Can Gameplay Ever Be Pointless?

No, no it cannot.

I am currently enrolled in a game design course taught by industry veteran Jesse Schell. Our last assignment required us to build a game of any type. The only stipulation that when the game is turned it, it will be great. In true Aaron Albert fashion, I decided to try and make a game that is pointless. Unfortunately, that is impossible. In the following, I will discuss my game This Game is Pointless, it’s so-called pointlessness, and the design evolved as a result of the attempted pointlessness.

This Game is Not Pointless

In This Game is Pointless players are thrust into a strange pixel world of silly characters and not much else. The player move around the map, talk to characters, and attempt to figure out a goal within the game. The game evolved from simply talking to characters, to adding a couple puzzles and an endstate. Talking to the characters gives the player some direction on what to do. Eventually, the player discovers a talking sword. Along with the sword is a glowing pylon. This pylon tells you to go to each other pylon in a specific order. Once that order has been established, the player can retrieve the sword. Sword in hand, the player may kill one of two characters: Hitler or the Zombie. Killing either will end the game.

Crafting Pointlessness

What is the point of a game? In early iterations of the game, there was no specific goal for the player to resolve. Yet, the point of a game is decided by the player, not the game. Players might seek challenge and enjoy overcoming obstacles and achieving a goal. Some players want competition and like to win over others. People play games to experience a wide variety of different emotions. The point of a game can be any of these things. So even if a game doesn’t seem to have a defined goal, it still can’t be pointless. Pointlessness, therefore, comes not from the game, but from the lack of it. In early playtests, after players finished talking to each of the characters, they searched for an additional goal, an additional reason to keep playing the game. Due to that reason not existing, the player would stop. This is when the game became pointless, when the player stopped interacting with the world. Pointlessness did not come from the game itself, but from the player’s desires. From these playtests, I decided that the game itself could not be pointless. If I wanted to make a pointless game, it would be impossible. Thus, the game itself cannot be pointless, but the end desire of the player. The goal of the game became to give players the odd feeling of…

Satisfactory Pointlessness

This is the desired player state after the experience. They are unsure about what they just played, confused perhaps, but sure that the overall experience was probably pointless. Yet, they aren’t frustrated. While the experience served no obvious purpose, it left them feeling at least somewhat satisfactory with their decision to engage with it (therefore it has a purpose, yes I know). To hit this emotion I added the more “gamey” features: the pylon puzzle, retrieving the sword, and killing a character. These elements gave players a goal, and were able to make them feel accomplished for completing something. Further, the games obvious end goal is killing Hitler, which everyone seems to enjoy. Overall, I failed at making a pointless game. Mostly because it was impossible. However, I’m still happy the emotional end result delivered by the experience.


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