A Blog of Very Little Brain

'What does Crustimoney Proseedcake mean?' said Pooh. 'For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother me.'

Ostensibly maintainable eccentricities

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I’ve returned to an old passion of mine. No, not sex. NetHack. I’ve sunk more hours into that bugger than I did on many later games. Although not as much as I sunk in Rogue, though. Funny thing is, I never really beat, or came even close to beating any of those two. Just played them for ages. I’m not going to go in details about what is NetHack, what are Roguelike games etc. It’s an experience best experienced, rather than told. Of course, if you have an aversion to crude ASCII graphics, don’t even think of downloading it (There’s a cutesy bitmap tiles version that comes with the game now, but for some unexplained, and most likely depraved reason, it just doesn’t cut it for me.

Another thing that comes to mind concerning RogueLike games, is that they are usually associated with the ghastly term known as “addictive gameplay”. This, for some reason is supposed to be a Good Thing. It’s not. Like Immersion and “fun factor” this isn’t something that can be defined, or created. Some can sink hours upon hours in Civilization, others in World of Warcraft, while others play Counter-Strike for days straight. There isn’t anything even similar about those games, and yet they all have been attributed the “addictive” crown.

I’ve read the odd article about those (and others) games being about small progression, rewarding the player with small, or larger rewards for each stage he completes (levels, tech advances, etc) , with the requirements for each new step getting steeper and steeper. Also, another attribute is the occasional (and usually random) finds, such as unique items. While this is true, and easily applicable to many other “addictive” games (The diablo series, and it’s spiritual heritage of the Roguelike games immediately comes to mind), it’s also applicable to almost every game out there. RPGs are most easily defined by these qualities. RTS as well (tech trees, getting new units, missions getting longer and harder with bigger rewards).

However, this is not the general rule at all. The FPS genre, which is known to be seriously “addictive” does not include those attributes. Even more extreme, the puzzle genre doesn’t even come close to include those traits. It is true that contemporary designers like PopCap insert their games with many elements that are designed to increase the addictive element, such as player level system, highly responsive game environment (items react to mouse overs, music changes with the game, etc) rewards that increase and expand the gameplay and more, but can the same be said of Microsoft Solitaire, or MineSweeper? Hardly. Those games, the scourge of office productivity offers none of the above. In fact, in term of game design, those two are supposed to be anything BUT addictive, offering the exact same pointless experience every time, with no rewarding, progressing or anything even similar.

So what is that addictive element? Apparently, human nature. We, and not game design, supply the added element that makes a game addictive. In fact, calling a game “addictive” is actually a misnomer. It suggests that the game has qualities that make us addicted to it, which it isn’t. When we call a game “addictive” we mean it “sucks you in” and makes you play it for hours. That’s not addictive. Addictive, or narcotic substances creates a temporary change in the mind, or body, chemistry, altering our reaction to the environment, but, and much more importantly, also cause a withdrawal effect to occur.

In the end, it’s all about people. We get addicted to games, even to simple, mind numbing repetitive ones like Solitaire. We get addicted to online chats, to TV watching, to food, to sleep, you name it. It doesn’t have to alter the pleasure cores in our brain, or mess with our sensory perception to make us addicted, and it definitely doesn’t have to cause us a physical withdrawal discomfort. We develop those ourselves. It’s perfectly human nature.

Written by Erez

Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 7:23

Posted in Uncategorized

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