Contemporary games are designed so the player can never lose. No matter how badly you play you can always recover or reload and keep going. It’s good design, it encourages players to explore, it avoids frustration. But not being able to fail removes some challenge. If you can’t lose, then is winning really that interesting?
I’m proud because this weekend I got my Hardcore Monk to level 60. Hardcore mode in Diablo 3 is a game you can lose. It’s permadeath; if you screw up your game is done, your character is gone, you have to start over. Most players of Diablo don’t play hardcore; in a normal game if you die you just reload. I played through the game in normal mode first myself. But hardcore is more exciting. And while I didn’t beat the hardest challenge in the game yet, I have played the guy for 45 hours without ever screwing up too badly.
The tension is amazing. For example the boss fights; once you jump into the arena with Diablo you can’t leave. One of you is going to die. But the bosses aren’t the hardest part of the game, the optional champion packs are. And there the anxiety is incredible. I see a group with something hard like molten + frozen + vortex and have to make an instant choice. Do I risk fighting them? Do I avoid them and look for easier targets?
Most of the time I engage because I’m playing for the challenge. And then sometimes things go badly and I’m running for my life, for my 45 hours invested, and those moments of fear and excitement are some of the most visceral experiences I’ve had playing a game in years. Since playing Eve Online, really.
So I’m loving hardcore Diablo. It helps that I’m winning, I imagine I’m going to be pretty angry when I finally screw up. I’m not a very good loser.