Masocore Games

Anna Anthropy, the writer of Auntie Pixelante, has written an interesting post about Masocore games: games that screw with the conventions of video games and the expectations of the player.

trees full of apples. unassuming, you stride under one, and an apple falls from the tree and crushes you, sending you back to the start of the screen. you approach again, this time cautiously poking your nose out under the tree in an attempt to goad the apple into falling before you pass. you don’t jump back in time, you get crushed. this time it works, and you begin carefully making your way across a screen full of apple trees. some apples only fall in pairs, and you have to dodge between the two. sometimes you can jump at an apple to spook it into falling early. about halfway across, you notice an apple low enough you can jump over it. tired of the tedious apple-teasing, you graciously accept the respite of an apple you won’t have to dodge mid-fall. you jump over the apple, and the apple falls up and kills you. the apple falls up and kills you.

Very interesting. I am noticing a stronger tendency to play with the medium’s conventions, but I don’t know if that is because I am paying more attention to indie games these days or because there are more indie games or people actually are playing more the medium’s conventions… or all three. Yes, I know people have been doing this for a while – I am talking about a perceived increase. In any case, I think it’s a good thing.

Comments 12

  1. Stitched wrote:

    In the example above, that sounds tedious as all hell. How many times does the player have to “die” to figure out all the patterns? It takes all of the sins of platform games and places them all in a single, frustrating, example.

    Posted 13 Aug 2008 at 2:11
  2. Jurie wrote:

    That’s what the fun is. I wouldn’t play it for hours, but I would appreciate it for minutes.

    YES. ME. Despite my famously low frustration threshold.

    (Just thinking about that invisible brick in the impossible Mario vid cracks me up.)

    Posted 13 Aug 2008 at 2:16
  3. Jurie wrote:

    I remember Rick Dangerous being like this… and I enjoyed it.

    Posted 13 Aug 2008 at 2:26
  4. abeck99 wrote:

    It’s odd because over the last five years, popular games have tended to become “Nintendoized” – that is more like Zelda in their easiness. Perhaps there’s a reaction in the hard-core gamer set to make games impossible again.

    Posted 13 Aug 2008 at 8:34
  5. Chadius wrote:

    This example is from I Wanna Be The Guy. It is INTENTIONALLY designed to be platform hell. Its tricks and traps are so over the top it loops and becomes a beautiful parody of platformers in general.

    Basically it’s like a “So bad it’s good” movie. But for videogames.

    Posted 13 Aug 2008 at 8:41
  6. abeck99 wrote:

    never mind– thats exactly what the article said

    Posted 13 Aug 2008 at 8:42
  7. Jurie wrote:

    Andy, that is certainly a sentiment I see a lot when trawling indie blogs. E.g. You Have To Burn The Rope ( ) which some people see as a slap in the face almost, but which presumably reacts to the standard tricks games use (some of which Zelda pioneered) to ease players into the game.

    Posted 13 Aug 2008 at 9:40
  8. fluffy wrote:

    Interesting that people use Zelda as an example of games which are hand-holdy and easy, considering that the original is really damn difficult if you aren’t using a walkthrough. It doesn’t give you any indication of where to go or what to do, you just have to DO it.

    Of course the second one used more hints and affordances to guide you in the right direction (although there’s still a whole lot of front-loaded difficulty, e.g. getting the lantern). It wasn’t until the third one that it basically says “Go here now!” and even then I’d say the difficulty stayed pretty decently ramped-up until Ocarina which was the first truly “easy” one (where it suddenly switched to a very cinematic feel).

    Posted 13 Aug 2008 at 10:08
  9. abeck99 wrote:

    It’s kind of like the evolution of Zelda mirrors the evolution of the industry in general. They intentionally tried to become more and more like the movies of the future: Movies but with interaction. Recent Zelda games are do something simple, watch a video, go where told, watch a video, fight a visually impressive but simple boss, etc.
    It’s boiling down to one of the essences of video games: the flashing light rewards, the fireworks display of computer effects after winning. I like all the zelda games, but they aren’t rewarding to play, but rewarding to watch.

    Posted 13 Aug 2008 at 16:51
  10. Jurie wrote:

    @fluffy: I personally have never played the first two Zeldas, so I wouldn’t know. Link To The Past, which I think is the third one, is one of my favorite games of all times though.

    Most people, when they say ‘Zelda’, probably mean Ocarina of Time and later, since that game seems to have been particularly popular. Not with me: I never managed to play it through, and I tried two or three times. Every time I’d get stuck in the earth dungeon. No idea why, maybe the camera… I loved Wind Waker though.

    Posted 14 Aug 2008 at 0:20
  11. Mark wrote:

    From the point of view of puzzles, it’s natural that the puzzle-makers must keep ahead of the puzzle-solvers. What might in one sense be thought of as ‘convention’ is in another sense the always-advancing line between these two forces. Crossword puzzles use advances/changes in language to keep one step ahead because the ‘rules’ are entirely codified. (Although you can find all kinds of variants as well: diagramless, etc.) But the most interesting aspect of this kind of pitched battle is that both sides agree to it. The puzzle-makers like it because it’s interesting to try to stay one step ahead, and the puzzle-solvers like it because it’s fun trying to keep up.

    Posted 21 Aug 2008 at 17:24
  12. QcChopper wrote:

    I would add a game to the Masocore genre. It’s called Trials 2 SE, this game is bound to get under your skin and is really one of the most fun games I ever played. Oh the first levels are pretty straight forward and not too hard but wait, it get fiendishly, deviously, redonkulously hard! If you are a Masocore gamer, you owe it to yourself to try this game out, it’s really cheap and has a free demo.

    Posted 30 Jul 2009 at 15:01

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