Winning Terms: How Goals Influence Players

On Thursday, January 31, 2013 0 comments

Welcome back to the rhetoric of video games! For these next couple of posts, we will explore how goals influence gamers. If you missed the first couple of posts, make sure to check them out.

What makes video games “games” is that they have goals. Without a goal, then it is just an interactive piece of software. Of course, some games have really loose goals, like Tetris wanting you to stack a bunch of boxes. Others have very specific goals, like defeating an evil sorcerer or escaping a testing facility. 

Why are you spending hours on end stacking boxes? Because you have no social life, that's why. 

No matter how lightly the game takes its primary objective, the goals still have rhetorical effect. By designating something as a goal, a game implies that it has worth. For example, if the goal of the game is to “save the princess,” then that implies that the princess is valuable enough to go through the effort of saving. “By stating a rule that defines a winning scenario, the simauthor is claiming that these goals are preferable to their opposite.”1 So the player will see the end goal as the right thing, and the opposite conditions, or losing, as something that is bad. When properly applied, goals and the methods to achieve those goals can motivate the player and convince them that something is worth their time.

The setting of Final Fantasy VII is a run down, dilapidated world. Big business has exhausted natural resources, and the whole planet is on a downward spiral to disaster. Despite this, the goal of the game is to save the world. This implies that the world, no matter how run-down and used-up it is, is still something worth fighting for. 

This image of FFVII's Midgar isn't in grayscale. It's naturally that dreary.

Many games force players into the role of a messiah, combating evil in an attempt to restore balance. However, “evil” can be anything the developer wants it to be. If the developer makes the enemy a bunch of cartoonish pigs, the player has to fight them to win. It doesn’t matter how the player personally feels; while ‘they are playing a game, gamers operate under the logic of the programmer. The designer’s goals become theirs.

1.     1.  Frasca, Gonzalo. "Simulation versus Narrative: Introduction to Ludology." The Video Game Theory Reader. Ed. Mark J.P. Wolf and Ed. Bernard Perron. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.
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