Games Without Penalties

I lately took up playing EA My Sims Kingdom on the Wii.

After playing a while, I realize that there are no failure conditions, and no way to “lose”.

Which is really quite consitent with other Sims type games, as well as the game Animal Crossing, which I have played from time to time.

The term “Game” has expanded over the few decades to mean more than something that I would strictly call a game versus a software toy, so the argument of “is it a game if it doesn’t have a failure condition” does not apply or is completely semantic.  I used to have discussions like that a lot.

If anything, I would simply qualify the application of the term Game for My Sims Kingdom to a “Sandbox Game”, where everything is safe, and there really aren’t any losers.

And so I got to thinking about games in general, and my games specifically, and whether or not they fall into the Sandbox category or not.

In the days of arcades and space invaders and frogger and the like, games tended not to have a “You Win” condition, and simply kept making things more and more difficult until you fell into a failure condition and lost.

This was because the main reasons that these arcade machines existed was for people to pump quarters into them.  They earned revenue, so the faster a player would die, the better of a revenue generator it was.

And once the transition to the home occurred with the various primitive game consoles like the 2600 and so on, this pattern was duplicated, but typically had some sort of difficulty setting to add challenge once a player got decent at the game.

Some games did have a “win” condition, and getting to the end on a single set of 3 lives or whatever wasn’t very feasible, so the concept of a “retry” was added, where you continue from where you were, but your score is reset to zero.

The first sandbox game that I played was Sim City (the original), which was equivalent to playing with interactive software legos.  I also played Colonization at that time, which still had a lose condition.

Most games now I’ve notice initially start with severely filtered content, and the rest of it has to be “unlocked” by going through particular milestones, which is a fine way to bottleneck a player.

And I do like that online high score lists and merit badge systems give a mega-game aspect to things.

In my own games, the most popular one (Pipes!) is a sandbox game. There is no time limit. You can’t lose.

One of the plus sides of the sandbox games is that you can pick it up and set it back down pretty easily.  In a shooter, you can’t simply walk away from it, or whatever awful things you are shooting will quickly kill you.

That’s why they have a pause feature.

It is not a matter of which one is better or worse, or whatever.

And I don’t think it is really a matter of casual games versus hardcore games, either, since in Hamquest there is a very real possibility of getting your character killed, but you can at any time get up and go do the dishes, and return to exactly the same spot, since it is turn based.  Hamquest is casual, but not a sandbox.

Just something I was thinking about.


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