Revisiting Frustration

by Darius Kazemi on June 17, 2005

in Uncategorized

So I bought Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas back when it was first released for the PS2. I really liked it. I think it’s the best game in the series. I almost even finished it, which is amazing for a game that long. That is, I almost finished it until I got to the one mission where you have to fly a military jet. I tried 10 times to not crash the jet, but the damned thing flies completely differently than any other plane in the game. I quit in frustration, even though I was 95% of the way through the game at this point.

I hate it when games spend an awful lot of time teaching you a set of skills, and then in the interest of keeping things lively, throw challenges at you that have nothing to do with those skills. GTA is a recent example of this, but it’s happened before. I love Sly Cooper, but I hated it when I needed to complete racing missions to move on to the next area. I didn’t buy a racing game. I bought a platformer. Including an optional racing segment would be one thing–but while the platforming is brilliant, the racing is sub-par and furthermore is not the point of the game. As happened with GTA, I quit Sly in frustration.

Strangely, I came back to both Sly and GTA recently, and lo and behold, I finished both these frustrating levels without a hitch. It had been 4 months to a year since I had played either of these games, and all of a sudden I was doing well. Any theories on why this happens?


Darren Torpey June 17, 2005 at 7:42 pm

Not sure about “theories,” but I suspect if you’d just quit the first time before total frustration (in Sly) and came back in a day or two you would have been fine.

I was beaten sorely the first time or two at those races, and then it was an easy victory. You just have to figure out the very simply mechanic that gets you to win, and then you win.

I pretty much agree with you about the requirement thing, though. The ending of the game is cool, too.

Darren Torpey June 17, 2005 at 7:45 pm

Actually, I’ve wondered about a similar phenomenon for a long time.

Four years back, when I played a lot of Counter-Strike with fellow WPI’ers, I noticed that my skill level was a step function.

I’d play for several weeks and not get much better. Then, one day, I’d log in and suddenly I was noticably better. And I mean *very* noticably. Better anticipation, stronger wits, more accurate, etc.

Perhaps every now and then I play in my dreams and my mind is able to really “grok” the activity in a new way.

Or maybe not.

Craig Perko June 17, 2005 at 11:18 pm

It’s well known that your brain will suddenly ‘chunk’ the skill into a useable state if you stop practicing for a while. In particularly broad or important situations, this is often accompanied by dreams.

For example: most geeks who pick up go with any kind of fervor dream about it regularly, especially when they don’t get a chance to play, for the first few weeks or months. After that, even if they continue playing, they generally don’t dream about it much.

As Darren said, you probably would have had the same results if you had only stopped for a few days. It happens to me all the time.

Daniel Lawrence June 20, 2005 at 5:21 pm

Okay here goes some of my thoughts on this, first, I think both Darren and Craig have good points. Second, I’ve been sitting here at my desk thinking about this and I got to wondering whether the phenomena you describe as beening the result of your brain either (1) tired of plodding through fairly easy puzzles or (2) trying so hard to figure it out that it hinders proformance, thus when you return to the game it’s sort of ‘reset’ in terms of the problem at hand, therefore performs much better.

Another idea I had, that sort of led to the previous one, was what about external influence on a game players performance? I (sometimes) play better in an FPS if I’m angry. Back in high school and before, when I played Wolfenstein 3D, I can remember being quite angry and all I wanted to do was shoot nazis, many times this enhanced my stats.

What about other emotions? How do they effect the gamer? What about recursive game-emotion interaction, for lack of a better term? For example how does frustration effect proformance? What if the game causes it? Might we find ourselves in a circular situation?

Just my 2 cents.

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