Power fantasy is the thing we do best in games. We excel at giving players a feeling of power over their surroundings, at letting them feel the satisfaction of starting out weak and becoming invincible, until they are the kings of the world, the rulers the universe, they have vanquished evil, saved the girl, and finally gotten to that really high ledge by exploding a rocket at their feet.
However, I think power fantasy is pretty cheap, and we need to eschew it and find better, deeper, more meaningful ways to entertain and compel players.
The New Yorker had a David Denby review of the film, Seabiscuit. As usual, Denby writes a pretty good review. But one sentence stuck with me:
When a director exploits our hard-wired responses to pathos, he fails, so to speak, a test of honor.
I think he's totally right about pathos, and it's also exactly how I feel about power fantasy in games. Every time we use it, we fail a test of honor and miss a chance to explore new emotional territory.
- Nicole Lazzaro writes about this stuff a lot. She uses the term Fiero in this context.
- Let me be more clear: I think power fantasy is a useful tool as a designer, and I enjoy experiencing it as a player, and I don't think it's going away. However, I think we already do it pretty damned well. We need to work on the other stuff, and some short-term overcorrection would not hurt...less power fantasy for a while, more exploration of other emotional tools. Let's call it Affirmative Action for Interactive Emotional Tools.
- I think it was the October, 2003 issue.