All games are generally structured around a very simple principal, either you win or you lose. Obviously winning is fun, but can losing sometimes be fun as well? And if yes, then what are the conditions for making losing a fun experience?
Losing can be one of the most infuriating experiences, but it can also be highly rewarding, and even motivating. So in a sense losing can be fun, yes. There must therefore be a line between what is fun and what is frustrating, when losing in a game.
I did a post some time ago on competence and how this is a part of our intrinsic motivation for playing games, i.e. improving our competence. Games can make us feel good when we improve our skill in the game, and build up our competence in playing it. When this balance is just right we can reach a state of flow, as I have also previously described in another post, which means that the difficulty level of the game is set just right according to the players skill level. Also losing at this stage doesn’t matter all too much, since there is a larger chance that we will feel that we are learning something at this point from losing. Gaining knowledge that will help us improve our game and from there move further forwards. This is all the result of a well-balanced game, but what then happens if the games is less well balanced?
In short, we get angry. As you may have realised this post ties into quite a few of my previous ones. Well, that would be because a lot of the theory is the same. So, as I pointed out in my post of video games and violence, the source of violent behaviour connected to video games may be closer connected to the difficulty settings of the game, than it had to do with the violent content. Research at Rochester concluded exactly this. It also showed that these people after losing a game of Tetris way over their skill level would also become more malicious when it came to the treatment of their fellow humans.
Well, competence seems like it has been an important evolutionary motivation throughout time, and we see clear indications that we do not react well when our ego takes a bashing and our competence is put into question. But, it does seem to be a question of how much we are losing, and in which way. A total and utter humiliation is not bound to yield many positive emotions. But losing a bit, and maybe just for a short period, may very well work as an added incentive to do better.
Within the world of sports research Berger and Pope have found an interesting tendency at basketball matches, “Teams behind by a point at half-time, for example, actually win more often than teams ahead by one”. Maybe, as long as there is a glimmer of hope, or possibility for improvement, we can take something positive from the losing experience, but progress is really the keyword here.
Of course course how many beatings we can take from a game before losing it varies, just like the individuals skills level. All the more challenge for the game designers to create systems that can accommodate the most amount of people.
So next time you sit down to play a game, whether it be Candy Crush, Angry Birds, or GTA5, then spare a thought to the difficulty level, and stay aware of how far you go before getting frustrated or simply give up.
Also, if you, as I, are tired of losing in Rock, Paper, Scissors, then give this BBC article a quick read, and improve your chances of winning manyfold!