Games That Play Themselves

Take a look at your video game library. How many of those games have you completed? How many those games did you intend to complete, but abandoned because their challenges became too difficult or repetitive? How many role-playing stories have you dedicated dozens of hours to without seeing their endings?

I’ve always prided myself on completing most of the games I play. Sometimes it is a labor of love; other times it’s a labor for labor’s sake. The sense of accomplishment that comes from toppling a difficult boss is a large part of what makes video games alluring. But, even as someone who welcomes a challenge, I often find myself thinking a particular fight is ridiculous, that the design is working against the player, or that I wish there was a way to skip a particular section of a game. While I’m a poster boy for shelving my social life for a night with a boss battle, the reality is that most players do not finish the games they play.

The ultimate goal for game developers is to create an experience that blends challenge with accessibility. How this is achieved is still a wok in progress for the majority of the industry. Most developers still rely on a difficulty level system that allows players to select their skill level at the outset of play. Others implement adaptive AI that adjusts on the fly to your struggles or towering achievements. The most controversial yet highly praised innovations in this field as Bioshock’s vita-chambers and prince of Persia’s saving hand of grace. Both of these games basically wave a white flag in terms of finding a balance in between accessibility and challenge. I love both of these games, but couldn’t shake the feeling that I was cheating in both of them, as neither penalizes the player for failure.

Sucking challenge out of a game is disheartening for a player like me, but for newcomers or the skill-free, being able to complete games that would normally be outside the range of their ability must be a rewarding experience. Developers also get the gratification of knowing that the majority of players are seeing the entire game to which they dedicated years of their lives.

At this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, Shigeru Miyamoto detailed another option, one at which I immediately scoffed. In Miyamoto’s upcoming Wii title, New Super Mario Bros., players can activate a function currently dubbed “demo play”. When activated, this mode plays the game for you. It is intended to help stuck players get to the next section of the game. After giving this idea some thought, I realized this might be the white whale developers have been trying to spear since the inception of games.