Failure IS an Option

Tobold had an interesting post last week where he blessed us all with a curse, “May you win every game you play!” The central idea being that games are boring if you can’t lose and that this derives from video games origins in arcades, where losing meant starting over.

Whenever I play a game and lose, the thing I hate the most isn’t the losing, but the need to redo what I just did. Especially when it’s an annoying platform section or something like that.┬áRepetition, whether because you lose or because you have to grind something a million times to advance, is not fun. Now, you could argue that a game is always repetition, especially if it’s a fighting game, and you’re just changing the setting, but we won’t go there for now.

What I’ve always wondered is if you could make a game that that didn’t involve you losing and repeating, but did allow you to lose. Now, this would work best in a single-player story game or maybe in an MMO. PVP shooter games, it doesn’t really work, nor a strategy game. But in some kind of RPG or story based game, you could have the game evolve where failure is a legitimate outcome to any quest or adventure.

Your mission, rescue the princess. Success: princess rescued. Failure: princess not rescued, princess dead, you captured, etc. Since most games are linear, they only allow for the Success option in order for the story to continue. But in a game that allowed failure, you could fail to rescue the princess and keep playing. Maybe now you need to break yourself out of the prison, or need to redeem your good name.

Mount and Blade as a story mode that works kind of like this. You can decide at game start whether or not you can save the game at any time, or only when you quit. In the second mode, there is no reloading to fix a bad move. You just need to live with the consequences and move on. Since you can’t die permanently, just get captured and eventually break free, you can go from having an empire to being on the run if you aren’t careful.

Now, Mount and Blade is pretty limited in what you can do. It’s all about fighting and conquering so there’s no alternative game play styles. But it highlights the idea that games can be fun, without always winning.

What would other games look like if they took this approach? An MMO where you can fail the dungeon and not just come back tomorrow to redo it? An RPG where you don’t save the world or instead join the evil lord’s army? Would be a bitch to program but fun to play and try out all the different choices you can make.

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