I just learned of the term “masocore” today, after reading an article comparing difficult games to S&M on Kotaku. It’s a good read, and resonates as I’ve been going insane the past week playing Super Hexagon; a ridiculously difficult game that I’ve been diligently trying to master whenever I get some spare time (Read: on the toilet).
There’s something both savagely frustrating, and addicting about playing super difficult games. And I don’t mean the broken ones like Superman 64 or Dragon’s Lair… well… maybe if it’s Castlevania II, it’s still good… but generally speaking, if the game play is fundamentally broken and your failures feel like the fault of the game, it’s just not fun.
And that’s where I think that some of the harder games I’ve played recently excel. When you fail in Super Hexagon, you feel like you’ve failed. You get a quick game over, touch the screen and restart. You’ll die really fast, but the punishment isn’t that bad because you instantly get to try again. Each time you succeed in being able to get further, you get a nice little dopamine reward, before dying. Want more dompamine? Experience just a little bit more pain… work through it, and …. that’s right you’ve lasted 20 seconds this time instead of 18.
In Super Meat Boy, it’s the same way: play, die, repeat. The best part about the quick deaths, is the quick re-entry into the meat grinder. You get that same shot of dopamine when you make it that *little* bit further than the last time, and you even get to watch all your failures when you’re done. Though, I think this formula has been known for ages in the arcade circuit. I can’t tell you the number of quarters I’ve pumped into shoot ’em ups or run and guns with the misconception that just one more quarter is all it will take to master the controls and finish the game. It’s a good formula, and has always worked… well… almost always. The trick to difficult games is you’ve got to give the player control. If they don’t feel like they’re influencing the outcome they’re not going to play the game, and they’re going to resent having spent money on it.
Though I’ll never understand people who play slot machines.