The Discomfort Gauge

The Discomfort Gauge

I’ve often heard that the need to urinate is the primary test games writers put a game through to test how immersive/compelling it is. The theory being that if, by the time you finally stop playing the game, you’re desperately needing the toilet, then the game is rather good. This seems to override any gripes they have about the game, and even if it does quite a few things wrong, it’s a Good Game because it kept you playing when you needed the toilet. I, however, dispute this, and throw another pair of criteria on a game before I can declare it a Good Game.

While this isn’t exactly a PC Game (at least not yet), I’ve been playing Fable 2 all day. I got up at about 11am, and I’ve been playing it for a solid 7 hours. Now, I’m going to walk you through the three criteria that make up the Discomfort Gauge, but this applies to PC Games just as much as it does to those wot are played in the living room. Fallout 3 and Far Cry 2 both scored highly on the Gauge. These are the three criteria:

  • Bladder Pressure

The need to pee, obviously. This is probably the first of the Three Discomforts to be triggered, but it’s the hardest to ignore. As such, quite a few games stumble at this hurdle. They don’t fail because quite a few games have you coming back after the toilet break, so they can continue to work their way up the scale. It’s merely the desperation with which you need to relieve yourself that makes this Discomfort important.

  • The Belly Rumble

You only eat three times a day (two if you’re a student), so for this to become a factor is a bit of a Big Thing. When you feel the pangs of hunger wrack your body, you know you’ve probably been playing a game for far too long. If you ignore these pangs and carry on playing, then whatever is on the screen is something rather good. This Second Discomfort pales in comparison to the last though, although that’s rather subjective.

  • The Guilt

An amalgamation of hunger and bladder pressure, guilt is usually the last to come. It’s the niggling voice in the back of your mind that forces you to realise you’ve been playing a game for the majority of your waking hours, and you really should have done something a little more productive with your time. Wrote a novel, gone to the shops, done some research. Anything but consume yourself with a virtual world.

You’re sitting there, leg bouncing up and down to keep away a certain dampness in your trousers, your hunger rumbling like a tank and your brow furrowed with guilt and worry. By this stage, if the game you’re playing isn’t something really special, then you have a serious issue. This kind of behemoth of a session shouldn’t occur more than once with a game really, as it should scare you into rationing your time with the highly addictive software. But by golly, you’ll know that what you’re playing is something great.

So next time you’re playing some incredibly immersive RPG or some manner of soul sucking timesink of an MMO (FPS and Driving games don’t tend to follow this gauge, due to their short burst of fun repeated; it tires you out or gives you lots of little breaks so you can realise you’re about to piss yourself), and you find yourself hungry and alone, remember that it’s not all bad. You are, in fact, playing something noteworthy and, more importantly, worthy of your time. So don’t feel guilty, feel happy.

One thought on “The Discomfort Gauge

  1. So. Very. True.

    Strangely, the games most suited to this happening – leviathans such as Civilisation or Total War that draw you in like this are most suited to taking breaks – pausing the game. It’s no immersion lost. Unless you count it being similar the amount of time Gordy’ B has to spend in meetings while administering the nation.

    Funnily enough, I had this with Left 4 Dead a few days ago. We’d spent nearly two hours trying to crack the Expert mode, and around halfway through the first pangs of pressure hit. But I just couldn’t bring myself to go idle. Firstly, I might miss the final moment we reach the safe room. Secondly I didn’t trust my AI nanny to play with any degree of competance worthy of my name.

    By the end of it I pretty much sprinted downstairs to the good ol’ watercloset.

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