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Attention without Engagement

One of my pet peeves is when games require attention without providing true engagement. Usually this is through rote actions that require no skill or decision-making and might be entertaining or novel once but must be completed over and over again. It’s a very clear way for a game to show that it doesn’t respect the player’s time, which is one of the fastest ways for a game to lose my interest.

Some games seem to be built around these kinds of interactions. Pokémon Go turned out not to be a good game to play while walking the dog because the Pokémon encounters and PokéStop visits required too much attention despite having no real depth to them. Similarly, Pokémon Quest requires you to sit through its expeditions without providing much control over them.

I assume that what’s going on here is that difference audience segments have different complexity thresholds for gameplay to be engaging. For a kid, maybe the semi-interactive Pokémon Quest expeditions are entertaining. For people who want to take frequent breaks while walking, maybe Pokémon Go makes more sense. These games might not be bad, they might just be not for me, and that’s fine.

What puzzles me more is when this shows up in a game where most of the gameplay is more engaging. It feels similar to the endgame polish problem where testing just doesn’t uncover how tedious a particular repeated action becomes over extended play. Interface friction often falls into this - for example, buying fortune cookies or updating your Dream Town in Animal Crossing: New Leaf are things you’re encouraged to do on a daily basis but have several slow and unecessary steps that get really old when you’re doing them every day. I feel like when designing repeatable interactions in games, it’s important to ask, “How will the player feel about this after doing it a hundred times?”