The Purpose of Abusive Video Games

Two questions were pointedly raised when reading Douglas Wilson and Miguel Sicart’s article, “Now It’s Personal: On Abusive Game Design.” The first question elicited is as follows: what is the rhetoric or intent of the designer when creating abusive games? Wilson and Sicart propose that abusive videogames engage in a “dialogic interplay between player and designer” (Wilson and Sicart 3). While most video games segregate the player from the designer, as users interact with a system instead of a designer, abusive videogames forge a relationship between the creator and player through techniques that make the designer visible. As with authors, designers of videogames are hidden in the sense that they “’won’t be there to explain [the meaning] to each and every player’” (Wilson and Sicart 2). One theory provided regarding the intent of abusive game designers is that they want to create a relationship between the user and the designer—possibly for recognition as the creator and to more effectively communicate their message to the user.

Additionally, Wilson and Sicart claim that designers intend to invoke power over abusive game users by forcing players to submit to their manipulations, lies, tricks, and seemingly impossible challenges. Instead of using power as a means of the game to motivate users with rewards, abusive game designers use power to “[encourage] players to focus on the human designer” rather than on the game system (Wilson and Sicart 6). Such designers utilize power over players by forming a relationship with users and forcing them to recognize the design. According to Wilson and Sicart, “Power is only productive in a dialogue” when the users recognize the power a designer yields over them (Wilson and Sicart 6). Abusive video games force players to acknowledge the designer as designers make purposefully choices—such as visual discomfort, emotional discomfort, sensory discomfort, lying, manipulation, impossible challenges, etc…—that frustrate players, causing them to consider the designer’s intent and the reason they are enduring such games. By continuing to play abusive games, players recognize, acknowledge, and submit to the power abusive games designers have over them.

The interplay of power in abusive videogames yields the question of why users continue to play such abusive games that seem utterly impossible or downright tormenting. Generally, videogames are structured around the principle of “lusory attitude” where the games seek to satisfy user needs and reward players for their interaction (Wilson and Sicart 2). Conversely, abusive videogames offer limited, if any, rewards as players are challenged beyond physical capability and frustrated with manipulations, emotional distress, and visual irritations. However, it is evident that players continue to engage in such games because they offer a “’…glimmer of hope that it is possible’” to complete the game successfully (Wilson and Sicart 7). Abusive game designers purposefully give players hope that they can succeed and overcome challenges even when such challenges are impossible. Such hope drives players to continually struggle through the game, ultimately receiving nothing for their endeavors. While it is evident why abusive game designers choose to create such games—as they invoke power over users and are revealed through games in which designers are typically hidden—, it is still unclear why users continue to purchase and interact with games that serve no satisfactory purpose and do not fulfill user needs.