The Best Way to Ruin a Good Game


The most insidious thing a game can do to me is throw down a meaningless, goalpost-moving challenge. A challenge like Forza 7's "Rivals" mode, which is a series of head-to-head time trials in which you try to beat other drivers' lap times around an empty track. By its very nature, you can never really finish it. Each time you cross the finish line with a faster lap than your target time, a notification flashes that you are now racing against a new lap time, from someone else.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at


Maybe its hard-wiring from playing lots of mobile game with “stamina”, but I’ve become a bit obsessed with efficiency in games where time is limited.

My white whale is probably Persona 5. I cannot rest until I’ve grinded past the average level of a player on any given day. To see just how efficient I can get I will occasionally spend days on the same day, grinding endlessly in a palace or mementos. Sometimes this will result in me getting too cocky or too careless, and I’ll end up dying and losing valuable progress only to immediately start up again.

…Still haven’t beaten the game, in case you were wondering.


THis reminds me of the most recent Game Maker’s Toolkit where Mark Brown talks about how to design games to stop this sort of behavior. What struck me was one of the designers of Civilizations say that player will “optimize the fun out of games.” Which is something I’ve done in Civilization V. Civ has a victory state and constructing the Wonders that are necessary for those victories can be stopped by an undiscovered Civ starting it two turns earlier than you did. The game is also not perfectly balanced so certain civics, technologies, wonders, and even whole civilizations can be ignored if you want to win. The more I played the more I save scummed to get great starting locations, reading guides for research order, and constantly going back to autosaves when I messed up. And because the higher difficulties simply give your opponents bigger and bigger material advantages the game encourages you to play in this ideal way. There are whole systems and cool mechanics that I barely engage with because they aren’t very useful when you play to win. And so I’ve stopped playing Civ V, a game I love, because I optimized the fun out.


I can usually resist the siren song of the get-to-100% collectathon, but for some reason I felt compelled to find every shard in Dragon Age: Inquisition, long after I’d lost interest in the game and just wanted to be done with it. It exacerbated the game’s already hinky pacing issues.

My wife does the thing Rob describes with Call of Duty – she will beat her head against a section of gameplay again and again because she wants to do it in a way the designers clearly didn’t intend. She often finds bizarre fail states because she’s suddenly in a portion of the level the game didn’t expect her to be in.


I think that’s a big problem with Firaxis games where the highest difficulties tend to push the player to play in a way that is at odds with the enjoyment of the game. I’d much rather play Civ at a standard or easy difficulty so I have the space to explore non-optimal research or build order. Same goes for XCOM.


The writer wrote an article with a pretty similar topic not too long ago–in-game report cards and the temptation to master everything that is brought by them–and now it seems like they’re trying to find other people who are great at poisoning their own game experiences (the phrase they used in that other article for what this desire to chase the unattainable does).

Would it be a little better to talk about why we do this than bemoan our doing of it over and over again? Like, if you’re barely enjoying it, or some part of you that you struggle with is the only part enjoying it, learn to put it down? You’re going to have a lot more time for games you actually enjoy, which–and maybe people won’t agree–is what they’re for.

I have made a great effort this year to cut down my playing of games or systems in games I don’t engage with. If a mechanic or challenge is introduced that I know I’m going to have some guaranteed loathing for–even if I earnestly want to see the rest of the game–I have to put it down, for my own health, and go on to something I can fully love.

Let me know if I’m off-base here.


My post is about to get into some massive spoilers for Nier: Automata so please don’t read this if you don’t want to see that. Also note that this didn’t actually ruin the game for me so much as cement one of the most memorable emotional moments I’ve ever had with probably any piece of media, it’s just that reading the original post (specifically the part about COD1) reminded me a lot of how I felt getting there.

So you remember the part in Nier: Automata where you smile at the screen and think “oh, just like Undertale” during the credit sequence? And then, about an hour and a half later when you’re stressed out and frustrated because you just can’t seem to actually beat it? And all the reaffirming and consoling messages that at first kept you going much longer than you would have otherwise start to feel like they’re turning on you, even after they’ve begun to offer to “rescue” you? That fear and apprehension of accepting their help after remembering what happened in Nier 1 when you showed hesitance in your choice during it’s ending sequence? The “no, I can make it alone, I can do this by myself, I can do this by myself, I can do this b- fuck I died again, I can do this by myself, I can d-GODDAMMIT, I can do this by myself, I can-” and so on and so forth because you don’t trust anything in this game at that moment enough to truly believe that “rescue” means what you think they want you to think it means.

