We often talk of video games as being “fun,” but this is a mistake. When we play video games, our facial expressions are only occasionally those of of happiness, instead we frown and grimace when fail to achieve our goals. This is the paradox of failure: why do we play video games even though they make us unhappy?
In video games, as in tragic works of art, literature, theater, and cinema, it seems that we want to experience unpleasantness even if we also dislike it. Yet failure in a game is unique in that when we fail in a game, it means that we (not a character) are in some way inadequate, and games then motivate us to play more, in order to escape that inadequacy.
In this talk, based on his new book The Art of Failure, Jesper Juul will argue that the paradox of failure pervades games on many levels: in game design, in sports coaching, in strategy guides, in taunting, in the prejudices against sore losers. The issue of failure is also central to recurring controversies of what games can, or should be about: what does it mean to cause terrible events to happen in a fictional game world? Games, then are the Art of Failure: the singular art form that sets us up for failure and allows us to experience it and experiment with it.
Jesper Juul is an assistant professor at the New York University Game Center and a visiting assistant professor at Comparative Media Studies. He has been working with the development of video game theory since the late 1990’s. His publications include Half-Real on video game theory, and A Casual Revolution on how puzzle games, music games, and the Nintendo Wii brought video games to a new audience. He maintains the blog The Ludologist on “game research and other important things”.