My Favorite Thing In Games? Fucking Up


#1

"We've got all day man. Nine days is an eternity." Seven episodes into our playthrough of XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, Waypoint's Rob Zacny was still reminding me to be patient. We had 10 turns to sneak through an alien-occupied city, break into a detention facility, and bust out a VIP, a scientist who could aid to our resistance effort. And he wasn't wrong, exactly. We did have all the time in the world then.

But as sure as clocks tick, your plans in tactical RPGs fall apart. Seconds later, a poorly placed movement order would send one of my soldiers jumping through a glass window, alarming every nearby alien patrol. The timing on it is honestly impeccable, just watch:

And of course, it didn't get much better from there. As things got worse, we had to come up with more cunning plans: demolishing walls to create quicker escape vectors, grappling onto high ground to up our shot percentages, keeping the medic well protected in the back. Again and again, these plans failed. Those moments are where XCOM 2: War of the Chosen shined brightest. (By the way: You can watch the whole stream right here, and if you aren't caught up on the series, it's archived over on YouTube!)

Failure being fun isn't exclusive to the XCOM games. They're not even the only games that do it particularly well. So much of what makes Sea of Thieves work well in a group setting is how the desire for hijinks inevitably leads to disaster; its just way more interesting to put out fires in that game than for things to run smoothly. It's also what I came to love about Helldivers years ago, a game that led me to think through failure as a power fantasy:

There is, though, also this other kind of power fantasy. A fantasy of failure, which, like the fantasy of success, has many sub-species. Some of these are just success dressed up in another name: We want to fail forward, to find another path into new, more interesting content. Or we want our failure to mean something in the long run, as in Rogue Legacy, where individual failures still add up into long term improvement. We argue on forums about game balance because, listen, we don’t mind losing to our rivals—in fact, there’s something romantic about that—but we want to lose fairly.

But there is, more quietly (and, I think, more fundamentally) a fantasy of actual failure that attracts us to games. Wanting to safely fail is not such an absurd desire to have: It’s also part of why many of us want strong relationships with friends or family, or better health care coverage, or a stable, secure income. When we have those safety nets in place we can take risks and be creative, and we can live through loss when it eventually comes. But many of us do not have those things, or if we do, might still feel like we can’t ever let ourselves fail. And so: Games. Play.

And lord, I wrote that three years ago. The world around us feels less stable than ever. Which maybe explains why I am so sincerely loving the ways in which games let me fail safely today, especially those that explore failure in novel and powerful ways like Getting Over It, Into the Breach, and They Are Billions.

As we speak, I'm getting ready to play more Sea of Thieves with friends. I cannot wait for everything to go totally wrong.

Do you have a "favorite" moment of failure in games? Or do you just wanna talk about failure in general? Swing by today's open thread on the forums and add your voice!


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/j5ap7g/my-favorite-thing-in-games-fucking-up

#2

So XCOM, BotW, Into the Breach, and Sea of thieves all tap into the joy in failure incredibly well! But the game to really help me understand failure as fun was the original Lego Star Wars.

I think it is a great gateway to teaching fun failure in games as the consequence for mistakes is often very little. When my brother and I played it together, I think it was one of the first times we started laughing at each other’s and our own mistakes. A whiffed jump here, an accidental beatdown of your brother there, since the consequence was so small and often the spectacle so silly it made every fuck up all the funnier.


#3

The one that immediately comes to mind. God, that game is so good.

(also this one, from the same stream, I think)


#4

This is probably my favourite feature of good tabletop roleplaying games. They make failure interesting, more than just “I miss, pass turn”.


#5

Things Going Wrong is my favourite genre of co-op multiplayer.

It’s what kept me going with PUBG for as long as I did and I think it’s what will keep me going for a while with Sea of Thieves, too.

I love how it feels to have a plan fall apart and to try and fail (or sometimes even succeed) at salvaging it.

All of my favourite PUBG moments come from some unexpected mess up causing a chain of events that spiral out of our control.

But it has to be approached with the right attitude. There’s a sweet spot somewhere between taking a game too seriously and not taking it seriously enough. If you’re only down to goof, the goofs wear thin. But if you’re down to try to win, but willing to take the kinds of risks and make the kinds of decisions which will allow goofs to emerge naturally, magic happens, and that escalating feeling of ‘NOW what??’ creates memories.


