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stated goals

my friend andi has been getting people to identify and tally the sources of player motivation in their games, to get a picture of how much overlap people’s games have with the mainstream (kill aliens / kill enemy army / kill criminals) and also to just observe what trends emerge. i’ve made a lot of fucking games, so i’m restricting my list to those games that appear on my selected games page, meaning the games i’m the proudest of that weren’t lawsuited out of the app store.

here are my distillations of the games’ goals, sans titles:

survive the tribulations of hormone replacement therapy
recapture your harem of rebellious slaves
escape from mars
defend the earth from alien invaders
defend the earth from alien invaders
escape a wall of moving spikes
win the heart of a queer cowgirl
prove yourself to your queen
maintain law & order at a protest
reunite a cop with his true love
dodge glitter / cover a bigot with glitter
find a penis
escape your cannibal girlfriend
convince sadistic cops to get you off
win a drinking contest with an alien
go underground
get past or push past your opponent
shoot your opponent
escape a castle of spikes
predict your opponent
help everyone to get as far as possible
make the other players stop touching the game
collect fish
catch a pig / escape a wolf

patterns? “escape from a bad situation” seems to be my baseline for game plots, a trend i seem to share with andi. which i think is kind of telling, that that should be a common theme between two queer women, or at least a more common theme than “kill x.” most of my other games seem to be about negotiating relationships, whether with another player or with a non-player character. i’m mostly happy that there seems to be a lot of diversity in my game-o-graphy, and those of other people i respect.

the motivations we give players do a lot to characterize our protagonists. they define what roles our players are allowed to inhabit. how different are the roles we’re able to provide them?


  1. Tommy wrote:

    “escape from a bad situation” does seem to be the common theme. and hey, bad situations, within the context of created worlds, are pretty darn fun to be in! as a game-player, you generally put yourself into an undesirable situation (a maze, an obstacle course, the bottom floor of a castle, a battlefield) and then you try to get yourself out of it. and if you’re the one creating the game, then you’re creating the undesirable situation yourself, even! it’s kind of like finding a hole to jump into, or even digging the hole yourself, just so you can have the fun of escaping of your own skill and determination.

    hey, maybe that’s where bondage comes from.

    11/29/2012 at 9:26 pm | permalink
  2. zaratustra wrote:

    rescue the princess
    escape the wizard’s trap
    collect elements to save the earth
    eat fish
    reach the goal (x4)
    help others reach the goal
    graduate from high school
    solve the puzzle (x11)
    do not make mistakes (x2)
    keep alive as long as possible
    figure out how to win at the game
    realize the game you are playing is pointless

    11/30/2012 at 3:21 am | permalink
  3. Sean wrote:

    I think there is a bit more overlap here than you indicate. “Kill aliens” often times stems from “Defend the Earth from alien invaders,” etc. If you’re being reductive, you can consider Invaders to be “kill aliens” and Calamity Annie to be “kill cowgirls/boys.” I do appreciate your point, though, and I do think that the games you’ve made employ a much broader scope of possible motivations than the AAA or “mainstream” indie scene involve.

    11/30/2012 at 10:33 am | permalink
  4. andi mcc wrote:

    I really, really like that these versions of the lists don’t include game titles.

    11/30/2012 at 10:33 am | permalink
  5. The same thing Sean said occurred to me as well. In some games, there is a lot of killing of enemies, but that’s not actually the goal of the game.

    Left 4 Dead, for instance, involves killing hundreds of zombies. The stated goal of the game, however, is to make it to the safe house. How many zombies you kill is inconsequential to the game; seeing your friends to the check point is.

    Which is not to say that all AAA games employ that kind of dynamic, just that killing things isn’t always the goal so much as the means to the end, which is actually a really good way to consider what the point of a game might be. WHY are you killing things? Is it for a reason other than that they simply have been declared an enemy?

    11/30/2012 at 4:17 pm | permalink
  6. matt w wrote:

    Sean/Django — I think one difference between many of those alien-killing AAA games (and AA games) is that in those games you’re going forward and seeking out aliens to kill, whereas in at least one of Anna’s games the aliens are coming at you and earth. (Which seems like it used to be the theme a lot more back on the Atari 2600, with ports like Space Invader/Defender/Missile Command, though those weren’t aliens).

    Tommy: That reminds me a lot of Bernard Suits’ definition of a game as a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. And Anna’s saying that “Game design is the construction of voluntary traps.”

    Anyhow, here’s mine. (These are all interactive fiction, most of them one-move games.)

    be a conscientious objector
    sin (or be saved)
    defeat a phone booth [an adaptation]
    contemplate your life while awaiting rescue
    contemplate your life, such as it was
    bring on the apocalypse
    be misunderstood

    (There’s also “clean up your dining room,” but that’s Emily Short’s game that I made a couple minor changes to and posted in playable form, with permission.)

    11/30/2012 at 8:34 pm | permalink
  7. Stacy wrote:

    Lessee, mine have beena bit odd:

    guide an invertibrate through a maze
    play music on alien musical instruments
    *capture landmarks and portals
    *kill them before they kill you
    rescue civilians
    sate hunger in moderation

    The * are games I wrote for the man, and the man wrote the original spec. The rest were my own.

    Some were never really finished. Some were canned by the man.

    I really fucking hate the man.

    I think it’s pretty obvious that the man was a big games studio right?

