We live in an era with excess of information. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Blogs, Wikipedia and the whole internet are part of a massive flux of data and we are all in the middle of it. This could represent a problem if you think of all the information that could be invalid, incorrect or simply not useful at all. Separating what is good and what is bad from the internet is task so complex that could make our minds collapse... however this is not happening.
What is going on is that we as humans are experts in simplifying everything that is complex and reducing it all in small chunks of data which our mind is able to digest skillfully. As Freud once stated, humans tend to obsess about certain facts until their mind gets so tired that they naturally find a way to leave their minds out of confusion. This is the normal course of action of course but there are also disorders in which one is not able of leaving confused states of mind.
According to this a game designer could assume that a game will be fun no matter is level of complexity and they will be right. If one analyses the evolution of games you may find that the amount of information managed has increased a lot. Perhaps the better reasons and at the same time example of this information expansion is the creation of 3D Games.
If you think about it, a third dimension adds a lot of structure that must be informed to a player. In some ways it simplifies the information that must be abstracted by reducing the amount of symbols that had to be represented in 2D. However 3D is greatly limited by the perspective and at the same time adds a great deal of detail to the small portion of space displayed.
There's no real problem with having a lot of information displayed in confusing ways (The player will still find the way to understand what the game is trying game if he is decided to do it) but it would surely make it more fun for anyone to leave the details that adds to the main purpose of the game more comprehensible.
There could be a lot to learn from relaxation games for instance. This are games which intension is to leave the obsession part (from Freud's equation) appart and get right to the peace of mind part (at least this should be the intension of a relaxation game).
By doing this the player won't have to struggle against the game, he won't have to deal with frustration and either will he have to make an significant effort to win the game (The "win" part of a game is also questioned for relaxation games). In relaxation games you just let your mind do the work, you just play and have fun in its most primitive way.
However, as I mentioned in an earlier blog entry frustration in a game can be good for the experience. Struggle is a closer approximation to real life and therefore a closer approximation to new 3D experiences and the so desired photorealism in games.
Relaxation in games can be a little tricky. Take Braid for instance. If you think about it everything is there in the game to be solved, there is no complexity, no excess of information, no struggle (you can rewind and restart as many times as you want). However there's a lot of people who complains that they get stressed by playing it... they simply can't get through a puzzle even though they know that the sole purpose of the game is to have the challenge of solving puzzles.
It's logical to expect that the game will have challenging puzzles and that perhaps you will have to spend some time doing what the game expects you to do (that is solving puzzles). The problem in Braid lies in obsession: the player won't rest until they can release their confusion and solve the problem. The game could give you a mechanism to solve a puzzle later but a frustration will still be ther until the puzzle is solved.
Another mechanism found also in Professor Layton's game is having clues or tips to solve the puzzles. This is generally a good idea and most people end their frustration by finally reading the clues and solving the problem, but for the most obsessed ones this won't be an option because they will want to solve the puzzle without help.
The meaning of this Braid and Professor Layton's examples is that no game is completely free from frustration no matter its simplicity. This happen because if one wants to have fun then one must use a human skill or faculty.
For the example of the puzzle games it would be intelligence, but it could be also attention, patience, or anything alike. If you are using one of this faculties for fun then you will be instantly pushing it a little bit in order to get yourself a good challenge.
[This post continues from the already-available Part I/II]