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Why do I enjoy breaking my controller?

What about difficult games keeps us coming back for more? To get a better idea, we need to look at player motivations and how well designed games lead to a wider audience.

Game Developer, Staff

December 17, 2018

5 Min Read

You want what you can’t have is a common adage that is for the most part true. The idea that we can’t have something, whether we truly want it or not, motivates and excites us. However, difficulty alone does not warrant this desire, and we can’t expect people to keep trying forever. So, what is it that makes players deal with the abuse of brutally hard games like Dark Souls? Difficulty tempts long time gamers seeking a new challenge, the rest of us fit into the different personality types of the Bartle Test.

To summarize this, the Bartle Test divides gamers into four general personality types. The Achiever seeking to beat every game and win every record, this is typically seen as the completionist. The Socializer built on the idea of community, love to use games as a point of discussion or play multiplayer games. The Explorer who loves backstory, world building and exploring every crack and glitch in a game. Lastly the Killer, who enjoy gaming for the ability to step away from real world morals and enjoy being the typical “bad guy”. Every game tries its best to appease all types of gamers, but what about controller breaking games makes them so hard to put down?

Simply put, video games utilize the human need for accomplishment. No matter your Bartle Test results, we play games to create a sense of accomplishment. The Achievers want to be the best, Explorers want to discover. While Socializers hope to gain friends, Killers want to feel power. Each of them looking to feel a sense of accomplishment in their goals. Dark Souls, Hollow Knight, and the other successful games in this genre find a way to appeal to each of these players.

Both Dark Souls and Hollow Knight provide large detailed worlds with very little direction. Beat all the bosses, save all the cute bugs, little things that make a game only 98% complete and drive Achievers insane. Uniquely, Hollow Knight does not provide the player with a completion percentage until right before the final boss of the game. This means that as an Achiever feels that it’s time to complete the game, they are then presented with how much they have truly missed. Difficult games don’t often have a menu that shows the player how many backpacks they have left to collect, or what players around them have the highest scores. They force completionists to explore further or test their luck against other players. Dark Souls has a mechanic that puts hostile players into certain areas of the game to add a new challenge. Conveniently this also proves to a player that they aren’t the best when they get killed for the fifth time. Achievers want to be acknowledged for their work, and difficult games make them work for it. This is exactly the feeling that motivates them in the first place.

The Socializer is a unique gamer, ranging from multiplayer competitive games to games that revolve around story and relationships. To attract this type of gamer, developers must think about community. Dark Souls has its mechanic that allows players to invade each other’s games, however this isn’t what really attracts the Socializer. Instead, these games create something to talk about among friends. Whether you are bragging about beating a boss you’ve been stuck on or sharing some secret you discovered, these games have online communities dedicated to sharing experiences. Veteran players discuss their love of the game while living vicariously through the players who have just begun. Both Dark Souls and Hollow Knight have large dedicated pages on Wiki and Reddit full of players who actively talk about the game even if they haven’t played in years. The sense of community gives the game a longevity to the Socializer that drives them to play.

The Explorer and the Killer are more obvious choices for dark, difficult, adventure games. This type of game usually involves exploring the ruins of an ancient civilization while killing the remaining citizens that are corrupted by some disease. It’s a trope that involves vast kingdoms to explore and giant monsters to kill. However, games like Dark Souls and Hollow Knight tend to go above and beyond the calling. The games that sit at the top of this genre provide not only exploration of the map, but the vague nature of their plot calls for players to dig deeper. They provide context clues that guide the player to make assumptions through discovery. Dark Souls gives the player a wide world with hidden nooks and crannies, but takes it even further by providing optional, sometimes hidden areas with massive new enemies to kill. They create a sense of wonder, making it almost impossible to assume that the game is truly complete. When the enemies you kill respawn every time you rest, there is always more to kill.

Every video game has a target audience, however great games can ascend beyond their expected limits. Role Playing games offer choices, adventure, and a sense of accomplishment. Dark Souls and Hollow Knight are two amazing examples of a genre breaking out of its bubble and appealing to a larger audience. They offer plenty of things to explore and kill, all while creating a cult following that encourages a sense of community. The vague story gives us something to discuss for years after, providing a much longer life span. A game that can create that discussion can hook players. The original Fallout games provide a challenging dark game with a sense of atmosphere. Those games are still loved to this day and the franchise is still strong. Atmosphere is a key element in the creation of a game. Creating a game that makes the player curious and encourages people to test their limit makes them want more. If developers spent more time in the little details to make sure that their world is a unique living space, they are more likely to create the next big franchise. Rather than just making a good game, setting up a believable world can create an amazing world. So, while difficulty is a charming part of Dark Souls, what really makes it the game it is, is its attention to atmosphere and cohesion that the developers create. 

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