Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ninja Warrior

So, this isn't a videogame, but it is a game. Twice a year, the Tokyo Broadcasting System runs an obstacle course called "Sasuke." 100 people compete to finish a four-stage obstacle course that tests the competitors' strength and speed.

There are a lot of reasons that Ninja Warrior is so appealing - obviously, watching people do extraordinary things is often interesting. And if that's all there was, Ninja Warrior would still be quality TV. Still, there's more to it than that. There's almost no prize money given out. The prize for winning the contest - finishing the fourth stage, is only $17,000 dollars (or thereabouts, in yen), and over ten years of the competition, only two people have ever completed it.

So, the competitors aren't just in it for the money. They're in it because of the challenge. But there's more to it than that. Here's the thing that I think makes it really appealing: Everyone can win.

Now, let's be clear - that's not "Everyone deserves to win." That, I think, would be the sentiment in the States - that everyone deserves to win. They'd make the obstacle course reasonable. A course that no one completes in eight years of attempts would be intolerable to US TV audiences. But everyone *can* win. One person winning doesn't exclude anyone else from *also* winning. The competition is solely with yourself, and the clock. The only competition with others is to see who can do it first.

To that degree, I'm sure the competition is quite fierce. In the US, you'd have the top ten all trash talking each other, spouting how they're the best, and no one else can match their skills, blah blah blah. Here, the top competitors share a common interest, and have a camaraderie that is really refreshing to watch. They share each other's joy and agony, as they all work toward a common goal. They aren't keeping their competition down, they're cheering them on.

There's something in this, I think, that can be learned by game designers. It feels like there's a link to the concept of "biasing toward success," that I talked about in an earlier post - that Nintendo, by allowing even new players to succeed, has made the Wii appealing to a broad audience. I'm not sure what the link *is,* exactly, but it feels like there's something there. That developers can make multiplayer experiences that are social, buoyant, collaborative, and still be challenging and fun without fostering hostile competition.

1 comment:

ei-nyung said...

Again, I bring up Rock Band in the same vein. The spirit of wanting everyone to succeed, of being a team, of not having someone else's success be your own downfall is something that makes this completely appealing. People at different levels can play together, and no one is disparaged for sucking and "making" the team lose.