Why are video games difficult
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Fritz, born in 1944, teaches play and interaction pedagogy at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences in the Faculty of Applied Social Sciences. He is head of the research focus "Effect of virtual worlds".
Power, domination and control fascinate and motivateAll games are about the experience of power - also on the computer. We gain control over the game and ourselves or imagine ourselves in powerful roles.
introductionAll games are about winning, achieving a given goal or otherwise proving yourself. Computer games are no exception, but thanks to technology they are more complex and diversified. Three games prototypical for certain offers are presented and described in detail, as well as the attitudes, attitudes and motifs they are aimed at.
In order to be able to play at all, a player has to develop skills, summarized here in so-called functional circles: The sensorimotor skills grant control over movements, secure action routines, etc. In addition, an assignment of meaning takes place, which establishes the connection between the game and the cultural framework - quasi a metaphorization of the game. Finally, the rule competence allows the player to control his own game, to see through it and ultimately to grasp the principles of the game and to understand the functioning of entire genres. These are the prerequisites. The players' motivation and energy are represented in the so-called dynamic functional circle.
Quotations from interviews with young people make vividly what drives young players in particular, what they find fun in, what frustrates them and how they deal with experiences from play and self-awareness. Age- and gender-specific differences become apparent - boys in particular are at risk of falling into the frustration-aggression spiral - but the behavior on the screen is very similar. It becomes clear: For players, 'control' means not only control over the course of the game, but also control over themselves
The final look at the production facilities for computer games shows that very similar structures and behaviors in dealing with technology and games can be found here as among the players.
Games about power and powerlessnessAll competitive games, from sports games to games of skill and circle games to board games, are also about the power and powerlessness of the players: Do I have the power to score a goal?  Do I have to watch the ball pass out in the basket ?
Your own abilities become significant in relation to this power: Are my abilities or those of my team sufficient to "make" the game? Or are the skills so inadequate in comparison to those of the other players that we have to face our defeat "impotently" in the face of the "powerful" game of our opponents? Can we bundle and coordinate skills and forces in such a way that we can "do" something with them? From this "doing" then possibly grows the "power" with which we can decide the game. Or do we prove to be "powerless" against the "playmakers" of the opposing team in what we "do"?
The language already signals it: In the game there is a struggle with an opponent who uses all his power to win. The charm and excitement of these games lies in the fact that it is not yet clear before the game starts who will win, i.e. who will prove to be more powerful. The game's actions are attempts to influence the balance of power, to change it in his favor.
Power and powerlessness in play have direct correspondences in the lives of all people. Everyone will experience situations of power and powerlessness and have developed the realization that these experiences have something to do with the fact that the other person has (or has used) more (or less) power than oneself. What "power" ultimately "is" powerful "" does "depends on many factors: own abilities and strengths, situational conditions, mutual expectations and many other things. The aspect of power determines more or less all human relationships, be it with other people, with objects or with nature.
The survival of the individual human being and of humanity in general depends on whether one's own power, i. H. the abilities and forces that have an effect on the environment are sufficient to ensure that they remain in this world. In competitive play, this aspect of the "game of life" is developed and staged. Winning and losing decide on the right to stay: Which team will survive? Which can maintain their place in the league? Which goes up, which goes down?
Feelings of insufficient power are part of everyone's life: not being powerful enough over the power of the other; powerless to submit to the power of another; Having to develop strategies to be able to evade the power of the other party; to be armed against the evolving power of another.
And this is exactly where computer games come in. They offer a wide range of leeway in which power develops on different levels and on different topics and has to assert itself against opposing power. Using three typical examples, we will show which offers are made to deal with virtual power and what significance these offers can have for the expectations of the players.
Turrican II as a metaphor for life
Powerfully armed: The shooter games demonstrate the weapon potential of the virtual worlds with great effect in terms of image and sound. Equipped with these weapons, the player fights for his right to stay in the virtual world. Whether the player can survive depends on the appropriate use of the powerful weapons. We now want to introduce one of the very successful games of this kind: "Turrican II". 
The protagonist of this game is a combat robot. With the help of this electronic proxy, the player moves running, jumping and, above all, shooting around through a futuristic world. He has to climb mountains, fight his way through grottos, overcome waterfalls, cross bridges and much more. Everywhere it is teeming with enemies: other robots in different shapes, plants, insects, monsters, fighting fish. This has to be done powerfully.
Because of the diversity and danger of the threats, extra weapons are indispensable. The player can only master the game and control the course of the game if he is well equipped. Fired on by groovy music and intoxicated by the effectiveness of his powerful weapons, a futuristic world unfolds step by step. Attention, the power to concentrate and the ability to act are required in order to survive the next few minutes.
