Context, Challenge and Gratification

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Context, Challenge and Gratification

Yahtzee breaks down the three essential qualities of every game.

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Of course what I would definitely not do then is combine the three scores into some kind of "overall" value, because that's totally fucking meaningless. That'd be like having a meal where the main course was tasty but the dessert was disgusting, so you give it a final review of TASTGUSTING.

Lol'ed irl :D

I couldn't agree more on this.

Agreed completely on where Saints Row 2 and Saints Row The Third would lie on this triangle graph. Saints Row 2 was the perfect balance of everything. Then Saints Row The Third comes along, and they focused on just one of the things people liked about the game (wacky crazy fun) and just pumped that up while sacrificing other things. I missed the kind of character interaction and development Saints Row 2 had. I felt SRTT was really disappointing in that department.

So yeah. SR3 is really fun when it comes to "holy shit look at Professor Genki" or just running around the street beating people with a giant floppy dildo, but it sadly lacks in other areas where SR2 had previously shined.

I also agree on everything at the end about the review scores. Review scores are generally nonsensical garbage.

Here's hoping Randall (xkcd author) sees this article and makes that triangle chart thing for us. :D

Hmm, this actually sounds like it would be an interesting experiment. So how about you really DO IT in your next review, and see how people react? You can talk the talk but can you walk the walk?

No, but seriously, this is a cool idea, so try it.

Most illuminating indeed. This encapsulates the gaming experience very well. I've been puzzling about such categories for a while now, and this seems to do it beautifully.

ALSO: In before people taking his one Halo Reach compliment out of context and using it as "proof" that he was wrong to ever dare bash their beloved game!

How funny. I was just coming up with my own reviewing system that also includes three separate marks out of ten that can't be combined together. They're different than Yahtzee's, but I'm happy with them for my own purposes.

For the record, mine are Technical (mostly objective and concerning things like bugginess, smoothness of controls, clarity of GUI, etc.), Artistic (a combination of objective and subjective and concerning things like the pacing and the consistency/appropriateness of the aesthetic), and Personal (entirely subjective and concerning how much the reviewer personally enjoyed it). A game could get 9/10 in one category and 5/10 in the other two and still be an extremely good game that's well worth playing.

You know, I have a long-standing grudge against the concept of awarding review scores to games, because I think it represents everything that's wrong about videogame reporting by treating every given game like some kind of kitchen appliance whose chopping blades have been slightly rearranged since the last generation and are now therefore precisely 1 point more efficient at dicing sweet potatoes.

I could say the same thing about you as well Yahtzee. I have nothing against your theory of Context, Challenge and Gratification when judging a game but here's the thing, you expect EVERYTHING to do this and it's really makes you look pretentious to have such high standards. Especially when it comes to a certain company. Not everyone goes that same mile.

Look, all I'm saying is, just because a game can balance Context, Challenge and Gratification doesn't mean all of them should. If they can pull that off, great. I applaud them for being able to do so. But how many times have we played games where developers intentionally try to aim for such a thing and fail miserably at it? I know I've played quite a few.

Fair enough idea.

Here's another one though - the ideal is wherever you, as a specific kind of player, decide it is.

If you like more context, then you're going to love games that provide more of it at the cost of challenge and gratification. If you like more challenge, then you'll be more than happy to work your arse off at such a game, that does it at the expense of the other two. And if you're all about the gratification, well...you're probably the majority of gamers, but more power to you too I suppose.

I'm pretty sure that on the theoretical level, the ideal is right in the middle. But when it comes down to practical application - people are different. Gamers are different. And because of that, there never was or will be a 'perfect' game for all. Only games that are moreso perfect for certain types of gamers, depending on which part of the triangle they happen to edge moreso towards or, in your case, on how centered they are between all three.

That said, I'd certainly prefer a diagram like that to metacritic's horribly uninformative and bland scores, if they really must find some way to 'measure' a game. No argument there.

Saint's Row 3 seems to have the exact same problem as Champions and Star Wars:Galaxies after NGE.