#6

This is really funny and weird, because I recently watching Austin, Keith, and Jack on StreamFriends play Far Cry 2(I guess my mind just went to it because of the newest one coming out)

And literally one episode is called “I love it when a plan falls apart” after Austin saying that in relation to how they would spend hours to plan an attack for it to then go out the window in the first minute.

Anyway, I think my favorite failures are just when a game breaks down and you have to roll with whatever you get? It’s not necessarily even your fault, but you’re dead, and still laughing your ass off. An example being the “Flying Dutchman” style stuff in Sea of Thieves, where ships go catapulting into the sky for basically no reason.

Or the time I came back to PUBG after months, played without seeing a soul and got super geared up… but died because my character had a heart attacked climbing a box.


#7

My son has really taken to LittleBigPlanet 3 lately, and outside of maybe the final level which is a bit too long, screw ups in that game are silly and adorable. My partner said she likes playing it because even though it’s a real-time game, she doesn’t feel bad when things go wrong; it’s funny. I think the fact that the physics are at times unpredictable and therefore I screw up pretty frequently helps take the edge off for her, too.

I also love the end of every single Mount Your Friends match. Knowing the pressure is on and trying to go for an ambitious fling, then slowly falling all the way down as a room full of people cries “noooooooooo.” It’s the best. I think I enjoy getting second place as much as I do first.


#8

One of my favorite gaming memories ever was one particularly harrowing battle of Total War Shogun 2 that happened because I wasn’t paying attention when I was moving my armies.
My Daimyo (the leader of my faction) was marching to the front line after he picked up 480 new No-Dachi Samurai (meaning they have a massive charge bonus but lower overall stats.) On the enemy turn, a full army that had been in ambush stance just ahead of me attacked my army and I almost rage quit the game but decided I could probably get a cool screenshot or two out of it.

It was my Daimyo, his 39 elite body guards and 480 samurai versus about 1600 soldiers.

Fortunately, the AI in Shogun 2 doesn’t like putting too many katana samurai in an army and most of the 1600 soldiers were spearmen, who have a big disadvantage against my samurai. I put my troops on top of a hill and let the AI come to me and right as they started the climb I ordered everyone to charge down the hill and attack.
That charge bonus I mentioned earlier meant my samurai were making short work of the spearmen but in Total War, casualties aren’t as important as morale and leadership. So I sent my Daimyo to 1v1 the enemy general while my samurai cut through a sea of enemies.

The enemy armies morale shattered after their general was killed by my Daimyo and the whole army routed. I was in complete disbelief.

I lost about 200 of my samurai but inflicted about 650 losses to the other army. I used my real army to smash that enemy the next turn and eventually won that campaign but I’m so glad that I fucked up and left my Daimyo out of position because otherwise I wouldn’t have played my favorite battle ever.


#9

It was a while ago so I don’t remember all of the specific details, but the game with the most rewarding failures was Phantom Pain.

The amount of dumb bullshit that game allows you to do when things go wrong is just incredible. It’s one of the only stealth games where I don’t immediately hit the restart button, because the act of redeeming my fuck ups is so rewarding.

My favorite failures in that game are the dominoes where one error leads to an over correction that causes another failure until you’re desperately spinning as many plates as possible.

One of my favorite screw ups that I remember specifically was an early mission to blow up a tank or APC in a convoy. I knew their route, and wanted to be stealthy, so I put D-Horse in the middle of the road and lined where I figured the tank would stop with explosives. The plan goes off perfectly, they all stop for my horse who remains steadfast and the fireworks begin. Problem is, I misjudged and I only manage to blow up the first truck in the convoy, leaving everyone on alert. The AI freaks out though, and it can’t figure out a way past the ruined truck and my horse, so they just kind of jitter back and forth a little without actually moving. I carefully crawl my way to the tank, angling to be just out of the line of sight for the other trucks. I attach my remaining explosives and back away slowly until I’m around the other side of a cliff. I blow the tank, and sprint to the nearest extraction point, watching D-Horse suddenly fulton in the horizon as my chopper takes off.


#10

Hitman (2016), definitely. Just the other day my partner and I were messing around in Sapienza, just trying to take some good pictures (side note: I have been spoiled on good photo modes and now want one in every game). This process made for several hilarious fuck ups as npcs were constantly getting in the way. Our favorite moment involved trying to sneak into the restricted area in the church to find a good location. After knocking out one npc who was in my way I began to drag his body, only for another npc to walk in, see me, and shout “You sick piece of shit!”. We couldn’t stop laughing as I frantically tried to contain the situation. Anyway, we got some good pics before I was gunned down.


