Where There's a Whip

Where There's a Whip
But I Thought Games Were Supposed to Be Fun!

Peter Robinett | 4 Jul 2006 12:00
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Goal-setting theory holds that people seek to attain goals, and Kass notes that "the best goals are those that are specific, provide feedback and are challenging, but attainable and accepted." Is it no surprise that quests, checkpoints and score counters are common in games? All these things serve as easily understood and achievable goals. In fact, Kass uses videogames as his example of goal-setting theory in his industrial psychology course.

Returning to the idea of attention, if the game demands attention to an undesirable goal, particularly one that is incomprehensible or almost impossible to achieve, frustration is bound to set in. So, it appears that goals are important for players, but they must be the right ones. What about games that have (practically) limitless possibilities? By not focusing the player's attention, as Crawford stresses, the player is left with a seemingly contradictory situation: having no goals, yet at the same time, having the potential to pursue any possible goal. Kass suggests that while boredom would not occur, players could easily become overwhelmed and lack motivation to play. This may be one reason why sandbox games such as The Sims and Second Life are deeply disliked by some people, yet are loved by many others. The latter group has essentially resolved the goal problem by creating their own objectives, such as creating the richest Sim possible or designing the coolest hair style. Other players may decide to jump off the tops of mountains, which I spent my time doing while participating in the Asheron's Call 2 beta. (There was even a skydiving animation!)

So, is boredom a plague running through the videogames? Surely not, as games remain both popular and financially successful. However, some elements that encourage boredom are present and can be prevented. Just as most first-person shooters no longer require you to run through endless hallways and collect hidden keys to open doors, other improvements to gameplay can be made. Ultimately, I believe the future lies in giving the player the freedom to experiment so that she may discover what interests her and what she finds boring. After all, why should you bored when you're playing a game? You're supposed to be having fun!

A life-long gamer, Peter Robinett still manages to find time for the occasional videogame despite working on finishing a Masters degree in London.

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