As Richard Ryan of the University of Rochester says, "People like videogames because they introduce them to worlds where they can feel freedom and where they can feel a sense of accomplishment and competence." The best games set forth a system in which the player gets a constant stream of success at a reasonable difficulty level, so they may feel a sense of achievement without becoming frustrated. Unfortunately for the prospective game designer, there is no way of knowing the perfect balance of difficulty that will please the largest audience. Therefore, to reach the widest audience mainstream games evade the issue altogether by taking away basic difficulty - the kind that prevents you from actually completing the game - as much as possible and replacing it with newer, more innovative ways to feel accomplished. In games like Farmville and Kirby's Epic Yarn, challenge and punishment has been minimized to the point that frustration is no longer an issue, and that has proven to be a successful formula.

Games seem to be moving away from punishing bad play to rewarding extraordinary play.

Kirby's Epic Yarn is, gameplay-wise, a standard platformer with one major innovation that puzzled critics but, in the end, won them over: There is no representation of death or critical failure anywhere in the game. Any mistakes made by the player results only in the loss of their collected gems, which are little more than an indication of score. Yet Kirby's Epic Yarn earned the highest review scores of the Kirby series. This moment can be seen as the culmination of a gradual trend that has taken mainstream videogames from "Nintendo Hard" titles like Castlevania and Gradius to the point where a player cannot help but beat the game. The punishment of death in Kirby's Epic Yarn has been replaced with the positive reinforcement of new secrets to find so that players can still feel the sense of accomplishment that is a huge part of why games are fun.

Traditionally, frustration was a natural way to fuel the eventual feeling of accomplishment one gets from progressing in a videogame. Games today are trying to invert that by taking the difficulty out of beating the game and adding it into completing bonus objectives, now regulated into a standard form on the PlayStation 3 as "trophies," and, appropriately enough for our topic, "achievements" on the Xbox 360. These achievements add a lot to a game because they are a standard and respected measure of accomplishment, not because they add any tangible reward Though each achievement carries with it some difficulty, the challenge they provide is optional, and not completing them doesn't hamper the player's ability to experience the entire game. Achievements are positive reinforcement, whereas death is a punishment. Games seem to be moving away from punishing bad play to rewarding extraordinary play.

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