Game Design 101: Gamers wants to be Loser

Just by looking at the title, it’s a bit controversial, but believe me, it happens to the most of us.

Jesper Juul, explained in his book, The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games, said that it is normal for human to have a desire to feel good, competent, success, and become a winner. We do not want to feel failure. We are afraid of failure. However, that is not the case with games. Players failing in games is natural, it is normal. This is when the problem arise. We love to be winner and hate to be loser, but playing games comes with the cost of experiencing failure, inadequacy, and incompetency. Even though they know they hate failing, players will still playing games. It is called as the Paradox of Failure, which can be stated as below:

  1. We generally avoid failure.
  2. We experience failure when playing games.
  3. We seek out game, although we’ll experience failure that we normally avoid.

Game have something which we do not like and normally avoid in real world (failure, losing), but we still want this kind of unpleasantries still linger inside the game, although we hate it. “It’s just a game” is a good explanation for this because the real world failures are fatal, failure in game is not. So, how to explain how this paradox occurs in the first place? Let’s take a look at two questions below.

  • Why the game is so hard, but I would still play it over and over?
  • What makes the game fun?
To answer those two questions, what makes the a hard, difficult to beat game appealing and fun is that the game give you a sense of achievement, success, when you finally beat the source of your frustation. When you keep losing and losing, it means you are someway is not skillful enough. Even though you’re being bombarded with failures, games encourage you that if you keep playing and playing, and somehow, you’ll finally find the way to beat it (something which you don’t always find in the real world). Well, it can be said that the game is the epitome of failures. However, when a game is too hard, or almost impossible to win, it’s a red light. If you feel the game is too easy to beat, it may mean two things: the game is actually too easy, or you already have the skill to beat it easily.
“If you feel the game is too easy to beat, it may mean two things: the game is actually too easy, or you already have the skill to beat it easily.”

I like winning games, I dislike losing, but I hate it more when I cannot lose (it’s just so boring). I like progress, when each time I fail, revise a new strategy, and the game give me feedback whether I’m getting better or not. And, I really love it, when I finally beat the game after failing for countless time. The harder my effort to escape from failure’s clutch, the more pleasure I get. So, when I can’t lose anymore in one degree of difficulty, it’s time for me to ramp up the difficulty level.

Games without losing will not really means a game, isn’t it? The harder it gets, the more pleasure you’ll find.


1. Jesper Juul. 2013. []

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