“Superstitious Applicances” and Abusive Game Design

“Now It’s Personal: On Abusive Game Design” by Douglas Wilson and Miguel Sicart discusses the meaning of abusive game design and the rhetoric behind this design approach. Abusive game design focuses on creating a dialogue between the game designer and the player to force the player to experience something out of the ordinary and beyond his/her expectations. As the player experiences the game, he/she can begin to understand the designer behind the system.

Abusive game design differs from conventional, or contemporary, game design theory in that abusive game design seeks to establish a dialogue between player and designer through games that push the player outside the normal expectations, whereas conventional game design seeks to satisfy players’ desires so that they are challenged just enough and will feel satisfied with their actions. Conventional game design is a one-sided arrangement in which the game design adapts to the ideal and potential performances of the players so that the game always satisfies the user—the game designer is catering to the audience’s needs and wants. For instance, the game Frogger could be seen as having a conventional game design. As the player moves onto more challenging levels, the game is not impossible to beat and it is challenging enough to make the player feel accomplished when he/she beats a tough level or receives a high score. In addition, the designers of Frogger release expansion packs and numerous sequels to meet the players’ needs and some of these versions enable the players to access extra-hard modes or secret levels to showcase their skills and expertise. There are certain expectations that come with the game as well, for instance the themed levels, number of lives, and the intuitive way to play.

In contrast, games classified as having abusive game design force the player to think outside of how he/she would normally play a game and to have uncomfortable and unexpected experiences. Jason Nelson’s “Superstitious Applicances” demonstrates Aesthetic Abuse, specifically attacking the player’s sense of hearing. The homepage of the game emits overlapping voices that repeat the same sentences over and over, one of which sounds guttural and robotic. As the player clicks on certain areas of the homepage, he/she experiences various sounds consisting of high pitched tones, bombing/exploding sounds, and one piece with uncomfortable silence. In terms of the player’s visual perception, the pictures are hard to decipher with flickering images and hard to read/overlapping text that does not stay still long enough for the player to read.

This “user-unfriendliness” is what brings about an interaction between the player and the designer. The designer pushes the player right up to the breaking point, but still keeps the player intrigued, and the player feels as if he/she is fighting with the designer to make some sense of the game. In addition, the design of “Superstitious Applicances” supports continuous surprises and new insights over the course of encounters between different players through eccentric, unexpected, and confrontational experiences.