Built to Play

Built to Play 40: Why Bother?

Episode Summary

We talk to Jesper Juul about the Art of Failure in video game design, and question why we even play games if we lose most of the time. Then we talk to Will O Neill about Actual Sunlight, and why Evan Winters fails to change his life. We also visit a trivia night and talk about David Bowie.

Episode Notes

Built to Play is amping up the disappointment, as we take on failure. That's a failure to play and a failure to learn, starting with why play video games in the first place. 

From Takeshi's Challenge.

From Takeshi's Challenge.

We suck at video games, as a species. Yes, some of us are amazing at Street Fighter, and that Chinese team won five million dollars in Dota 2, but on average most of us lose more than we succeed. In Call of Duty, you likely failed more levels than you won. In Super Meat Boy, people come close to throwing their controllers across the room in frustration. Rage-quitting is a word most players recognize and have experienced. So why do we play?

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Jesper Juul, author of the Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games, says that it comes down enjoying the game's basis, while being able to dismiss it. It's just a game after all. But that's not entirely true either. If people really didn't care about video games, he explains, they wouldn't groan when they lose, or throw the controller across the room after a bad run in Dark Souls. To some extent we want to know that we might lose in a game, if only to prove that we're better than it. It's a matter of how much failure we're willing to take.

Jesper tells us all about being a sore loser in Starcraft, why the New York Post thinks soccer is a dumb sport, and how games rarely ask us to fail. Starts at 26:30.

Courtesy Actual Sunlight

Courtesy Actual Sunlight

We may lose a lot in video games, but video games rarely give us a good reason to fail. 

Screwing up in a video game feels like a glitch in the process. Mario saves the princess, even if you jumped into that Goomba, or fell off the cliff. BJ Blazkowicz blows up Hitler in Wolfenstein, regardless if a Nazi shoots you five minutes into the game. The player messed up. The character saves the day. Sometimes, there are exceptions. In Shadow of the Colossus, the hero's victory turns out to be for nought, and he turns out to be the true monster. But pyrrhic victories are few and far between, and outright failures are awkward to create. When the player beats the bad guy, only to discover the world's still ending, it rarely feels right. 

But that's not to say people haven't tried. _Actual Sunlight_is about Evan Winters, a 30-ish year old man working in communications. Evan has depression, and continually makes terrible choices. He can't help himself a lot of the time, and ends up stuck in a rut. In Actual Sunlight, you're forced to encounter his decisions, and then succumb to his inability to correct his own mistakes. Evan is in many ways, a failure. Actual Sunlight's designer, Will O'Neill, joins us to talk about how games treat characters who are stuck in their ways, and aren't world-saving heroes. 

Will tells us about Actual Sunlight's expression of realism, his own experience with loss and depression, and why there's still hope underneath it all. Check in 40:20.

**Actual Sunlight is available on Steam and on its website. **

Cardinal Rule restaurant in Parkdale, Toronto back in 2012.

Cardinal Rule restaurant in Parkdale, Toronto back in 2012.

But the future isn't so dim, so long as you're not producer Arman Aghbali at Trivia Night.

Our producer is terrible at trivia. He confuses Dirty Dancing with Footloose. He thought the West Wing was about a hospital. He knows David Bowie as the cool science guy from The Prestige. So he went to meet up with some experts, and watched them nearly lose the whole game. But some golden VHS tapes are just worth fighting for. Russel Harder hosts a feisty game of trivia at Toronto's Cardinal Rule every Wednesday night, and the Cunning Stunts were on a winning streak when Arman dropped in.

**This short doc was made back in February for a Ryerson University documentary course. It's still fun and about games, so we thought we'd share it with you. Join in the trivia starting 52:00. **

his week we used music from the Free Music Archive, including "Spring Solstice" by Podington Bear, "Pause for a Side Change," by L'homme Manete, "Everything is Broken or Not" by Bleak House, "The Beach, The Beach" by Holy Ghost, "Detective" by Krowne, and "The Wrong Way" by Jahzzar. Our opening theme was "Halluzination" by Tozo.

Games used: Super Meat Boy, Red Dead Redemption, Actual Sunlight, and Russel Harder's Authentic Trivia.

Header Image fromBago Games, the "Atari: Game Over" Documentary Trailer.

The show was written by Daniel Rosen and produced and edited by Arman Aghbali.  Special thanks to Jesper Juul, Will O'Neill, Russell Harder and the Cunning Stunts. 

**If you have any comments, criticism or impressions, let us know.  We'd love to hear your opinions on the show, plus any reviews on iTunes or Stitcher or written in the sky by a biplane help more people find the show. **