Game Reviews,  The Lazy Designer

Designing Frustration (Part 1)


I don’t know about the rest of you but I have tried multiple digital-task management solutions, from Excel to Outlook to Google Tasks and more. Currently I’m using Excel sheets again to keep track of which blog posts need writing, what projects I want to tackle next and so on. But tasks written there continually accumulate.
Beside my laptop I also have a pile of ever dwindling sticky notes. Thing is, for many tasks I still find myself jotting notes down on paper. And those tasks I accomplish!
Likewise I have hundreds of unread books stored digitally… and these I do read. But my progress through them is significantly slower than my progress through the variety of paper books and magazines I own.
I recently finished reading one of those magazines (Neo-Opsis #20). In it Karl Johanson, the editor, who also works in the game industry, commented that game designers should add “just enough frustration” to a game to keep the player playing.

Uhm… what’s your point Brent?

These three seemingly separate ideas — task management with sticky notes, reading paper versus digital books, and frustration designing — are not separate at all. Karl is right… frustration management is vital to game design just as it is vital to ‘real life’.
Basically the reason I tackle my sticky note tasks before I look at my task list in Excel is because the sticky notes are frustrating. They linger on my desk, my monitor, my wall. They take up space. They annoy me. They frustrate me. I want to tackle them so that I can crumple them up and toss them to the floor.
Likewise the books… those stacks of unread material stare at me every time I enter or leave my office. They beg to be read. I have to remember to grab the iPad and read. The books do not allow myself that luxury. Their sheer presence demands attention.
Digital reminders, books, and so on are not really frustrating (though the pop-up reminder thing that Outlook does is sort of frustrating, albeit easily circumvented). Anybody designing product for a digital environment should seriously consider that some frustrations are necessary… frustrations demand a user’s attention.

I have more to say about that but I need to finish my novel (so says a sticky note on my monitor).

While I’m preparing the second part of this series (which will go into more detail in regards to game design) please fire comments my way.

Former lead designer at BioWare (Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights). Creator of Raiders of the Serpent Sea.


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