Or maybe that was just me…

But in that final moment of fear, desperation and sleep deprivation, up way too late in a dark room in an empty house, as I felt like I was giving up, I gave in and wincingly accepted help from a complete stranger. And as I hope you have already experienced about this beautiful, beautiful little moment, as the ships of all those people rooting you on fly in and rally around you, not just multiplying your firepower but becoming a literal barrier between you and the seemingly insurmountable difficulty of destroying (the names of) the people who made this game possible, my lack of skill that was laid very clear to me during the previous 90 minutes of my life is still present.

Maybe it was the perfect storm of all that anxiety, frustration and what not I had built up leading to that moment of relief, knowing now that the game was completely sincere in allowing their offers to help. Which is then shortly followed by the first time you get hit. When you first see it. The name of that person who’s help you finally accepted reappears on screen once more. Down there in the corner. Unceremoniously. Their data has been lost. And then you are hit again. Another name appears. Their data has been lost. Every time you are hit. And I got hit a lot. No. Wait. That’s not right. They got hit. A lot.

It feels embarrassing to talk about how much I cried in that moment, every time I lost someones data, my intense desire to not lose more of them the only thing holding me together, but there was something weirdly intimate about seeing all those names flash on screen, knowing they may or may not have gone through a similar experience to reach where I myself now was. I think about it a lot. I’ll probably continue to think about it a lot.

I… don’t really know how to end this lol, apologies if this is all long and rambly and also sorta maybe off topic? I just understood immediately what Rob was talking about with getting too obsessed with doing things the difficult way in a game for no real reason other than proving it to myself. Which reminded me of this one time I decided not to.

Also also apologies if all the blur is hecka annoying, I just wanted to play it safe and not risk spoiling a really cool part from a really cool game I really liked for anyone who hasn’t had a chance to get around to it yet… unless you’re a mod who has to check to make sure this isn’t a bad post in which case I’m so very, very sorry you had to read this if you haven’t had a chance to play it yet ;-;

But to everyone else who read this of their own volition: thanks nwn


Right now doing the last achievement for Tooth and Tail. Been doing it for three days straight. Funny thing is, it’s the kind of fun that I might keep doing even after I’ll get it.


It’s why I’ve turned towards Paradox’s stuff for my grand strategy fix. Since the sandbox is so open ended you can create your own goals. And since there are fewer zero-sum mechanics like wonders you can coexist with other major power in ways that are impossible in Civilizations.

@2Mello I hated the scoring in the first Dishonored. The game set itself apart from other stealth games by giving you a ton of tools that keep the action going once things go wrong and then actively discourages you from doing anything but perfect no-kill stealth runs through the end of level scores and the Chaos system. I was able to ignore them and played it as a swashbuckling simulator. I would stealth until I got caught and then shoot, swordfight, possess rats, and teleport my way out of danger.


Seems like TrackMania would be your thing, Rob.


Can it really be called “optimization” when it is unfun and does not actually advance the player toward the victory state, as seems to be the case for some of these experiences?

I suppose, to answer my own question, it would still be optimizing outputs from some subsystem of the game, even if it’s decidedly non-optimal in every other respect. Reminds me of the Sunless Sea thing where players got hung up on Make A Lot Of Money By Trading Stuff.


2016’s Hitman.

I played all the other games in the franchise, carefully poking and prodding my way into a Silent Assassin in every single level, but the latest game was different. The mastery level and the objectives were always there, taunting to me to do more. Silent Assassin was no longer enough, that was simply the tip of the iceberg. Once I had solved the puzzle enough to get my SASO, I was left with a huge toy box and 15 additional levels of mastery. That wouldn’t be so bad as lots of them can be churned out, but once I hit the embassy level I came to a screeching halt. So many of the objectives for mastery require you to traverse the whole level and then just wait, so I dropped it and haven’t come back.


Every six months to a year, I download and crack open Dwarf Fortress, lovingly generate a world using some third party tools, find a terrifying, reanimating, evil glacier, and send seven dwarves to their frozen undead doom.

I got on a good roll once, a few years back. Recent tries have just descended into horror within the first year, as undead ice wolves tear the limbs off my axedwarves while they flail around on a frozen-piss-and-blood-slush-covered ice shelf.

Good times!


Had a similar experience just last week where I got stubbornly fixated on an unintended solution in Breath of the Wild, though in my case I tried the intended solution first (I don’t blame anyone if you don’t want to read this long and very dumb anecdote):

