I suck at computer games, that’s a fact. Actually I’m not incredible at games in general with a few important exceptions. Weirdly there’s no consistency, I’m pretty good at chess and yet my strategic skills seem to fly out of the window as soon as I sit down to play any other game that needs them; luck does not favour me, my dice have shown me this, and only the presence of someone with considerably less luck than me can fix my dice.
So why, in the face of such constant defeat do I persevere? I’m certainly no glutton for punishment, and success is always preferable, that’s universal. Yet time and time again I will revel in my failures, and often they’re far more memorable than my victories… but in a good way.
For those of you unfamiliar, Besiege is a game still under development that was opened for early access about a year ago (January 2015) in which the player is presented with a simple task, something along the lines of “destroy that building” or “get past all those things and sit there”. The challenge then becomes building the vehicle that moves and destroys.
You never really know exactly how much effort goes into making something steer until you’ve actually tried to build something that does. It’s also a fascinating process incorporating fire into a structure made almost entirely of wood. Time and time again I have scrapped the lot and gone back to the drawing board amidst a heap of burning rubble, defeated by a stationary windmill positioned infuriatingly on a ridge that I can’t quite climb, and yet still I will try again.
Now failure itself is an enjoyable experience in Besiege, watching the vehicle you spent better part of half an hour on shake itself to pieces the first time you attempt a turn, or gods forbid anything so radical as a trebuchet arm. Yet going back to the beginning repeatedly becomes a pleasure too, revisiting simple problems from the ground up leads to a process of trial, error, failure, tweaks, adjustments, failures, and eventual, accidental success.
I daren’t even attempt flying machines.
There’s a recurring issue I have with platformers, and that is every time I fall to my death it seems to take me a long time to return to where I failed last. I’ve been playing Alice: Madness Returns, and I got increasingly frustrated with one very simple point. It wasn’t a puzzle to be solved, something hidden to be found, or a fight I found beyond my abilities, it was a couple of jumps that I was struggling to judge, and the walk back to the point where I could attempt it again took a while to get back to.
Extra Credits did an entire video on the subject [skip to around 4:10], but the moral of this story is very simple: the faster you get to try again the more fun you’ll have. Platforming games in general tend to leave you with a long walk back to where you fell and you’ve usually managed to get through a few tricky obstacles in-between times.
Moreover, defeat in a platformer is rarely that fun. Instead of the wildly disastrous explosions of Besiege, we have disappointing falls as a result of bad timing. It’s a genre that finds a lot of love amongst people for whom skill is a pursuit and success is its own reward, but so help me I love a spectacle and a good story because I play to be entertained, and I prefer to tax my mind more than my reactions. A failure can be – and so far as I’m concerned, should be – as entertaining as a victory.
We fail so that we can learn, that’s a fairly simple fact. If we succeed at everything then we will be no wiser for it, although paradoxically our lives would be perfect.
Every failure is an opportunity to learn, trial and error, to see what brings you closer to your end-goal, and what takes you further away. This is true of everything in life, so each and every time your defeats become smaller it comes with the slight twinge of success, something that you carry forward to your next attempt and an opportunity for a new discovery.
These rules apply to gameplay, design, practically any skill you can name except for base jumping. It’s a learning process that is both enjoyable and highly effective.