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Ugh, stop twitching
game design as an act of cruelty
games Posted 2009-09-30 22:00:15 by Jim Crawford
On the Another Castle podcast, Anna Anthropy talked about how in Mighty Jill Off she was trying to draw parallels between the designer/player relationship and the dom/sub relationship. I.e.: the designer is supposed to dominate the player, but in such a way that the player can deal with it and enjoy it. The designer must be subtle and responsible about it, because it's trivial to make the game too easy or too hard.

I replayed Mighty Jill Off yesterday. It actually has me wanting to go back and play some of the Bomb Jack series, which it takes its platforming mechanic from. (One of these days I'm going to make game based around the oddball double jump specific to Super Ghouls and Ghosts.) It's a really interesting, largely unexplored one, based around jump cancels and rapid tapping to slow your descent. Like the tail in Super Mario Bros 3, come to think of it. The decision to retain the tapping (“flap-to-fly”) is very old school and, in this context, feels very much like an “I'm punishing you because I feel like it” sort of decision, because holding the button would work just as well. Like it did in Super Mario World.

Unlike, e.g., stick shift vs. automatic, flap-to-fly vs. hold-to-fly is not a power/accessibility tradeoff. Flap-to-fly adds difficulty without giving you any additional power; what it adds is experiential. Which is to say, in the same way that you have to tap R1 to open chests and doors in God of War, it doesn't make for interesting tactical decisions, but it does make you feel like “boy, this chest sure is hard to open!” The idea is to make you feel what Jill feels, and flying is evidently hard work!

I think it's interesting to contrast this sort of decision with many games of the early 80s that required rapid tapping. For instance, many shmups required you to press the button once to fire your gun once, and would fire as quickly as you could tap the button. So these games were effectively asking you to tap your index finger as fast as you could possibly could for the entire duration of the game. This is not an interesting game design decision, nor is it a sensible experiential one; any spaceship that doesn't have a turbo button should be returned to the lot immediately. It's just being annoying for the sake of being annoying.

If you feel like exploring the idea of experience-based control schemes, here are some appropriate games I can think of:

  • Tri-Achnid, which uses the control scheme and music and art and sound -- basically every decision made during creation of the game, really -- to put the player in the head space of an ugly, clumsy, three-legged bug.
  • QWOP, which gives you pretty direct control over the leg musculature of a runner. I think the idea here was to put you in the head space of someone learning to walk. Which is a particularly interesting place to be, because it's somewhere we've all been; we just don't remember it.
An aside: Anna Anthropy has a game design blog called Auntie Pixelante. Her game design posts are without exception fascinating, but she occasionally changes it up by talking about what's going on in her BDSM relationship. I get the impression that her sub gets off on this sort of public humiliation. I feel used! I mean, to be fair, it is her space, not a public forum, but involving unsuspecting people in your kinky relationship is just fuckin' tacky.
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