Skill and reactivity alone are not enough. The player must also carefully observe the surroundings and perceive even the smallest details - despite the enormous tension -, find out their meaning and make them usable for progress in the game. So there are z. B. small icons that, when clicked, effectively complement the player's arsenal and in this way effect a powerful upgrade. The ability to orientate oneself spatially in this virtual world is also required in order to master the game.
The staging of the game (graphics, sound, animation, variety) is completely successful and well adapted to male adolescents. But what was staged? So what is Turrican II about? With his powerfully upgraded character, the player in the virtual world experiences an ever-present and continuously increasing threat. The newcomer is initially quite powerless towards this. Failure in this world seems inevitable.
Only the right attitude to the game and a powerful equipment offer the chance to no longer be without power. As a highly armed machine man, the player defends himself against the various threats, shows himself in his power, increases it through permanent training and then sweeps through the landscape as in Turrican and does everything that seems threatening - on and on, towards a distant goal: the full development of this virtual world.
Throughout the game, the player is under the pressure to do or to be done - until after many attempts he is physically and mentally done himself. In the course of the game he acquires a specific power to deal with, which ensures his survival in the game. As the player develops his agency, the game unfolds and gradually reveals its virtual world.
The development of the virtual world is necessarily linked to the actions of the player. His person, his feelings, associations, memories, experiences, patterns of action, wishes and dreams flow into the game through this action. The virtual world comes alive when the player fills it with life: his life and his lifetime. Only when the player relates what is happening on the screen to himself, a story emerges from the offer of a virtual world, which can develop within the limits and possibilities of a specific virtual world.
In order for the player to use his life and his lifetime so that a story emerges in the virtual world, something in this story must be meaningful for the player, i.e. it must point to something that is outside of what is happening on the screen. The game Turrican offers the player a foil for powerful action in dangerous environments. The game itself is a metaphor for our real world as it appears and is experienced by many young people of a certain age: full of dangers, burdens, threats and restrictions and thus full of obstacles to the desire to advance in life.
On the metaphorical level, the game offers comprehensible and d. H. Action-relevant possible solutions: You have to take the diverse tasks into account and complete them. It is important to develop your own strengths and abilities, to strengthen them and to learn to see through certain situations in order to be able to react appropriately to them. Turrican offers the young player infinitely repeatable probation situations in which he can equip himself powerfully for the struggle for life. In the end, in the place of powerlessness in front of the many dangers in the world, there is the feeling of having so much power that one can accept the challenges, cope with things to do and move forward on the "path of life". In this respect, the game can become a self-medication against the feeling of not meeting the demands of life because the power is insufficient to fulfill them.
Escaped the abyss
Hardly anyone is spared feelings in the course of their lives, to stand in front of an abyss, to be moved in a stream of life that carries you away without you being able to do anything about it. Lemmings is about these feelings of powerlessness and about playful ways of turning this powerlessness into powerful playful behavior.
They are probably known to every computer gamer (and in the meantime have almost been forgotten again): the lemmings, bustling little creatures who run around undeterred. In doing so, they face a variety of dangers that they cannot avert on their own initiative. Fortunately, there is the clever computer gamer who keeps a watchful eye on his lemmings. He has to see to it that the little creatures reach the goal unmolested. How does he do that? He thinks about which way the lemmings could go to their goal, which obstacles stand in the way and how they can be removed.
And this is where the special charm of the game begins: Normally, every lemming is a "walker", a pedestrian with no special skills, someone who just walks and turns around when he comes across an obstacle. Depending on the level of play, the player is free to transform some of his lemmings into specialists: z. B. in a climber, a parachutist, a digger (each for vertical, horizontal and diagonal holes), a blocker and a bridge builder. With the help of these specialists, the player can design the lemmings' trail so that most of them can safely get to their destination. It is important to assign the right trait to the right lemming at the right time if the lemmings' excursion should not end in fiasco.
The first scenarios are still quite simple (for a little older) and help to get to know the options for action in the game. Mistakes do not necessarily and immediately have a decisive effect on the game. The demands on the player are not that high, the possibilities of failure are lower. However, this changes pretty soon. Then not only the right strategy will be decisive, but also the precise timing. The player has to find out which game action is absolutely necessary at which point in time in order to fulfill the game task. This may sometimes require sacrificing individual lemmings, i. H. to blow up to clear the way for the following lemmings.
The game Lemmings had turned out to be one of the hits of 1991, so that the sequel game hit the market right on time at the beginning of 1992: Oh, NO! More lemmings. What is the special attraction of this game?
