"When a game doesn't push back on a player they're more likely to remember what happened in the story, or one of the interesting set pieces. They're less likely to remember something that they, rather than the developers, actually did in the game," says Pratt.
He expands, "For instance, I can remember the basic plot of Uncharted 2, and a few of the events, such as the train sequence, clearly. I can't really recall any of my own actions in the game, however. I couldn't tell you what I did of any note in any of the firefights, or how I solved any of the puzzles. Contrast this to an older game, like Mega Man, where I can distinctly tell you how I beat some of the bosses."
We remember games like Call of Duty in the same way we remember a movie. First the Cuban assassination plot, then the escape from Russia, and then something with Kennedy and yadda yadda yadda numbers, conspiracy, denouement. For games like Call of Duty: Black Ops, frustrating design impedes the narrative flow and throws off the pacing.
Super Meat Boy falls squarely in the Mega Man camp. Hard-earned victory is its own motivator, not a carefully honed story or flashy set pieces.
Super Meat Boy goes the extra mile to help you remember how you played by creating a visualization of your hard work and dedication. Upon completing a stage, a replay video shows at once all your futile efforts to reach the goal along with the single success. It's a flurry of bloody missteps, but beyond that it's like watching your brain learn the game: Tools exploited, challenge solved.
In the replays of the more difficult stages, my skills' growth is clear. The tough spots I struggled through corresponded with the spots where the most Meat Boys popped into a cloud of gory red fizz: a hundred Meat Boys start, about 80 make it over a tough jump, 30 know the trick to get across the spike pit, and only one squeaks between the final row of saw blades.
In Super Meat Boy, I was not rewarded into completing a level, but rewarded for completing it. The sense of accomplishment was not pre-rendered by the developer to prolong my enjoyment of the game, like a flashy cut scene that explains the world's gratitude for my actions; instead, the accomplishment was drawn from my experience. My enjoyment came from inside, not out.