You start off awesome. More awesome than you can ever imagine being, and then some.

And then the game starts for real, and you're awesome in a sea of mediocre.

And you get BORED pretty quickly by being awesome. Until something equally awesome comes down and starts pounding you with QTEs.

And then you get bored with that. And another thing comes along and says "DO AWESOME THINGS FOR CASH", and you wave your little finger and it screams "THAT'S NUMBERWANGAWESOME" and gives you some cash.

And you look at your little avatar and tap the button once lightly. He runs off, kicks a granny through a door and jumps in a jet fighter.

Then you move it to the left slightly, and your avatar solves world peace.

And then you leave the avatar to it, and play Saint's Row 2 where you have to shoot your friend in the head as a mercy killing. And it hurts.

And that's the one you keep playing.

In terms of "what things make a game good", I'm going to have to agree more with PC Gamer's Tom Francis:

http://www.pentadact.com/2011-05-27-what-makes-games-good/

This reminded me of it; it's an interesting read.

Lordofthesuplex:

You know, I have a long-standing grudge against the concept of awarding review scores to games, because I think it represents everything that's wrong about videogame reporting by treating every given game like some kind of kitchen appliance whose chopping blades have been slightly rearranged since the last generation and are now therefore precisely 1 point more efficient at dicing sweet potatoes.

I could say the same thing about you as well Yahtzee. I have nothing against your theory of Context, Challenge and Gratification when judging a game but here's the thing, you expect EVERYTHING to do this and it's really makes you look pretentious to have such high standards. Especially when it comes to a certain company. Not everyone goes that same mile.

Look, all I'm saying is, just because a game can balance Context, Challenge and Gratification doesn't mean all of them should. If they can pull that off, great. I applaud them for being able to do so. But how many times have we played games where developers intentionally try to aim for such a thing and fail miserably at it? I know I've played quite a few.

Except he never said that. He gave Halo: Reach as an example of a game that balances all of them, and he wasn't a particularly big fan of that game.

At the very end of the article, he said that the scores a game receives on those three things should not be averaged together because that's not the goal.

Here's another from the handful of stars that are Yatzee's favorite games as a well-balanced "great game": Psychonauts (which I beat yesterday in between studying for my last final exam this semester).

Psychonauts has you, as Raz, exploring the CONTEXT of several different people's psyches and (sometimes literally) wrestling with their inner troubles. As for CHALLENGE, the riddles of the puzzle items in the second half of the game and the insane "acrobatics" of the last world pushed my limits. And finally, GRATIFICATION is from stunning and burning the big enemies and, of course, becoming a true Psychonaut.

Saints Row the Third, on the other hand, has little context and loses most of its challenge as soon as (and assuming that) you max out your anti-damage attributes. Some missions are always fairly challenging, though, since the "homies" can die easily. The sandbox can easily become pure GRATIFICATION with a grenade-launcher assault rifle and burning bullets.

mjc0961:

I just wanted to call this out as something I think was brilliant and something that should be in more, better games because...

Edit: Fixed spoiler tags

Board games often have numbers on their boxes that are supposed to point out how much they rely on various skills or mechanisms (a basic complexity score, often a value for randomness, one for strategy, one for dexterity if it's one of those games, potentially one for negotiating with other players, etc). Not many videogames do that but I have seen some, primarily for kids. Now we just need the Yahtzee Advisory Board giving mandatory category scores to games.

I thought SR2 did context better than SR3 by having three campaigns, one per gang. Each gang was a defined entity with its own goals, personalities and issues. The syndicate in SR3 isn't nearly as interesting and of course every hero (or villain) is defined by his opponents. STAG also is fairly flat character-wise, the Ultor corp was a much more mixed enemy with an agenda that's not just "kill anything that moves".

Also I'm not sure on the challenge balance, I like the more varied enemy types that are the result of not caring for realism anymore (I don't think SR2 had any supernatural stuff beyond that one fight with the right hand man of the Sons of Samedi though it did have some ridiculously overbeefed regular guys like the boss fight against Veteran Child) but the slow health regeneration could lead to a ton of frustration, especially with no way to grab "health packs" and those heli-snipers are purely annoying.