Without question, Lemmings is a very well done game. The graphics and sound are good, you can orientate yourself on the screen and quickly understand the gameplay. The playful challenges increase quite slowly and thus offer good opportunities for all age groups to continuously develop their own skills. The game idea of supporting lemmings on their way to their goal is basically quite simple and easy to understand. The diverse possibilities that are contained in this game idea are delightful and that appear new and invigorating again and again through very different labyrinths and thought efforts.
The well-coordinated game requirements are particularly attractive for both younger and older players. Lemmings offers a very successful mixture of skill, tactics, reaction and combination. The players have to think through which route the lemmings can take, which specialist traits are necessary when and for which characters, and when the traits need to be changed. The players in the more difficult levels are faced with the problem that they can only appoint specialists to a limited extent. Nevertheless, you have to bring a predetermined number of lemmings to the finish. This is associated with intense thought-provoking efforts.
But not only that: the player has to implement his ideas quickly and often very precisely. He must also be able to reschedule at short notice, e.g. B. was not skillful or fast enough, and spontaneously develop other possibilities. Creativity in the development of solutions, forward thinking, experimental behavior and the ability to learn according to the pattern of trial and error are required. In addition, the player is under time pressure at higher levels and has to cope with this stressful load.
The attraction of the game, which children and adolescents can hardly avoid, is also related to the fact that they can find themselves in it with their specific wishes, ideas and experiences. Lemmings is quite a complex offering with a wide range of connection options. The funny animated characters build on the experiences of children and young people with funny cartoons. Not unlike many of these films, Lemmings also stages situations in which the little ones are powerless and have to strive to gain power.
At the beginning of the game, the player is passed out in front of the blind course of events. He is confronted with a process that seems to have defeated his own possibilities of intervention: the lemmings run and run ... and steer towards their abyss. Now, however, the player has power; he just has to recognize it and make appropriate use of it. Power accrues to him because
- he acquires knowledge of the various specialists and their effects;
- he learns to coordinate these specialists;
- he anticipates what happens during which game actions;
- he thinks foresight, i.e. tries to grasp what has to happen in which order;
- he learns from mistakes, tries out new ideas and develops patterns of action for the world of the lemmings.
In Lemmings the player trains his agency. He is given the power to direct the lemmings and the obligation to take responsibility for their fate.It is not for nothing that some players at Lemmings feel reminded of their role as an older sibling, who has to take care of younger siblings, take on limited responsibility and exercise control.
Lemmings is the staged myth that people can direct their fate through thought and skill, and that it is therefore necessary to develop certain skills and use them purposefully. A network of references, reciprocal references and life experiences from different areas can be assigned to this basic pattern of the game. Whether at home, at school or at work: Everywhere you are confronted with powerful situations in which you have to show that you have acquired agency. Powerlessness always arises when one is left without the power to act appropriately: when doing maths as well as when repairing a burst pipe or checking a workflow.
View from the General Hill
Power and powerlessness are dominant factors in military conflicts. Wherever blood flows, it ultimately turns out who has power and who has to endure the power of the other impotent. Battles are not fought when it is clear among those involved who has decisive power and who does not. If this is undecided, however, a battle ensues in which each participant uses his power and tests whether it is sufficient to overcome the power of the opponent or not.
In the role of a commander you become a power carrier who can decide the life and death of people and groups of people. It is not the extent and abundance of power that fascinates about this role, but the effect of this power on other people.
While the power of a top manager can bring about billions in entrepreneurial decisions and at best have an indirect effect on people, the order of a general to attack hundreds and thousands of people has an immediate fatal effect. It should not go unmentioned that this order to attack is basically only an execution of power, does not directly stem from one's own abundance of power, but is only part of the state's power structure. In other words, the general does not decide about war and peace; he only carries out what has already been decided. His craftsmanship gives the state weight, effectiveness and thus power, to the extent that the state can provide the tools of war.
As a rule, one is not confronted with this interweaving of the power structures of a state when one engages in the computer simulation of a battle. The game Gettysburg is an example of a whole series of similar games in which the players can get to know and try out the techniques and procedures of the execution of power based on historical battles.  It is in their hands to change history: "... with Gettysburg you can rewrite history." And that is a form of power: "The power to change American history".
How does the simulation player wield his power? He chooses the role of one of the two commanding generals of this important battle for the American Civil War. With written orders to his corps commanders, he tries to win the battle for himself and to force the opposing army, which is led by the computer or a human teammate, to retreat. To do this, he must know the various commands and know something about their effects within the battle simulation.