#11

Yeah, I just had a good game of Stellaris go bad on me quickly. I was progressing nicely, winning a few wars, creating a federation and expanding into unclaimed space. The game started me right beside the galactic center on a 4 spiral galaxy map. The area became crowded quickly and I was boxed in on all sides by 5 AIs. One of them was like me (I was playing a robotic race) and we formed a federation. 3 of the other neighbors hated me from the outset and we fought a few wars with me winning the last one.
It was not long after the latest war where it goes all to hell. The 3 AIs who hated me declared war on me in 3 separate wars. Then the sent the marauders in… Initially, I was holding my own against the AI but when the marauders attacked, I didn’t give them enough attention, thinking yeah yeah go ahead kill a few systems and move one. Nope! Right in the middle of a few key battles, the marauders looted my credits stash. I had 5000 credits at the time but was running a deficit of 50 credits a month. So that raid caused some massive penalties to be applied to my fleets, thus causing them to lose the battles… when allowed the AI to claim the systems they wanted in the war. I lost half of my empire just like that. My federation partner was wiped out and I never managed to reclaim the lost systems. Lesson learned!!! LOL


#12

This piece made me think about playing CS:GO with my friends. I’ve been playing GO and Source with a group of near lifelong friends since middle school. They all went varying degrees of pro in Source while I wanted to play other games. They’re way better than I am, although far from where they were when they had the time to dedicate to the game.

I’ll have a lot of moments where I’m the last one alive and my lack of knowledge or familiarity leads me to make “wrong” decisions constantly. Of course, they’re yelling at me, each other and to the universe in Discord the entire time. But that’s when the game is it’s most fun, when the rigid strategy and tactics break down and you have to improvise within fractions of a second or risk losing the round. That’s my space.

Some of my favorite gaming memories exist within that space. Like the time I ran out of ammo in a comically drawn out fight, one that had my opponent and I ducking in between a set of closely grouped pillars in some bizarre game of chicken that only occurred because I had missed countless chances to end the fight. If you’ve ever seen the UC Gundam series, you might remember that Newtype characters get a sort of twinge that alerts them to an incoming enemy’s intention. I had a feeling resembling that and felt compelled to toss my gun away and go with my knife. Rather than attempt to get to a more advantageous location and push the odds in my favor, I just felt like he told me where he would be and I was going to aggressively meet him there, damn the odds.

It was the wrong call and they let me know it. I was right. It was one of the strangest and most exhilarating moments that I or my former pro friends had seen in the game. What made it special was that it could only happen because I play “badly”


#13

Haha, it’s funny you mention that. I explicitly mention “failing forward” in the linked Helldivers piece, and was at the time going through my first real love affair with the concept!

@BBAlpert Classics, honestly.

@KestrelPi I honestly don’t know how I didn’t bring up PUBG. It’s such a great game for this sort of thing. It’s also partly why I’ve bounced off of Fortnite so far. Even in matches I’m performing well in, I’m never tense enough to care that I fail. (Also, I’ve yet to fail in a particularly interesting way there).


#14

I really liked that a lot of the side quests in The Witcher played with the notion of failure. Like, there are several that have a conclusion regardless of what you do, but there’s a worse ending and a good ending, and the worse ending will probably have continuing consequences. One of my favorite side quests ever in this game is like that and it blew me away at the time.


#15

Natalie’s Bloodborne stream inspired my wife to start playing, and I’ve been realizing just how brilliant the Soulsborne games, and bloodborne is specific, are at turning extrinsic motivation intrinsic.

The “pick up your souls / blood echoes” mechanic seems to reward you for caution and not dying, but – inevitably a player will get themselves into a situation where they have a ton of souls and … want to push it a little. And inevitably they die.

If the player lost everything when they died, players would become too afraid to experiment. However, the chance to recover lost souls gets the player to practice the skill they might otherwise avoid, but this time paying more attention – synthesizing the experience of the first time.

And it goes one level deeper than that. Because, ultimately, the only thing that soulsbornes are actually punishing is caring about the numbers more than your own sense of accomplishment.


