Press A to Retry: Teaching and Motivating Players Through Failure in Difficult Games

Anthony James Bushner, Purdue University


As video games have gained greater mainstream popularity over the last couple decades, the utility of difficulty and failure in games has shifted. In an effort to create games that are accessible to an ever-increasing population of potential customers, games have trended toward lower difficulty to accommodate new players. In response to this, independent designers have created games that return to the harsh difficulty of the arcade and console games of the 1980s which also include mechanics that maintain mainstream accessibility through alternative failure punishments. This thesis analyzes the design of commercially successful hyper-difficult games to determine how their mechanics foster player motivation and learning in the face of repeated failure. Ultimately, this thesis asks if the ways in which difficult games mobilize failure to educate and motivate could be applied to other systems and to what ends. This thesis explores the material and economic constraints that influenced the shifting role of difficulty and failure in video games from classic arcade titles through the modern age of digital distribution platforms. These hyper-difficult games offer an extreme example of how systems that are built from the ground-up to account for user failure. I argue that the ways in which hyper-difficult games allow players to fail shifts player perspectives on failure from “not-success” to something more positive and fulfilling. Failure can be a form of progression—something to celebrate for the way it forces us to reconsider our approach and the way in which we interpret the world around us.




Blackmon, Purdue University.

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