Art and the church
Wild Space of Christianity

Reality is Broken: Fun Failure

In her fourth chapter, Jane McGonigal approaches the topic of failure as a component of games and how failure is a key part of the fun.

"Wen we're playing a well-designed game, failure doesn't disappoint us.  It makes us happy in a very particular way: excited, interested, and most of all optimistic."

Now, the games I have become frustrated with and quit playing did not give me that sense she describes.  Halo, for instance, was like that for me.  As game controllers got more elaborate and movement in games more complex, I had greater difficulty, which came to a head the first time I tried to play Halo and couldn't move around at all.  I kept getting stuck between things too and by some glitch in the game couldn't move at all.  I gave up. 

The "fun failure" of games helps players develop "exceptional mental toughness," she concludes.

An interesting portion of this chapter is spent discussing optimism.  "To optimists, set-backs are energizing--and the more energized we get, the more fervently we believe that success is just around the corner."  This resonates with my own views on the resurrection and my oft-repeated phrase from Franz Rosenzweig, "Christians are the eternal beginners."

Now, a darkside of this chapter emerges when she discusses how we keep playing games when we are failing, but generally quit when we have mastered the game.  Oddly, this does not seem to the be case for traditional games likes chess or various card or board games.  We keep playing them because they are new every time.  Video games cease to be new; they do get boring; and we pass on to what comes next.  She doesn't address this point about traditional games.

She does say "This is what makes games consumable: players wring all the learning (and fun) out of them."  This is disturbing to me, particularly the use of consumable.  I don't like the consumer nature of our current economics.  The adventure of the church's ministry is clearly not something we want consumed.

A final section of the chapter discusses the success of Rock Band, particularly how failure and success are programmed.  Not only is Rock Band one of the highest selling games of all time, it has real world impact, as a huge percentage of its players have taken up real musical instruments.  It and other games like it have also been very successful at bringing back family game nights and families spend time playing the game together.  She concludes the chapter, "If you still think of gamers as loners, then you're not playing games."


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