Really, the best path for SR4 would be to take the best bits of SR2 and 3, they both have their strengths and weaknesses (e.g. running a long time to find a car to steal in SR2, the bo-duke-n made that WAAAAAAY smoother).

This perfectly describes why I was so disappointed in GTA4. They laid on heavy with the context, and the challenge was decent, but you couldn't have the same gratification you got out of GTA3 without damaging the context severely. The only way I can see fit to rampage down the streets in an out of control ambulance, squishing more lives than I'm saving, is if I totally ignore anything I know about the character, and at that point I'm playing a different game.

Though I MIGHT be willing to accept the character change if I could kill children while nude buxom starlets applaud my efforts. Get on that mod, fellows!

Yahtzee Croshaw:
But if I did finally knuckle under to those bean counters at Metacritic, this is exactly how I'd give scores to games. Three separate marks out of ten for Context, Challenge and Gratification. None of this buggering about with graphics or sound or anything else as consequential as the color of the wallpaper in an operating theatre. Of course what I would definitely not do then is combine the three scores into some kind of "overall" value, because that's totally fucking meaningless. That'd be like having a meal where the main course was tasty but the dessert was disgusting, so you give it a final review of TASTGUSTING.

You could average them out another way: Make an actual triangle chart. Perhaps three axes leading from a center point, each with a 1-10 numeric value represented by a dot on the line (the further away from the center, the better), and the dots would be connected into a triangle. The game's overall score would be expressed not as a numeric value, but in the size and shape of the triangle.

I'd be up for seeing these categories used in future Zero Punctuations. Anything which might spur a new style of video game reviewing away from the 1-10 faux objectivity model used now.

Opinions will always be subjective no matter what kind of numbers you put with them!

This is an interesting idea- its quite similar to the petrochemographic diagrams we've been looking at in Metamorphic petrology. Problem is, if a game with the perfect blend of context, gameplay and gratification sits in the centre of the chart, how do you differentiate between a game that is scores a fantastic level in all three areas, or a terrible one? For example, Saints Row 2 sits in the middle, but where do you put a game like the Transformers official movie game? That one was equally execrable in every possible area? You can't give it three seperate points, and you can't give it, lets say, a position near the context because it sucked a bit less in that area than it did in the others, and have it sitting somewhere near Mass Effect or a similarly story-based game.

Random berk:
This is an interesting idea- its quite similar to the petrochemographic diagrams we've been looking at in Metamorphic petrology. Problem is, if a game with the perfect blend of context, gameplay and gratification sits in the centre of the chart, how do you differentiate between a game that is scores a fantastic level in all three areas, or a terrible one?

Hit the nail on the head.

This Yahtzee game theory is cute, but not very useful.
Balance doesn't have to be a good balance and little context, doesn't make retro games, bad games.

At best, the triangle can be used to tell what kind of audience a game is for, but there's better alternatives for that already: genre, parts and difficulty.

Random berk:
...petrochemographic diagrams we've been looking at in Metamorphic petrology...

A quick Google search of "petrochemographic" reveals nothing. May I ask what that is?

On topic, it was quite an interesting read and... yeah I have nothing more to add than that.

Just in case anyone thinks he's reversed his decision on Halo Reach, he has used games he doesn't like as good examples at least once before. Singularity on good endings, remember?

Fat_Hippo:
Hmm, this actually sounds like it would be an interesting experiment. So how about you really DO IT in your next review, and see how people react? You can talk the talk but can you walk the walk?

No, but seriously, this is a cool idea, so try it.

I second this motion. Seriously Croshaw, that's a great idea, and people are quick to bitch about game scoring, but this is the first alternative I've heard that could actually be a grower.

The reason no major pub would go for it is because most people just skip to the bottom, see 9/10, have their opinions validated, feel good about themselves and then leave. Having some kind of ven diagram or some triangle shit would just confuse most people. But as a useful tool for actual critique, it has it's merits...

