Managing Editor for Choice of Games, LLC
Rebecca Slitt is an editor and partner at Choice of Games, LLC, and the author of the interactive novels Psy High and First Year Demons. She has also contributed to the tabletop games Timewatch RPG, Noirlandia, and Geist; and is the author of the forthcoming Dark College Years. Before joining Choice of Games, she was a professor of medieval history, specializing in the aristocratic and military culture of twelfth-century England. She has presented on game design and interactive fiction at Worldcon, Arisia, the Villanova University Popular Culture Series, and the International Medieval Congress on Medieval Studies.
Failing Forward: How to Find Fun in Failure
For a story to have meaningful stakes, the protagonist needs to fail. Indeed, the best stories can come from overcoming failure to fight towards a final victory. Would Return of the Jedi be quite so satisfying if it didn’t follow the end of The Empire Strikes Back, when all seemed to be lost?
It’s easy to build this kind of structure into a book or a movie, but what about an interactive narrative medium such as a videogame? First, you can’t necessarily predict when the player will fail, or at what task. Second, if the player fails too much, they become discouraged, unhappy, and disengaged from the story – but if the player never fails, the game is boring: the stakes don’t feel real, and victory doesn’t feel satisfying. Third, failure can sometimes stall the story: if the only outcome of failure is “try again,” then the player can get stuck in a loop.
As a creator of text-only interactive fiction, Choice of Games has made “failing forward” one of its core design principles. Even if the player fails at an individual task, the story must keep moving forward; even if the player has a horrible failure overall, there must still be something awesome about that failure. In my presentation, I will examine some techniques of narrative and mechanics that can help maintain narrative momentum and player satisfaction through failure, such as multi-layered success, multiple goals, success-with-complications, and more.