This column was original published on the ITV Teletext service GameCentral in 2003
Good game designers must be wonderful lovers. In the romantic sense, of course. I’m not talking about anything grubby and, y’know, kissy-kissy.Here’s why. Games are full of the trails and secrets and presents that would win any schoolgirl’s heart. We call them Easter Eggs, but Valentines would be a much better name.
Extra costumes, concept artwork, unlockable characters. Game designers don’t have to include these sweeties, but they do.
Mizuguchi didn’t have to let you play Rez as a Morolian, but he put it in there because he loves you and he wants you to love him. Happy Valentine’s.
All well and good. But what are they to do when they want to punish you? Because eventually they will. Love can be cruel, and sometimes you’ll deserve it.
Maybe you got sloppy, running wide into the gravel. Or were you being greedy? Risking everything for that extra item, gobbling health and ammo and oxygen as you go?
Whichever it is, you deserve a slapping. Except, of course, they can’t give you a slapping. However much designers wish they could reach through the screen and give you noogies, they can’t.
They can’t squirt grapefruit juice in your eye, or sneak in while you sleep and beat you with the Yellow Pages.
They have only one weapon to use against you, but it’s one with a real power to hurt. They call it ‘dying’, but it’s not. It’s much much worse than death.
Boredom. That’s how they punish you. Why is your heart in your mouth as you teeter on the edge of a cliff? Because if you fall, you’ll have to do it all over again.
Now, sometimes, it’s a treat. Sometimes it’s the point. No one would care about Ikaruga if you could clear the game on your first time through.
But not all games suit it. Repeating and re-repeating sections of Project Zero only destroys the ragged terror which is the essence of the experience.
Are there alternatives? Games that punish failure by embarrassment, decking out your character in a dunce’s cap and a Robin Reliant? Or by unleashing ultrasonics that flutter your bowels and madden your dog?
Maybe not. Looks like we’re stuck with boredom. At least until Mad Catz launch their SmartSting II GrapeFruit Deliverator.