Time seems to slow down as the ball curves gracefully over the tennis shoe scuffed court. The arc is good, the ball rolls around the rim and slides through, securing a narrow victory for your team! You're going to the playoffs! You rip off your jersey in esctasy and begin to whoop.
Then everyone in the stands instantly falls silent and quietly, patiently files out of the stadium. Not a teammate says a word, carefully packing up their things and leaving. The referee makes a note on a sheet of paper and then turns off the lights as everyone leaves.
You stand there in the middle of the court, stunned in the darkness. You saw the opportunity, you cared about pulling it off, took your shot, you succeeded and won the game. You did everything right... but everything feels wrong.
You were denied the satisfaction of your victory.
Satisfaction is More than Winning
Winning the game is great! Throughout history people have created games, invented mechanics and solved puzzles. However, very few do sheerly for the exercise... so why do you do it?
I was sitting in the living room of the apartment I shared with my roommate Tom. Tom had been working long hours, driving up to LA and back for months. Usually he'd hole up in his room, talking loudly on Skype or Ventrilo while I played Persona 3.
Tom: "Hey Alex, do you have like an hour?"
Me: "Uh, sure, what's up?"
Tom: "Come here, I want your feedback on something."
I sat down and looked at what was a pink and purple blurred mess of colors and a wannabe candyland.
Tom: "Give me your first reaction to this."
Me: "Uhh.... you either have a very strange way of coming out of the closet or you have a secret fetish for Rainbow Brite."
Tom snorted as he laughed, "yeah, its pretty out there."
Me: "What the hell is it, some kind of RTS?"
Tom: "Sort of... why don't you sit down and play for this next match. Then we'll discuss."
The more astute of you may have already realized this was an early beta for Riot Games' League of Legends. While I played, I did what I do best: complain a lot. For those of you who don't know me intimately, pretty much everything in existence annoys me. I commented on everything from the weird control scheme to the targetting cursor color, you name it. But what really matter is what happened next.
|Things have gotten a million times better since then.|
After a few minutes, several members of the enemy team quit the game, my allies and I destroyed the crystalline fortress... and the screen went dark. The game turned solid black and the word VICTORY appeared as a flat texture, replacing the game world.
Me: "Uhm.... what?"
Tom: "You won. Unexpected, Yoshi-san! Even though they did technically quit."
Me: "That... was like... the biggest let down ever. Granted, I didn't do jack shit to earn it, but what the fuck, Tom?"
Tom: "Hahaha, that's true. What would you do there?"
Me: "Hell, I don't know. Blow shit up, show a scoreboard. Pretty much anything but end the game like that."
Tom: "Yeah, we're going to fix that. It's surprising, but when I first saw that I had the exact same reaction. You *did* win you know...."
Me: "Yeah, but... it just felt... wrong."
Tom: "What you're feeling is what I call the expectation of ceremony."
Me: "... what?"
Tom: "It's not enough to just win. It hasn't been for a very long time. When you win, you want to be rewarded to reinforce the fact that you succeeded. The athletes who win the olympics don't just grab their medal out of a bin. There's ritual, ceremony and celebration to backup their accomplishment."
Me: "That seems like it would apply to a lot more than just winning."
Tom: "Fascinating. What were you thinking of?"
Me: "Like, when I KO someone in Super Smash Bros, the match isn't over, but there's this sharp sound and the opponent goes flying into the screen."
Tom: "Hehehe, yes! The simple truth is that you can make even the most minor of victories feel like a major one, if you sell it sufficiently well."
Satisfaction is composed of many little pieces done right
It's easy to take a single major event, like the end of a game and talk about whether it satisfied you. Just like the ending of a movie, it's often the part that sticks in your mind. Unfortunately, its a sad fact of humor nature that we quickly overlook all of the minor pieces that got you that far.
Take a closer look at the next game you play. What do they do to make even the smallest of things satifying? The sound of opening of a door, the scorch marks left behind from a stray fireball, or even just the way that the critical strike damage number stick on screen for a quarter second more.
They all add up to making you feel good about what you just did.
Next time, I'll be talking some more about satisfaction, specifically on the topic of feeling satisfied by game mechanics.