Question of the Week: Most Punishing, But Fun?

In the latest episode (107b), we talk about the way that games punish players for certain behaviors, what kinds of behaviors are punished, and what exactly punishment is in the context of a game. No one would say they like being punished, and that’s basically the point: it’s not enjoyable, and it’s meant to steer you away from doing certain things in games

For the most part, punishments are meant to split your attention. You have certain things in the game you are trying to accomplish, towards which you need to put resources. In some games, that’s specific in-game resources like “food” or money that must be spent on upkeep, in others it’s just a more vague sense of time and effort. It’s loss that you must account for or avoid, because loss is visceral in a way that gain is not, even if it is mathematically equivalent. It’s more important to avoid losing points in Agricola for not feeding your family than it would be if it were simply extra points for making sure you did.

Avoiding punishments, figuring out how to split your resources to either get ahead of the loss or avoid it altogether, is a fun element of many games. And last week, I asked if you prefer to have games where you need to avoid punishment, or if it was more fun to not have that worry. I prefer it, because the extra tension is enjoyable, and for me, overcoming tension is a major part of what I enjoy in games in general. But this week, I’m curious about more specific examples!

What is the most punishing game you have played that you enjoyed? Why was it good?

Because for me, there is an upper limit, even as I enjoy punishing games. It was an essential and enjoyable part of getting “good” in Through the Ages to avoid the pitfalls of the economy and not get punished, but the problems you face in The Capitals and Food Chain Magnate are so brutal that they are games I have a hard time recommending to everyone. The setbacks for failure in Dark Souls and Transistor are fairly significant, and they can be more frustrating than fun, and in the case of the latter, were enough to put me off from the cool mechanics.

We spent a lot of time talking about what makes things kinds of mechanisms in games important and enjoyable, despite the counterintuitive nature of “wanting” penalties and costs in games. But I want to hear from you, because of how counterintuitive it is: send us an email to let us know what punishing games you’ve enjoyed, and we can talk about them on the show!

Whatever you want to tell us, email us at We’ll respond and discuss, I promise!

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