Random berk:
Problem is, if a game with the perfect blend of context, gameplay and gratification sits in the centre of the chart, how do you differentiate between a game that is scores a fantastic level in all three areas, or a terrible one?

People would just have to actually read the reviews I guess...

Thank you for expanding my vocabulary by one more word! "TASTGUSTING". I love it. Every fast-food meal I have from now on will be be described as such.

believer258:

Random berk:
...petrochemographic diagrams we've been looking at in Metamorphic petrology...

A quick Google search of "petrochemographic" reveals nothing. May I ask what that is?

On topic, it was quite an interesting read and... yeah I have nothing more to add than that.

Just in case anyone thinks he's reversed his decision on Halo Reach, he has used games he doesn't like as good examples at least once before. Singularity on good endings, remember?

I almost certainly have the name wrong. Sorry. Basically its a triangular diagram with a major element at each apex, for example, one will show FeO, CaO, and MgO at each apex. The triangle is divided up with lines so that if a mineral is right on an apex then it contains only that element. For example calcite is right on the CaO apex because it is composed entirely of calcium in ideal circumstances. The opposit side would suggest that the mineral contains a percentage of FeO and MgO, but 0% CaO. Do you understand what I'm saying?

http://rimg.geoscienceworld.org/content/56/1/171/F4.small.gif

Ah, got one. I had the name right after all. Of course, the one we were shown was very basic, because our Met Petrology lectures were horribly organised and attempted to cram an entire module into two weeks.

First of all, the most actually popping bubblewrap is far more gratifying than games about popping bubblewrap.

Secondly, why is fantastic racism so wrong to everyone? "Why can't the humans and covenant get along, why are they both so intolerant?" because that would be a boring game. In a lot of games, I'm a fucking racist (to fictional races, mind you). High elves, I hate 'em. The Covenant, hate them too. Vampires, werewolves, supermutants, volus, Locust, Navi, etc. I'm just a pro-human asshole.

trollpwner:
Most illuminating indeed. This encapsulates the gaming experience very well. I've been puzzling about such categories for a while now, and this seems to do it beautifully.

ALSO: In before people taking his one Halo Reach compliment out of context and using it as "proof" that he was wrong to ever dare bash their beloved game!

Interesting, I was about to say in before people not letting a compliment towards a popular game slide without having one last chance to be prematurely judgmental about anyone who liked it just because they didn't (assuming they weren't too judgmental to not even give the game a chance either), like it's the only way they can feel important or something.

What other people like and don't like in their games is of no concern to me (one wonders why it should be to anyone), but if I recall back in Yahtzee's review of Reach he didn't exactly 'bash' it. Granted, he found and laboured on its faults (he is Yahtzee after all), but the overall consensus seemed to be 'Not great, but a lot better than I was expecting'.

Mind you, I am speaking to someone with an avatar depicting Gordon Freeman decapitating Master Chief, so maybe I'm just as much of a fool for even trying to initiate a reasoned debate...

OT: I very much like the idea of three categories, and scoring each of them independently. That way, you'll be able to tell not just what the reviewer's opinion of the game was with more clarity, but also how that opinion might tally with yours based on what you tend to care about most in games.

The concept of a triangular chart is a little funny. Wasn't that one of the customisation changes he hated in SR3?

I don't think he is right on this one. Seems to me that things like intrigue, immersion and gratification would flow naturally from a game which is well endowed in the 'challenge' and 'context' departments. I my humble opinion, too many games are all about instant gratification (hell games like Bulletstorm and SR3 are built around that concept) and too games are directly attempting to be thought provoking (unless its some PC indie nobody gives a toss about).

In short, no thanks Yahtzee we don't need a added focus on gratification in videogaming, we have plenty.

Of course what I would definitely not do then is combine the three scores into some kind of "overall" value, because that's totally fucking meaningless.

That's OK. Taking your hard work and turning it into something meaningless is what Metacritic is there for.

