Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Samantha Blackmon

Committee Member 1

Nathan Johnson

Committee Member 2

Thomas Rickert


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.