I was playing Zelda while my roommates watched, and got horribly stuck trying to get the chest in the Mirro Shaz Shrine. You’re supposed to use Stasis to launch a ball over a fence, over some water, and into a bowl, but you have to both aim at exactly the right angle, and use exactly enough power, and I couldn’t do it, no matter how many times I tried, and my roommates couldn’t manage it either. We tried everything: launching the ball from a different spot, hitting it a different number of times with different weapons, but we just couldn’t get it, and broke several weapons in the process. Then, on one attempt, I accidentally hit the ball into a pillar and it bounced back and landed just inside the fence, where I could see it but couldn’t get to it. My roommates and I decided we were so fed up with trying to do things properly, we’d rather try and get over the fence and take the ball to the right spot ourselves. After some experimenting, we stacked two bombs, jumped over the stack, and detonated them so that the explosion would push us over the fence. Unfortunately, in the process we pushed the ball off the thin ledge it was on and into the water, so we couldn’t pick it up or even push it while swimming. Instead, we bombed the ball repeatedly to nudge it toward the goal (using Cryonis to create pillars to throw the bombs from). There was a ramp we were hoping to use, but it turned out that the ramp doesn’t extend all the way to the bottom of the water, and we got the ball stuck under the ramp. Even after dropping one of our swords and using Magnesis on it to push the ball back out (which took forever because the ball is super heavy and barely moved) we thought we were screwed since we couldn’t use the ramp, but we discovered a platform just behind the bowl and bombed the ball over to it. The platform was slightly submerged, so allowing us to stand just barely out of reach of the ball. We still couldn’t pick it up, but we could launch it in a shallow arc with Stasis, just enough for it to briefly leave the water. So, we launched it, then right as it emerged from the water we formed an ice pillar under it with Cryonis. From there, we just had to climb the pillar, and toss the ball into the bowl to “solve” the puzzle. This whole thing took about an hour, it was so dumb and horrible, and the reward in the chest was not at all worth the trouble.


Perfect stealth runs in games which have stealth mechanics, but don’t at all require you to engage with them. Give me a quick-load and a densely-populated route, and I will be twisting my controller in half in no ti - er, specifically, over the course of the next four hours.

I think there’s value in self-reflection when it’s something as simple and relatively harmless as playing a game wrong. When I walk, sometimes I’ll move my foot so it doesn’t land on a geometric line. I don’t know why I do it, I just do it, and sometimes taking note of the mere fact of these kinds of behaviors is interesting in and of itself. We could all meditate this kind of shit away, but we’re not perfect, and we find satisfaction in our little manias. I think that’s a more relatable (and realistic) article than “How I Stopped Making Dumb Mistakes”.


I will ruin stealth games for myself every time

I also made myself hate Grand Turismo by pointlessly trying to get all-golds on the S license.


Hone your skills the way you want.
You don’t have to be the best, just b good and b good at it.


Rob’s specific example of Rivals mode in Forza Motorsport 7 speaks to me as it’s a mode where I’ve lost countless hours. I don’t have his self-loathing and I find that worth exploring.

I’m very much into driving games and driving sims. I’ve got the “simdad” wheel, pedals, and shifter situation going on. So for me, learning to tame one car, on one track, over and over is not wasting time. It’s iteration. It’s practice. I can get lost in it. This is something I’d do more often in real life if I could afford to.

The Forza Motorsport series has also been about options. There are hundreds of cars, dozens of tracks, and enough events to make 100%ing each game an actual job. In my mind, focusing on my favorite cars and dumping the majority of my time in Rivals rather than the increasingly arbitrarily designed Career mode is playing the game right.

So many titles offer vast open worlds, extremely deep RPG systems, and tons of customization. The way I can ruin most any game these days is to obsess over seeing and experiencing everything. So I’ve stopped doing that. I get the joy I want out of a game and walk away when it’s time. My Steam list of shame is no longer a list of shame. It’s just a catalog of experiences. It’s a catalog of enough.

There’s an entire game here, and I’m not playing it.

Rob, you’re on the correct path.


I’m not sure how much my story counts since it was more of an accident, but…

I nearly ruined my first playthrough of the original Mirror’s Edge. There’s a challenging achievement called “Test of Faith” where you just need to complete the campaign without killing an enemy with a gun. This is simple. Simply perform disarm maneuvers on each enemy and throw their gun away when you’ve got it. Punch them to death if needed.

However, I misread the challenge as never touch a gun throughout the entire campaign. Don’t disarm enemies. I beat Mirror’s Edge without ever disarming an enemy.

In practice, it meant that a bunch of levels boiled down as tests of endurance, especially a server room level in the late game where there are about a dozen armed guards that you must eliminate to proceed. Also, one of those guards has a machine gun. After much frustration, I devised a perfect route where I could punch every single guard to death and come out alive. I can’t remember how many attempts it took me but it felt like hours. As soon as the achievement popped up with its description, my sense of accomplishment and elation quickly turned to pained regret.


I finished XCOM Unemy Unknown on iron man mode and on classic difficulty separately, but never together. I lost hundreds of hours and dozens of saves across three platforms trying to complete the game with both difficulties, until I had to walk away from the game and never come back. I bought Enemy Within, but never really played outside of competitive mode with a friend, and I still don’t want to play XCOM 2, because of my past failures.