I’ve recently been playing a game that’s outside my normal range of interests: The Sims 2. I played the original game for quite a while, although I found it to be quite a bit of fun, it was ultimately rather disappointing. Nothing ever really seemed to happen. It involved repeating the same actions over and over again, with no real end in sight. Sims 2 fixes this problem: you see, your Sims eventually die.
That sounds like a horrible thing, I know, and it is. Its not something that you want to happen to your Sims. There are a number of things that you can do to help keep death at bay: keeping your Sims healthy and happy can extend their life quite a bit. In the end, though, they will die. This adds more to the game than can easily be described.
Before I go into that too much, though, I need to describe another major addition to the game: the addition of life goals. In the original Sims, all Sims were pretty much the game. Oh, one may be a bit neater than another, or more active, or more social, but for the most part, their lives ran pretty much the same. You could make your Sim into pretty much anything you wanted him or her to be. No longer. With the addition of life goals, you’re now forced to be much more focused on what THEY want rather than what you want them to be.
These two goals interact with one another: there’s limited time to accomplish your Sim’s life goals, though by accomplishing them, you can make your Sim live longer. To do well in the game, you have to do what your Sim wants to do rather than what you want to do. You wanted Sally Sim to be a stay-at-home mother and take care of the kids? Well, unfortunately, Sally has a desire to be a success in the business world. You force her to stay at home, but in doing so, you’re going to make her very unhappy, and she’ll die young because of that.
This sounds like something that should majorly detract from the fun of the game. After all, you’re no longer playing the game the way that you want to play it, but the way that your Sims want you to play it. It doesn’t, though: in fact, I would say that the addition of these two features makes the game a good deal more fun. The question, then, is how this can be.
The answer, I believe, lays in the value of constraints in games. I think the possibility of failure is a necessary ingredient in a good game. Without the possibility of failure, how can you truly succeed? If ‘fun’ in a game comes from overcoming challenges, then I think there must be a risk of failure.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that every constraint is a good one for a game. I think its rather obvious that there are a lot of constraints that would make a game less fun. The question, then, is how to tell the difference between a ‘good’ constraint and a ‘bad’ one. That’s something that I don’t have an answer to yet. The only conclusion that I can come to is to not automatically reject game constraints: although it sounds strange, their existance may in fact make the game more fun.