Discussing games earlier today -as Auriea and I often end up doing, even to the point where we run out of gas on the highway- we became aware of a difference between computer games and other games that we hadn’t noticed before. It’s related to the fact that most non-computer games tend to require multiple players, while computer games allow you to play on your own.
It’s hard to believe that despite of all the potential that interactive technologies offer, the most prevalent structure in games is the binary one: you win or you lose. And much like the computer’s binary system, it is a false duality because the couple simply consists of a single possibility and its negation, a one and a zero. As a result, for all the talk about meaningful choices, most games only lead to a single outcome: winning.
Because you can’t really lose a computer game.
At least not the typical linear sort that is still the bulk of the offer.
There is only one way to end such a game. And it’s by winning. Or only one way of winning and it’s ending it. If you fail to win a level, you cannot progress in the game. If you stop playing after this, you haven’t really lost. You just gave up mid-way.
In games we play without computers, you generally lose when somebody else wins. This concludes the game. You have really lost. The virtual opponents in computer games cannot replace actual players because they tend to be part of the story, and as such not on the same level as the player.
This diffference does not necessarily make computer games inferior, but it’s another illustration of the fact that many game designers are trying hard to deny: that computer games are an entirely new form of entertainment only vaguely (and probably temporarily) related to traditional games.