Judgy Gaming

Here’s a Metafilter thread about how WiiFit is calling kids “fat.” I am of no opinion on the matter. I can not speak for the balance board’s accuracy–I do not have one–and I can not comment on the emotional trauma a kid would experience when a videogame calls him or her fat, no matter whether the kid is or isn’t fat. All I know is that if I were to get a balance board I would expect it to call me fat because I am fat. I’m also an adult; I can handle it.

Anyway, what stood out in that thread was this specific comment and the parts about the failure response in such games:

The thing is, though, nearly all of the Wii games are a bit judgy — it’s not like when you lose at tennis or golf or something it says, “Try again next time!” in a cheery font. It says YOU LOSE!!!, and your poor little Mii looks all dejected and defeated. That has been something we’ve had to manage with the kids from the beginning, especially because they are right at that sweet-spot for elementary-school age-based competitiveness and the-world-revolves-around-me sensitivity.

Judgy? I’m of two minds on this. From one perspective, I wonder if the mainstreaming of videogames warrants a re-evaluation of the failure responses they generate. Should games with a broad appeal scale the response to the user upon failure? Many titles already scale the difficulty based on how the user plays and adjust the end appropriately (eg. you get congratulations when you finish Guitar Hero on a low difficulty but you also get pushed to do the next, higher difficulty.) but very few adjust how they communicate with the player based on how skilled they are.

The likes of Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden will “reward” constant failure with the option to switch to a lower difficulty. However, considering the obvious meant for established gamers design those titles have it comes across as nothing more than a taunt. A spurious hand out to a weak gamer. I’m thinking of something more broad: adjusting the UI and messaging to the player just as much as enemy health and AI and patterns are changed with differing difficulty levels.

I’m thinking of games like Ikaruga. For a high end player, the most important part of that game is keeping the combo going and building a high score. Emphasize that. But for a casual player, one not used to that level of sadism, just surviving the first stage is a goal. The score and combo is irrelevant to them. Why show it? Start things of simple and friendly but as the player improves start placing more focus on the combos and the score.

Not many, if any, games do this. I think there’s something there. An idea that could be fleshed out some more.

On the other hand, I’m thinking:

They have to be managed so that they can handle losing at a videogame? The words over-protected and over-coddled come to mind. Failure, as a kid, is the whole point of growing up. It’s how we learn. Videogames might be a minuscule portion of the whole childhood experience but protecting your kids from them shows signs of a larger pattern.The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids and The Secret to Raising Smart Kids come to mind.

In my day, the games were designed to make us fail. That’s how they made their money. We persevered through them, we mastered them and we entered “ASS” and “FUK” on their leaderboards. We turned out fine. Mostly.

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