Principle 6: Pleasantly Frustrating
This principle describes that nagging feeling in your stomach when you time after time fail to accomplish something, whereas the reward at the end has become insignificant due to your shortage of patience. You just want to get it over with.
Negativity aside, games often present challenges to us, designed to be fun and moderately difficult, and although not necessary there are rewards at the end for us to collect, satisfied with our deeds. We like to feel good about ourselves. We like to feel as though we are bigger, better, stronger, often in comparison to our peers. And of course, we want to show this off by flaunting our brand new achievement, whether with a shiny new high score or a trophy.
Like in many games, the goal in Civilization V is to prevail and prove you are better through handcrafting a strong nation and outclass the others in one way or the other. There are many ways to attain this and the very reason for the variety of ways is the game designer catering to different people’s strengths and weaknesses, thus giving us choices and letting us fight for and feel good about whatever we are the most confident in, as well as letting others deliberately pick whate This is also the reason most games have difficulty scales (easy, medium, hard…) and pertains to the longevity and replayability of a game. We do not like games that are too easy, routines that we’ve learned by heart. That’s why the “frustrating” part of the principle is more than just acceptable, it is welcomed. Naturally, nobody enjoys something difficult that at the same time is not fun, as does nobody enjoy something that perhaps used to be fun but is too simple to still appeal. That’s why game designers try to find the middle point, the balance between pleasant and frustrating.
The old classic Tetris is a good example of a game that takes advantage of this principle. You cannot memorize any patterns in Tetris as the Tetriminos (the differently coloured falling shapes) are pseudo-randomly generated, so your brain will constantly take in new information, forcing you to adjust your finger movements accordingly. Of course there’s going to be a slight sense of frustration as your options become more limited and you just can’t keep up anymore, but no Tetris player is going to disagree with me when I promise that there’s nothing more satisfying than clearing out four lines of Tetriminos in one go.
Optimally, you want a little bit of both, or the scale will tip over to one side. Every single element of a game however doesn’t have to be a mix of both pleasant and frustrating. Instead, there needs to be a flow of pleasant moment, frustrating moment, pleasant moment, frustrating moment, preferably more irregular and unpredictable than described. That way, not knowing what to expect but always up for a challenge, human nature itself finds this principle extremely attractive. Curiosity and challenge-loving are two traits we’ve always had, and always will have.
Everyone knows this is the best Tetrimino to ever have existed.