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reality is broken

Flow and Failure

I want to briefly discuss two things that came to mind as I read today’s allotted slice of Reality is Broken: flow and the ways in which failure can be fun.

In chapter four, McGonigal discusses the way that failure can be fun by providing comedic or satisfying feedback and giving us the sense that we have a difficulty to overcome. Failure is, in essence, connected to what she refers to as “urgent optimism”, which is “the moment of hope just before our success is real, when we feel inspired to try our hardest and do our best” (p. 69). One thing that came to mind while reading the chapter on “Fun Failure” was intentionally difficult games such as roguelikes (games such as Rogue, Dungeoncrawl: Stone Soup and my favorite Dungeons of Dredmor) and the Souls games (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and the upcoming Dark Souls 2). These games offer spectacular ways to fail and place ridiculous challenges in your way.

Roguelikes, modelled after the game Rogue, are known for being absurdly difficult (I’ve clocked 100+ hours in Dungeons of Dredmor and have yet to win a game). Typically you play a lone adventurer, generally in a fantasy setting, venturing further and further down through the floors of a dungeon. You typically have a roleplaying game level of character customization and get stronger as you go. The dungeons are generally randomized, as is loot and monsters, giving every play through a new feel. Though some recent Roguelikes such as Dredmor and Sword of the Stars: The Pit have “real” graphics, roguelikes generally have ASCII graphics and as such are not easy to get into. Finally, when you die, your character is usually dead permanently, though some games such as Dredmor allow you to turn “permadeath” on or off.

Part of the fun of roguelikes is dying constantly. The second you put your guard down, a low level enemy can kill you, or you’ll open a trapped chest, or become cursed, or get polymorphed into a small animal, collapse under the weight of your gear and suffocate. The entertaining and infuriating ways you can die make you want to make a new character and try again. Getting further down than you have before, finding sweet loot and trying out new builds makes losing worth it. In fact, the game is least interesting when you feel safe!

The Souls games are similar. I’ve only played Dark Souls but it is incredibly difficult. Weak enemies that you can kill in one hit can swarm you and kill you quickly. Bosses will destroy you in two hits. In general the game is mercilessly cruel, but falls just barely short of too hard to be fun. When you finally conquer a boss on the 10th try or get figure out the best way to traverse a part of the game that you’ve died during many times you feel an immense sense of accomplishment (fiero, I guess!).

Another idea McGonigal explores is Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi’s concept of flow, or “‘the satisfying, exhilarating feeling of creative accomplishment and heightened functioning'” (p. 35). The concept of flow really resonated with me because I often feel a dance-like sense of flowing smoothly sometimes when playing video games. It’s come to me in action oriented games such as League of Legends or Borderlands 2 quite frequently when I’m having a good day or feel “on”, so to speak. Basically I feel like every movement is appropriate, smooth and necessary for accomplishing whatever goal is in front of me. It’s exhilarating and feels like I’m flexing a muscle effectively. My experiences such as that can attest to the way video games produce flow and fiero readily. I imagine it must be similar to what athletes feel when they’re “in the zone.”

Just my two cents.

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