As humans, sentient and curious, we are, by the most part, lead by our will to succeed.
However mistreated the concept may be, it's hardly ever fought against. We are not driven towards a lack of success. Rather, if such were our position, we'd simply be fooling ourselves, since by the time our objectives became truth, we would have reached, even if against our will, success.
However, an exploration of the concept may lead to undesired and violent discoveries. Mainly, the overwhelming societal force that seeks to define our understanding of success before we learn to use the toilet. In fact, I'd gladly define the moment we realize what success means for us, the defining moment of our road to emotional satisfaction. But now I'm digressing, I'll take another look at the draft.
Yes, how video games deal with success.
Well, that's easy to answer, isn't it? It's been discussed to death how video games provide a corrupted understanding of success to our young and fragile selfs, mostly because of the Retry option. Rather, what i would like to explore, is how video games can toy with success.
From quest lists, to map pointers, to environmental clues, to narrative incentives, all games, even if simply at a mechanical level, expect us to be successful. I remember reading some day that a game normally behaves as a machine, one that is missing a cog, therefore unable to operate. Once you fill in that void, the machine works again, providing us with whatever experience it wants to provide.
This is true for many games. These games tell us how to be successful. These are, for clarity's sake, the contrary of a game that offers choice. At least choice as it is desired by so many people in the industry. These games often rely on a basic mechanic, such as shooting, or platforming. If any narrative is present, it'll be fixed. I'm sure you're aware of how big the number of people crying and screaming for something new is. These are people who want, for clarity's sake, choice.
Choice, how do we represent choice in video game's mechanical and narrative structures?
There are two things that are necessary for a game to provide meaningful exploration of choice. Do not define success, nor incorporate mechanics that can be understood as more successful for the game's machine, essentially letting the player himself fill in that space, and either providing an awareness that the game recognizes our definition of success, or at least letting us know there is a choice.
The first one is so that choice is not presented as a mechanical challenge. One example of this is the Bioshock's Little Sister economy. One choice provides immediate satisfaction, but the other will ultimately be the best choice in the long run. This is simply a math problem. Once we test the edges of the design, we can easily justify any event to pursue what the game wants from us. Like killing the little sisters.
I'm aware that there are players that will defy the game for a little freedom. But we must recognize that those are but a small and fragile number of enthusiasts.
The second one simply so the player feels the satisfaction that a game with no choice can provide. Knowing we've been successful is good, but knowing that success was defined by us is even better. And this one is very simple, a basic statistics page that can let us know that we didn't kill anyone, or that we left no one alive, or that we saved a lot of people, or that we've made a lot of people happy, or sad, or rule over a kingdom, all these are easily transmitted to the player.
How about examples?
Games that approach this design are seldom effective, but there are some.
The various NES (and thankfully digital download) Megaman games are a perfect example of games that define success for you.
One game that should be recommended now, is, as everyone expects it to be, Deus Ex. It is the best example of a game giving us a varied number of mechanical approaches to the game, and still have a narrative that can bend and shape itself over such approaches.
But another one of note, is the most recent Heavy Rain, for it's approach of failure and permanent events. One thing to note is how it is very hard to be completely successful at it. In any play through, it's very likely that you'll fail to do everything you want to. In some situations, this is true even after you know previously what is going to happen.
I 'll say that games have this huge potential to teach something about this to people.
Look at the top of the post. Notice how I've made a comment on how we are mostly bombarded with messages that try to define success for us? I don't know about you, but i don't like it. It's a path towards insane sanity, implied though police practiced by everyone, etc., etc.
Game's inherent capability of translating what a player wants into mechanical and narrative experiences, can explore this theme with much more depth than other medium, I'd suppose.
And this is all for my first meaningful post. Thank you.