The very extensive manual familiarizes the player with military-historical and military tactical features of this time and thus provides assistance in growing into the role of an army commander. The player can follow the effects of his orders from the general hill or - if he wants - from any point on the battlefield and adjust flexibly to the development of the battle. He can also have his corps commanders send him reports of the battle.
Compared to the very lively and action-packed computer games, Gettysburg seems rather boring: Everything goes very slowly, changes only occur every 30 minutes. There are no moving figures that can be directly influenced, as in Turrican II. The playful action is not action-direct, but strategic-indirect. The player does not give orders directly using the joystick, but uses certain language formulas for his commands, such as: B. "Hancock defend Little Round Top" or "Long Street order your infantry to attack Big Round Top". It is in his skill to give the right orders at the right time, to correctly assess what is happening on the battlefield and to develop an appropriate strategy.
The game doesn’t look much graphically either. The battlefield and military units look very schematic. The coloring is only used for orientation and identification. The game is very far from the graphic naturalism of many new video games. Apart from a moderately successful soundtrack at the beginning of the game and the cracking of cannons (if you want to hear them), Gettysburg has nothing going on in terms of sound. Anyone who thinks that the game is going quickly - because of this economical equipment - will quickly feel wrong. Even on the fastest computers, it often takes ages for the computer to calculate and graphically implement everything for the next move.
Despite all these limitations, the game exerts an enormous power of fascination (especially on young adults), for which at first glance it is difficult to find sufficiently convincing reasons. Certainly Gettysburg is about power, about the power to direct the members of an army in such a way that this army (and with it you yourself) turns out to be more powerful than your opponent. While Lemmings was about showing an army of bustling, unrealistic beings on the right path, Gettyburg is about human armies that refer to specific historical events.
As with Lemmings, so also with Gettysburg: There are specialists who can take on certain tasks. In a battle the specialists are z. B. Artillery, infantry, cavalry. An important difference between the two games is that the specialists at Lemmings work like a "screwdriver": their effect can be precisely specified and calculated. Quite different with Gettysburg: It is not certain in advance whether a certain team of specialists will do a great job. Much is lost in the complex and indefinable.
This also extends to the issuing of orders: whether an order will arrive on time, whether it will be carried out appropriately and whether it will achieve the intended effect is not certain in advance. Rather, it is beyond the power of the commander - at least in part. Although it remains vague and indeterminate, with some experience one can estimate how which commands will arrive and how they will probably work. This cannot be said with absolute certainty.
Why is that? The player has to get involved with an interactively connected counterpart. Its possible behavior must be taken into account appropriately when making your own moves: What could my opponent do? What options did I have then? This compulsion to consider interactions contributes significantly to the stimulus to play and makes it necessary to determine goals, provide resources and resources, assess effects and above all: to remain flexible, because sometimes things turn out differently than you think. For some players, dealing with vagueness, complexity and unpredictability and the need to get a grip on something is an appealing challenge.
With "Gettysburg" it seems to be less important to prove to be a powerful adult who can change history through playful action. The player feels very quickly reminded of the limits of his real power in the game. It is uncertain whether his orders will have the intended effect. It is even uncertain whether the sub-commanders actually carry out these commands or simply ignore them.
Gettysburg is truly not a game for uninhibited power. Rather, it is a game that reflects to young adults something of what has a certain recognition value on an intrapsychic level. Army corps and divisions, artillery, cavalry and infantry are metaphors for one's own forces, abilities, achievements and options for action. These own potentials encounter resistance during their development and expansion, are impaired, diminish, rub against other forces, wear out, stagnate or retreat.
Just think of a young adult who wants to achieve certain things with the limited resources available to him in terms of strength, time and money: at work, in his partnership, in his leisure activities, in his circle of friends. He must now set priorities: In certain areas he can be effective and "expand", other areas cost a lot of strength and consume his life energy without success or changes being associated with it. Still other aspects of the life situation make it necessary to withdraw and thin out the contact. Through experiences more wise, the young adult will very soon recognize the need to build up reserves and not to exhaust himself completely.
The balancing of one's own strengths, the setting of goals and priorities, the correct assessment of one's own possibilities and limits, the correct assessment of obstacles, conflicts and impairments are skills that are important both in the lives of young people and at Gettysburg.
In other words: The simulation of this battle reflects social forces, historical contexts and behavioral habits of people as well as the player's efforts to advance and balance his own identity development. The fact that Gettysburg projects the player's life orientations onto a battle of the American Civil War and shows them with the help of the simulation creates a tremendous fascination for the player.
It's not about a battle, but about the player himself. By accepting this "concession" of the game, he fills the battle with life and turns it into the battle of his life. He enlivens the game because he lets himself be animated by it and begins to live his life in it - a life that is based on the principles of power and powerlessness.
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