In a power fantasy, you’re not getting better, the game’s making itself easier

An Animal Crossing character stands on Redd’s boat

Here’s a newsflash, courtesy of PBS. In most video games, you’re not getting better more than they’re making themselves easier for you to play.

That’s the latest topic for PBS’ Game/Show and host Jamin Warren, who delves into the power fantasy underpinning just about every video game genre there is — yep, sports included (if you’re talking about career modes). The leveling-up mechanism seems to have overtaken gaming; nearly every one of them starts you with nothing and then builds you into something formidable and superhuman.

Warren points out that as bland as leveling-up has become to players, it’s also a problem for designers, because powerful toys and attributes need some kind of balance elsewhere in the game. Of course, there are games that shake this trope and try something different (notably the roguelike genre, as Warren points out) but it’s not just indies that are pushing outside of the comfort zone. Wolfenstein, he says, is a story about losing a war and a game that remains true to that. The Last of Us also steps away from the becoming-all-powerful progression.

For more from PBS Game/Show, see its discussion of the importance of food, the influence of avatars on our behavior, and unrealistic body dimensions.

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