Author Topic: "Failure, Inadequacy, and Why We Play" - a discussion about player motivation  (Read 2563 times)

I watched this video recently:

Failure, Inadequacy, and Why We Play

To briefly give some context of what it is about, the video tries to examine the question of why different games appeal to different players, and notably why this preference remains relatively stable across time.  And the lens he is specifically looking through is the triad of: Player Motivation, Failure, and Inadequacy (hence the title).  And if that "inadequacy" doesn't make sense, don't worry it is explained rather well at the start.

Attempting to answer his own question results in the long 50 min essay I just linked, but watching it comes highly recommended from me personally (for whatever that's worth to you :P).  I found it very enlightening and I'm hoping it could spark a lot of discussion!

If you need a better picture of what the video will be like before watching, here's my final grand summary: the video introduces a very  intriguing schema for classifying games into how they achieve player motivation by looking at a series of model examples in each category.  That schema is the biggest payoff of the video (although probably not the only thing you'll get out of it).  If you are like me and like to think about game design subjects on your own then you too may find it a very useful "new mental structure" that you can use!
« Last Edit: March 18, 2018, 09:48:31 PM by dosboot »


  • Long twintail-o-holic
Didn't watch the video, but I want to, sounds interesting, but I'm scared to because I'm kinda at that 'I really should be going to bed now but not just yet' phase. Hope I remember to look at it later.

I have a feeling I may not agree with it completely though, partially because I think I probably have multiple reasons for enjoying games. I don't play them as an escape, or as a challenge, or as an experience, or whatever. But all of them. Heck, I even like learning games almost as much as playing them. Like I'll play a game for 2 hours and then quit, and enjoy looking at the wikis on the game to learn the mechanics and such.


  • Retired
It's rubbish.

Okay, maybe not entirely, but there are huge problems with it. The exploration of reasons to play games is a nice idea, but the problem is that it's too subjective and highly depends on individual player's experience. The offered categorization just doesn't work if you try to place games firmly into it like that. In reality any game can be anywhere on that chart, or maybe even move around with time. New Doom creates the need to play it? I'd argue that it capitalizes on the existing need to experience the old-school level of challenge. Dark Souls capitalizes on "unknown" needs? It's so well known now that the still-coming new players perfectly understand what they're getting into. And now we have a whole souls-like subgenre aimed at seasoned players that want the exact things that this game gave them. Any game creates the need in a new player if it's the first game of that genre for them, while for experienced players it can only capitalize. Any game with unknown needs opens up eventually, and players may still keep playing it, knowing what they're in for. A game that satisfies known needs outwardly may have some not-so-obvious layer to it and also satisfy initially unknown needs. Honestly, it feels like the author just looked at his own casual experience and failed to look at the bigger picture and analyze the games and possible needs to play them in full.

Also, the video is straight up boring. The voice is droning, drags the explanations too much without saying anything substantial, the forced "humorous" segments stand out like a sore thumb and break the flow of narration too much instead of enhancing the matter at hand. And then there's the insistent and highly unfortunate terminology. ("Inadequacy"? Seriously?) I'd say it's a failed and inadequate attempt to look at why we play.


  • nothing to see here
  • definitely not a Ditto
I would likewise argue that a lot of the points made in the video mostly apply to the specific, rather narrow case of a player completely new to the game or genre in question, and even then only on the first playthrough. So let's say you've never played a tactical game with research and management aspects before, and are now picking up XCOM. In this case the game can challenge your decision making skills and even help you improve. But let's say you win a campaign (which isn't nearly as difficult as the author implies, by the way), or perhaps you've played the original UFO or maybe Jagged Alliance at some point in the past. Now what? You know what's coming up, you have the skillset and knowledge. You're no longer in because of some inadequacy, you're in to master the game, or experiment with it, or have some fun in a familiar environment.

The video also brings up the interesting point of learned helplessness  to explain the gameplay approach and effect on players of certain games. Learned helplessness is well documented in animals, but is this always true for humans? Some individuals show significant resilience. Even if a game tries really hard, there will usually be a non-trivial subset of players who will own it in a short time and complain it was too easy.
Рабинович глядит на плакат ?Ленин умер, но дело его живет!?
? уж лучше бы о он жил!

I find myself agreeing with these criticisms.  There are several problems and unresolved questions I have about his framework, and I think the issue of subjectivity with many of these classifications is something that needs be ironed out.  But... I do still find the video essay quite stimulating!  Ah well.  It's okay.  I think the video must be hitting a sweet spot where the subject matter and concepts happen to be extremely interesting to me in particular, and so I wasn't disappointed that I see flaws in the specifics of the framework.  So instead of walking away feeling that I got nothing, I rather enjoyed trying to ask myself questions about these issues and seeing if they could be resolved or if the framework could be modified.  If you accept the concept of "implied player" that he uses, I find it's not so easy to say for sure whether or not some of these flaws that have been brought up can in fact be addressed somehow and fixed.  There's a lot to be questions here, and potentially a lot of ways someone could take his framework and improve it.  (Or perhaps it can't, I still have doubts in both directions)

So overall, I found the subject of "player inadequacy and how games propose to resolve them" to be an very engaging headspace to spend time in.  Despite the various issues mentioned, this essay gave me more mental tools and structures I can use to think about it on my own, which was exciting.  The author uses the phrase "not an answer, but a constructive way to talk about it" to describe his own work, and that describes how I feel about this whole matter.  The video doesn't function as endpoint of the conversation to me, but rather one line of an ongoing conversation that someone else might branch off of.