Forced Failure

In a game, a forced failure is a situation where, no matter what the player does, he or she will fail at his or her current goal. Forced failures can often be frustrating to players, especially so when they spend time trying again and again to avoid their fate.

Examples

  • In Final Fantasy VII, the characters are sent to retrieve the Black Materia and keep it out of the hands of Sephiroth. No matter what the player tries to do, the characters ultimately hand it over to their enemy.
  • In Metal Gear Solid, the character, Solid Snake, is ordered to stop the activation of the Metal Gear. Snake must input a sequence of codes that will toggle the activation of the weapon, and these codes will only work once. The player has no choice(other than ceasing play) to do anything other than get Snake to enter the codes. When he enters the codes, however, Metal Gear is toggled to activation instead of deactivation.
  • In Deus Ex, in most cases a game with a fair amount of player expression, there comes a point in the game where the character must evade being captured. The first several such capture attempts can be successfully avoided, but ultimately, escape is impossible, despite any player's best efforts.

If It's So Bad, Why Do Designers Use It?

With almost every game, no matter how much freedom of expression the player has on a small scale, the overall narrative is controlled by the game developers. Sometimes, to tell the story the developers want to tell, they must resort to a forced failure situation. Each of the examples above causes dramatic changes in the story.

If a forced failure situation must be included in a game, it is better for the player to not feel like something different could have been done about it. Players who play console RPGs are used to not having control over the story. In the examples from Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid, players probably don't think that the outcome could have been different. The example from Deus Ex is a bit more of a problem, because players in that game are used to having alternate solutions and intentionality, and it is unexpected when they don't have those options.

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