Art of Failure

Have you ever failed?

For most of us, failure is something we avoid at all costs. There is a stigma that those who fail seen as bad or incompetent. Yet the truth is that failure is a natural part of any learning process. To improve in an endeavor, we have to be willing to be wrong and learn from it.

The Big Think recently reposted an updated article that showed the paradox of failure through the lens of video games. Columnist Kevin Dickinson believes that video game players enter their games knowing they are going to lose, but that’s part of the fun. Why is this so? According to the article:

Failure feels awful, so people avoid it as often as they can. Even when we fail out of sight of others, our minds try to maintain our self-image by elaborating excuses for why the failure either wasn’t our fault or was completely unavoidable (i.e., motivated reasoning).

It’s interesting then that players seek out a pastime in which they are guaranteed to fail and willingly pay the price for that failure—whether it’s another quarter, lost time, or being forced to reassess one’s skills. In his short book The Art of Failure, Juul labels this phenomenon as the paradox of failure, the clash between a player’s desire to avoid failure and their drive to seek it out.

When failing a game’s challenge, Juul notes, a player discovers a deficiency in their ability or approach. Although having little importance outside the game, these deficiencies, like all inadequacies, are unpleasant to discover. Ironically, a player is never required to explore these personal inadequacies as they relate to a skill set they would never need had they not pressed start:

Before playing a game in the Portal series, we probably did not consider the possibility that we would have problems solving the warp-based spatial puzzles that the game is based on—we had never seen such puzzles before! This is what games do: they promise us that we can repair a personal inadequacy that they produce in us in the first place.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on

What drives players to keep playing even when they struggle? The trick may be in the thrill of discovery and the challenge needed to appreciate the victory.

One reason players crave failure is that success without that possibility is tasteless. “Failure,” states Julie Muncy at Wired, “offers texture, complexity, and a chance for growth on the part of the player and character alike.” Games that can beat you are worth engaging with.

Read the full article at the Big Think website.

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