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What you are really designing against is boredom. Somewhere along the path to writing that book or composing that song or staging that production, they have all had that thought. It might have been a twinging type of thought, ephemeral, just barely there and then gone. A thought not fully considered. Never rolled around the mind and tasted like rich liquor. The foremost design challenge is boredom.
This song has 4 verses rather than 5. The chorus repeats 6 times.
This play runs 1.5 hours not 2.
This movie is 128 minutes long instead of 115 or 132.
This chapter reads around 17 minutes long. This one 45. It includes the word “Floppily”
All tightly constructed, all timed and tuned and set to a metronome. Usually this tuning is done intuitively, often attributed to the influence of muses and artistic sprites. Make no mistake, designing against boredom is precise as surgery.
Maybe it is the infancy of the medium that is to blame, or the influence of large teams all pulling and stretching the design till it barely holds. Games have a boredom problem. Arguably the most exciting, engaging, visceral artform created by humans, and yet, most are deeply boring for long intervals. It’s the interactivity. It is very difficult to time and tune an experience when the jackass experiencing it is in control of the pacing. You can design the game, but you can’t design the player. If the player thinks that they need to walk everywhere in the world you have created, and they think that walking everywhere is boring, you won’t be in their home to point out that they are standing next to a horse. It won’t matter. They will be bored and quit your game, and maybe leave a bad Steam review. So instead, say that you attach a giant neon sign to the horse reading “Press x to ride horse”. If they player is somehow able to miss this sign horse combo, you have the horse make a lazy pass through the players field of view every minute or so. Some players, occasionally even the ones that would have missed the horse outright, will feel patronized and offended that the sign is there, leading rapidly to boredom and the same poor Steam review.
How then, to ensure that players don’t become bored while playing, or become bored while you try to explain to them how to not be bored while playing. I honestly wish I knew. I have narrowed the problem space down for you considerably though. Any design task, any edit, any refinement, should only ever have to answer the question, is this boring. More to the point, would someone else find this boring.

BOO! (you know, to combat the boredom)

This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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