Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
F'ing Up Isn't So Bad

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 12 Jun 2012 12:00
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In fact, I'd argue that a really magnificent fuck-up is far more memorable and far more interesting to talk about with one's friends than a well-executed success, even more so than a pre-animated cutscene or set piece. It's emergent, isn't it? The game is willing to work with the player to create the experience rather than treat the player as something that has to be dragged along. Even better are fuck ups that are still successes that occurred differently to how you anticipated, like say if you wanted to rope an enemy soldier to a jet plane for giggles in Just Cause 2, but the plane stumbles on its way along a makeshift runway and sudden decelaration catapults the soldier into one of the turbines. A pre-baked finishing move can never surprise you like that unless something goes drastically wrong with the physics engine.

But the important thing about fuck-ups is that they are necessary to juxtapose success. The two or three times you pull off something really memorable and impressive wouldn't have as much effect if it weren't for the countless fuck-ups, near-misses and didn't-even-bothers throughout the rest of gameplay. An efficient use of bullet dodge might not in itself be as visually elaborate as some Final Fantasy choreographed zero-gravity swordfight taking place on the side of a nuclear missile as it speeds towards the puppy kingdom, but a game containing nothing but that kind of thing with no possibility of the character failing is just as boring as a game where nothing happens. If the pace of a video game is defined with a line graph, then the game's excitement factor is defined by how steeply the line spikes, not the height the line reaches. A straight, uncurving line is boring no matter how high on the graph it lies. If you see what I mean.

One of the things that makes videogames so interesting to me as a dramatic medium is that they are virtually defined by the main characters being constantly under threat of fucking up. Yeah, Luke Skywalker could potentially fuck up at any time throughout the course of a Star Wars movie, and that's why they're fun to watch, but in the back of your mind, you know he's going to succeed in the end. There wouldn't be a movie otherwise. In videogames, that safety net is removed, and handled correctly you feel much more invested in the protagonist's struggle. You share his successes, and more importantly, you share his fuckups.

You see, all things, all emotion, can only exist in balance with its opposite. We wouldn't fear the darkness if we'd never experienced light. We can't feel happiness if we've never known sorrow. And I'd draw no satisfaction from filling my mouth with Cadbury's crème eggs if there were no times when my mouth wasn't full of Cadbury's crème eggs. I mean, I wouldn't be able to say "please put Cadbury's crème eggs in my mouth", would I?

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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