is well thought out and structured you may even get a nice tutorial to help you along.
Well now that you’re moving you think you’ve got it in the bag? Not at all. Each game is different, the enemy AI don’t all react the same, now you’ve got to learn how to kill these things without killing yourself. Well you might mash buttons in some vain attempt to survive your virtual death, but the learning curve is there for a reason and unless your progress through it, you won’t get very far in the game at all. THIS is the 2nd success/failure loop.
So you grind away, maybe you get a lucky run here or there, but you keep running headfirst into a huge brick wall with failure painted across it in neon-yellow because you hate that colour. You may get frustrated, you may relish the challenge, but ultimately everyone is trying to learn how to better control the character and kill the enemy with minimal damage, minimal error and most importantly the least amount of screw-ups you can be held accountable for, because those are the most annoying – when you’re good enough but you still do idiotic things from time to time.
Now let us say that you can move your character, you can kill the enemies relatively well. Surely there’s no more failure? Well here is where games split into the beautiful tapestry of gaming that we currently have and continually grow upon (except you EA, you stop it already!). In olden games the AI would just get faster and harder until you failed, it was purely skill driven. In the deepest meaning of the title of this article, those people really were chasing after the next failure, hoping it was just beyond what the previous one was. In a mission with story your end goal isn’t this ticking time bomb with the variable ‘X’ on display, no, it’s when the last boss/race/platform/puzzle has been beaten. It’s when you’ve destroyed the Reapers, killed the Dragons, Spelunked all the caves and Jumped through enough Orange portals (not the blue ones, that’s how you get cooties). In multiplayer there is a similar thing going on as with olden games, it’s purely about self-improvement over each and every enemy you face, how your skills stack against theirs and how far that will ultimately get you.
Gamers chase after the next failure as it makes us learn, we may hate it, we may throw a tantrum (looking at you CoD players), or we may throw our hands above our head with a mighty laugh at how far we got yet how badly beaten we were.
Gamers enjoy failure to a degree and that’s incredibly important, because the majority of the time you’re going to be failing. You’re going to be losing lives, running out of time and realising only too late that there is no platform beneath your boots of levitation [+5 speed]. Gamers will lose, lose and lose again with hopefully further periods of time apart up to the point of where we feel satisfied, when that hunger for pixels has been quenched and washed down with a hearty helping of good well oiled game mechanics.
Gamers will chase the next failure.
(Inspired by the Will Wright video @ http://criticalpathproject.com/?v=38452635)