    12/1/2012 at 5:06 am | permalink
  8. nobody wrote:


    12/1/2012 at 8:11 pm | permalink
  9. The impression I always had was that it doesn’t matter so much whether the enemy is coming or going, just that they are the enemy and that’s reason enough. Which is perhaps the contention in this exercise. IF your game involves killing enemies, which is pretty unoriginal in itself, is it just killing things to kill them or is it in the service of some other goal?

    To take the question further, does the other goal affect more than the ending? To use Left 4 Dead as an example again, if at least one player makes it to the safehouse, all players will respawn alive when the map changes, but they will spawn with tier 1 weapons. Failing to defend yourself adequately leaves both your living teammates with less defense (given all means of incapacitating players, it is very easy to overwhelm a whole team, let alone one already down players) and when you return to the game, you have the least effective weapons. To the same end, there is a lot of emphasis on keeping an eye on each other, picking each other up when you fall, keeping each other in green health and sharing the resources among you. Killing wild amounts of enemies is nigh unavoidable, but it’s not the point or the thing by which you will be judged.

    By comparison, in Space Invaders, for instance, failing to kill enough space aliens, failing the stated goal of defending from them, just means the end of the game and having to restart. It is the end all and be all of the game. You are not judged by how much you managed to save, but by how much you killed.

    12/2/2012 at 8:21 am | permalink
  10. Also, I have only ever made one game, the goal of which was to lead a mime through a maze, but here are goals of games I have had ideas for.

    convince a woman not to take off her clothes
    infiltrate and topple two rival governments
    *kill the meat king and his brother
    do something about AIDS
    help your team manage the base during off hours
    defend your vacation home from mobsters

    *This is a demake of a Hitman level and not originally my idea. I just thought it’d be neat to translate it into RM2k.

    12/2/2012 at 8:29 am | permalink
  11. Porpentine wrote:

    Cloadokum: Solve a mystery by finding clues–at least for part of the game
    Funeral for a friend: Dig a grave
    STARSHIT: Find a bounty and kill them
    Wonderful Swamp Crab: Explore
    Nostrils of flesh and clay: Locate an item
    KLIT OF THE MONTH: Survive bullets shot by a giant baby
    A Place of Infinite Beauty: Climb a mountain
    BATMAN IS SCREAMING: Get out of bed and walk around
    Myriad: lol. varies wildly based on scene
    The Sky in the Room: Get drugs, have sex, sleep
    metrolith: differs from character to character but basically explorational/hunting/wandering
    howling dogs: varies wildly based on scene

    hard to pin down a running theme

    12/6/2012 at 6:05 pm | permalink
  12. Pierrec wrote:

    Now I just want to do the same! (I’m so easy influenced) :
    - Make a game.
    - Try to be good.
    - Don’t lose your cheese.
    - Remember who this guy is.
    - Go through a break-up.
    - Sleep.
    - Convince a girl that boardgames are great (ans maybe get laid).
    - Be a good teacher.

    It probably isn’t interesting for anyone, but it was fun to write, and I had to post it somewhere. Thanks.

    12/13/2012 at 1:58 pm | permalink
  13. Janus wrote:

    The implicit argument in this post is flawed and demonstrates one of the most glaring issues facing modern games design – namely, that content (window dressing) dictates player motivation.

    The “goal” of your dys4ia game wasn’t to “survive the tribulations of hormone replacement therapy”; it was to complete a set of derivative, mostly twitch-based minigames so as to “unlock” the next piece of flavour text.

    Don’t get me wrong – the actual premise was interesting, but the execution is literally ludologically indistinguishable from the “kill aliens / kill enemy army / kill criminals” videogames from which you seem to want to distance yourself.

    Player motivation is dictated by mechanics, no matter how many introspective bloggers seem to believe otherwise.

    12/13/2012 at 4:35 pm | permalink
  14. auntie wrote:

    excuse me, pierre, your “go through a break-up” game is literally ludologically indistinguishable from “kill aliens / kill enemy army / kill criminals” videogames.

    12/14/2012 at 2:22 am | permalink
  15. L wrote:

    I shall predict your next few games by mix-and-matching:

    -escape from a penis
    -defend the earth from your cannibal girlfriend
    -survive the tribulations of touching the game
    -help everyone to get a castle of spikes
    -recapture your sadistic cops with glitter
    -make the other players get you off
    -prove yourself to your harem of fish

    12/14/2012 at 8:05 am | permalink
  16. auntie wrote:

    actually janus here let me just drop a fact that’s gonna blow your mind:


    12/14/2012 at 4:36 pm | permalink
  17. matt w wrote:

    -prove yourself to your harem of fish

    Wasn’t that Fathom?

    12/14/2012 at 8:12 pm | permalink
  18. I like where L went with this.

    12/20/2012 at 12:37 pm | permalink
  19. daphny wrote:




    12/22/2012 at 5:43 pm | permalink
  20. Alex wrote:

    Technically, Chicanery is ‘push a bunch of people to finish’

    12/23/2012 at 2:19 am | permalink
  21. Ilya Zarembsky wrote:

    Would you agree that the interactor’s role in reaching these goals is often more like the reader’s role in reaching the goal of Swann’s Way than the player’s role in reaching the goal of soccer?

    5/14/2013 at 6:18 pm | permalink

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