#16

I had to learn to love failure in games. Growing up playing a lot of immersive sims such as the original Deus Ex, I was always searching for that perfect run through a level. Guard sees me, reload, miss a shot, reload, quest doesn’t finish as expected, reload. I brought this quest for max/min, perfect play into other games as well. It got to a point where I would read walkthroughs prior to starting games to make sure I wasn’t going miss anything or mess anything up.

As I got older and more time poor I really stopped enjoying games. Playing this way became a chore and I’d spend more time crafting the perfect character/run than actually playing. What got me to embrace failure was taking ownership of my play. Rather than playing how the people of the internet had determined was the optimal way, I now play my way. I don’t care that I got the bad ending, that is my ending!


#17

The thing about failure in MMOs is either you go big or you go home, because in Warcraft, that meant you were potentially failing with 9/24 or in my case 39 other people. This is way back in the days of BIG BIG BIG 40-person raids, and we were in Molten Core. My then-friend (who would eventually become my boyfriend) had shitty internet, much like all of us back then in 2005, 6. We’re crossing a particularly fraught bridge that connects two sections of the big dungeon thick with trash mobs. On one side of the pass is lava that would kill you, the other side is overlooking a big boss encounter room with a giant rock boss. My boyfriend lags the hell out and goes sailing into…the boss. But he shouts, “oh I died, it’s fine.” But I guess one of our healers healed him before he went to his death and guess what…

The boss cry goes out, the aggro snaps onto all of US. ON THE BRIDGE. ROOMS AWAY.

We think nothing of the boss cry until there’s the boss, his friends, and every other single mob inbetween him and us that he hit along the way. We all promptly wiped extremely ceremoniously.

It was worth it because I think all of us promptly lost our shit and died laughing.

Second place is when I was put on main tank decursing duty when I had at least 3 Tequila Sunrises that night and guess who did not decurse the main tank.


#18

Rogue-likes are full of fucking up moments, but honestly, my favorite ones that happen almost consistently are where I play and Abyssal Knight in Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup and say to myself ‘Oh, I can wander this area with high level monsters and pick up some easy loot before I leave’, and inevitably run into a monster with a huge casting range that murders me instantly. And then I just do it again, every single time, because I refuse to learn from mistakes.

Huge fuck-up moments in FFXIV are also honestly really good, especially when you’re healing and watching someone else fuck up. There’s a boss in the latest 24-man raid, The Royal City of Rabanastre, that attacks the entire north or south half of the arena randomly. This is basically an instant kill for any player, unless you’re a tank (b/c huge amounts of HP), or a healer or Bard who’s seriously prepared to hit their cleanse button, because it applies a DoT that will absolutely kill you if the attack doesn’t do the job. Watching someone live through it only to die immediately after is like watching it in slow motion every time.

This is to say nothing of the entire Dragoon job, which is one of the few classes that get fucked by their animation lock nearly every time. FFXIV registers where your character is each time the server ‘ticks’, which is typically every 2-2.5 seconds iirc. Dragoons have a lot of attacks that cause them to jump into the air, which means that they’re sometimes registered at the origin of their jump even though they’re at the end of it, which leads to them absolutely eating shit when they try to use a jump attack while dodging an AOE, because the ability is instant, but because of the ‘tick’ they can also be registered wrongly and just… die. Just absolutely eat it. I’m leveling DRG and I’m looking forward to it honestly.

The new job they added, Red Mage, has a similar problem but not really. RDM relies on it’s gap closer and it’s back-jump to execute it’s main DPS combo, because both do damage and it’s extra DPS. This is funny as hell, because there are multiple fights in the game (Titan, Ravana, Sophia, Alt Roite Savage, Doomtrain Savage) that just don’t have railings, so if I’m not paying attention, I can just hit my back-jump and whoops right off the fucking edge. And Titan and Ravana don’t have ways to Raise people who die this way, so you’re just sitting at the bottom on a bunch of rocks because the fall damage just kills you.

Another excellent fight to fuck up in is Cruise Chaser, because it has a sort of faux quick time mechanic where, if you don’t interact with an object before a certain timer is up, you just end up running around on the arena as the boss destroys it and you fall to your death.

Lotta falling to your death in this game. Lotta fallin’.


#19

I think the forum mafia game was absolutely wonderful because it went so terribly terribly wrong so incredibly quickly.


#20

I would beg to differ.