Jonathan Blow may be known in some circles for knocking other people’s work, but I discovered, as we chatted last week, that he almost committed one of the very game design sins he opposed. It recalibrated my take on what he criticizes about games. He’s not criticizing people or even games but trends, currents even he can be swept into. It happend about a year ago. He’s vociferously against rewards-driven game design, what he sees as a Skinner-box approach to game design that compels a player to keep playing by perpetually offering a trickle of rewards for minor actions. That’s what he was knocking when he criticized the fealty designers had to littering gold coins into their game worlds, Super Mario Bros.-style, to keep players going. That’s what he was referring to when he knocked the eternal treadmill of achievement that is almost every massively multiplayer online game. When you engineer a game to foster those constant reward compulsions, he told me, “there is a lack of faith in what is the core game.” The game designer doesn’t trust that players will find the playing of a game to be rewarding enough, so he or she adds all these baubles and unlocks to keep the player playing.
Could that be gamification gone awry? It’s something for me to think about. Perhaps there should be a balance between pandering to the user and asking something of them.