First of all, I would like to acknowledge that I recognize the tendency of my previous Game Logs on Ratchet and Clank to reflect the game in a somewhat negative light. In truth, the game is actually of very high quality and I could tell throughout my playthrough that it was made with great care. While the game’s lack of a sense of self may have thrown me for a loop and caused me to reflect, I still found that my overall experience was positive. When the time came for me to research what has been written about Ratchet and Clank, I sought to investigate reasons behind why the game was still able to provide me with entertainment despite some of its narrative quirks.
I ended up finding the answer to this question in James Paul Gee’s piece “Learning by Design: Games as Learning Machines,” in which he reflects on how the fun nature of games can effectively teach players specific skills. Part of his investigation discusses the reasons behind why certain games are entertaining, and a previous installment of Ratchet and Clank, entitled Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando (2003), serves as one of his primary examples. Gee characterizes Ratchet and Clank as a game that is “pleasantly frustrating,” one that gives players a sense that they have the ability to overcome a game’s challenges with practice. As Gee writes, players of “pleasantly frustrating” games feel “at the outer edge of, but within, their ‘regime of competence.’ That is, these challenges feel hard, but doable. Furthermore, learners feel—and get evidence—that their effort is paying off in the sense that they can see, even when they fail, how and if they are making progress” (19). When I think back on my time playing Ratchet and Clank, I find that this sense of achievable progression served as both a source of enjoyment and the primary motivator behind why I continued to press on through the levels. In fact, I ended up playing Ratchet and Clank for double the amount of time I played Bioshock or The Walking Dead for these Game Logs, as I found myself constantly challenged by Ratchet and Clank in a way that pushed me forward. Eventually, I had to force myself put down the controller in order to take care of other work.
Gee lists Halo as an example of another game that stands in the “pleasantly frustrating” category, an assessment that I fully agree with. The original Halo is one of a my favorite games, and my ability to play through it on Legendary difficulty is one of my proudest gaming achievements. What I loved about Halo was that each level was separated into a progression of rooms, with checkpoints situated between each section. With death after death, I would come to know exactly which enemies were in the room and which actions I needed to take in order to dispatch them. Eventually, I would develop an exact routine for how to deal with a room, one that involved a series of steps that needed to be performed in a precise order (throwing a grenade at a specific angle right before meleeing an unsuspecting elite and sprinting towards a rocket launcher, for instance). Like a videogame version of Bill Murray from Groundhog Day, repeated deaths would turn me into a master of the level, and this sense of absolute expertise was incredibly satisfying when it led to victory.
While Ratchet and Clank did not give me the extreme enjoyment that Halo did, it still managed to use the pursuit of expertise as one of its primary mechanics as a “pleasantly frustrating” game. Ratchet and Clank is not a hard game, but it does offer some challenging scenarios that require multiple attempts. In these moments, like in Halo, I was forced to use death as my ally as I developed a strategy for overcoming the challenge. I think this accounts for much of the enjoyment I felt while playing Ratchet and Clank, and why I was able to look past my initial grievances and play for much longer than I had anticipated.
Gee, James Paul. “Learning by Design: Games as Learning Machines.” Interactive Educational Multimedia 8 (2010): 15-23.