My goodness, this column was interesting and fully coherent. Yathzee usually doesn't manage it on Tuesdays.

Lordofthesuplex:

You know, I have a long-standing grudge against the concept of awarding review scores to games, because I think it represents everything that's wrong about videogame reporting by treating every given game like some kind of kitchen appliance whose chopping blades have been slightly rearranged since the last generation and are now therefore precisely 1 point more efficient at dicing sweet potatoes.

I could say the same thing about you as well Yahtzee. I have nothing against your theory of Context, Challenge and Gratification when judging a game but here's the thing, you expect EVERYTHING to do this and it's really makes you look pretentious to have such high standards. Especially when it comes to a certain company. Not everyone goes that same mile.

Look, all I'm saying is, just because a game can balance Context, Challenge and Gratification doesn't mean all of them should. If they can pull that off, great. I applaud them for being able to do so. But how many times have we played games where developers intentionally try to aim for such a thing and fail miserably at it? I know I've played quite a few.

I think you're taking it out of context here. He was disappointed with Saints Row 3 cause it couldn't be better than Saints Row 2, and if it were instead presented as Saints Row: Wacky Gameshow Spinoff, it would probably be more representative of what they would be trying to do with the series. He's not applying this standard to ALL GAMES.

Of course, a different criticism would be that these numbers in themselves don't really mean anything other than if not having particularly high marks in any of the fields would make the game pretty much pointless.

I tried to read the article, but I kept trying to imagine Extra Punctuation presented as an XKCD comic and my brain short circuited from an overload of awesome.

Loonerinoes:
Fair enough idea.

Here's another one though - the ideal is wherever you, as a specific kind of player, decide it is.

This. Otherwise, we would be forced to call entire genres, like Visual Novels, or arcade games, inherently bad, because they don't fit this rule.

I previously also tried my own "elements of gaming" breakdown. I came up with the four main definitions of "play": playing football, playing the violin, playing with a toy, and playing a record: In essence, Compete in something, Create something, Amuse oneself, and Experience something.

I would expect that with time, all of these will separate from the monolithic phenomena of "gaming". If current trends continue, only a smaller center of gaming-as-we-know-it will remain, but cybersports, interactive fiction, arcade fun-having games, and creative games (Sims, Minecraft), will completely split off as mediums. After all, all of them have their separate fandoms, and it only leads to conflicts when someone feels obliged to review one from the other corner, "because they are also games, and I'm a gamer".

Nowadays when everything is digital, still insisting that all software entertainment must follow one set of values, makes as little sense as discussing newspapers, novels, comic books, manga, and pop-up books in the "printed media", as if they would be the same basic type of art, in any meaningful way.

mjc0961:

The thing I'm having some issue with here is that context can be highly subjective. People more will to forgive the game will apply more context, or at least justify what context there is (which I will totally do in a few lines), whereas others will point to the small amount of context and say that it's lacking.

I understand where you're coming from, and both challenge and context would appropriately fit in that xkcd comic, but gratification is just way, way too broad. Your description of 'gratification' basically comes down to everything that's fun or in any other way fulfilling. So, since gratification is the consequence of both context and personal characteristics (and some other things of course, but this is a post on a gaming website, not a master thesis), it can vary immensely.
Also, gratification can come from smacking people with dildos, which doesn't fall in either the 'gameplay' or 'challenge' category, but many other forms of gratification do. So you are basically describing gratification as some kind of Pavlov-ish x-factor, needed in case challenge and context are not enough. And even though this factor is essential, both the suggestions that (1) it is autonomous of context and challenge and that (2) it is on the same level as these two (instead of being a 'deeper' characteristic that can be attained from multiple perspectives are just..well, wrong.

..Ah, the delicious gratification of telling someone on the internet about his wrongness! xkcd has it all wrong as well in that respect. It's not a duty, it's a privilege!

This sounds like an interesting way to review. As a proponent, of making things into graphs, I say go for it. Also, props for the shout-out to XKCD.

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