Making Failure Fun


When I think of the recent game releases that I’ve picked up, only one title rushes to mind in terms of absolute fun factor. That game is Monaco.

It’s got that pixel-y quirk that you come across quite often in the indie games scene and it’s very simple. It doesn’t look like a big deal at first glance, not like some indie titans that you see developed nowadays.

But why is this simple 2D stealth gibberish so much fun?

Monaco’s fun stems from how fraught with peril it is. Your friend trips a wire, alarms go off, you rush into a door for cover and find that there’s someone waiting for you on the other side.. with a sleeping dart. Soon everyone is screaming, someone rushes for the exit to absolute safety while the rest of you find hiding places or brazenly open that double-locked safe. Everything dies down and the body count is tallied. The party comes up with ‘brilliant’ plans to revive the team and continue the heist. This is Monaco.

It’s easy to call anything fun when you have a group of friends working towards the same goal. Heck, you can achieve the same thing from a board game (except Monopoly, that ends relationships). Other than its sublime execution, Monaco is an uproarious good time because of the amount of fun that exudes from failing. Someone’s spotted by a guard or their shotgun ‘happens to go off’ and then you have 10 minutes of cat and mouse fun with a period of rest at the end, gathering your wits about you.

Super Meat Boy is another example of a game that makes failure fun.

Super Meat Boy

It’s a grueling bit of work to get through the levels. Meat physics is pretty brutal when you fail. But each failure also adds to the insane ending montage that displays all of your failing runs simultaneously with your one triumphant one. It’s such a treat to see that I find it hard to get upset at Meat Boy for his elegant suicides into razor blades. I mean, it only adds to the amazing animation I’ll be seeing when I get over this bloody hump!

Making failure fun allows these games to be as hard as they are without turning off some gamers with a weaker resolve, those who don’t like the idea of spending extra time on something that seems so futile. Super Meat Boy’s levels seem futile at times but that corner can turn and when it does, there’s a promise of glee behind it.

Another game that subtly gets this right is Nintendo Land, specifically the Mario Chase game. There, you have one to four players chasing a Mario character across a colored field, with a view of the Mario player’s face in the corner of the TV, goading the other players on. At the end of the chase, you view a replay of the wacky path that the players drew. Mario is deftly dodging everyone while some of the other players spin in circles trying to gain a bearing on where Mario lurks. Then there’s the fateful crash in the corner when the Mario player is finally caught. One team lost but the fun that was had is undeniable. I’ve lost this chase plenty of times but I couldn’t help having fun at the same time.

Then you have Surgeon Simulator 2013, a game that is unabashedly difficult where most if not all of the fun is contained within the fumbling mistakes you will make. It’s like playing Operation drunk. Here, have a gander.

Pretty damn bold and hilarious.

Making a modern game both relevant and fun is hard, it’s quite a feat actually. Then making that same game continually fun even in moments of failure is inconceivably hard.

For now, I’ll continue to marvel at how Monaco has perfected this facet of gaming. And if you haven’t tried any of the aforementioned games then do yourself a favor! You’ll see what I mean when the chaos starts, defeat is inevitable and yet you’re having a blast.