Marrymore is a town in Super Mario RPG where toad couples go to get married. Apparently it is the only place in the Mushroom Kingdom where fungal weddings can take place, a downside to the fact that rpg worlds require each town to have one single “hook”. Not high enough level to make it past the monster-haunted sewers and forests? Sorry, I’m afraid you have to live in sin.
Anyways, Marrymore has a special inn that offers an exclusive service, the Honeymoon Suite. Unlike a normal stay at the inn, purchasing the Suite for the price of 200 coins lets you explore the lavish room at your leisure. You can use the shower, tip the bellhop, order room service (including the very tempting Kero Kero Cola at a discount), and run around the run in circles all you want until you decide to hit the lights and go to sleep. The next day you awaken in the room and can leave the hotel. You also get a special gift for staying in the fancy room.
However, because you are alone and free to explore the room, you can hit the lights again and go to sleep, effectively staying another night. Most players will probably not think to try this at first, but some probably expect they are getting another night for free as a glitch. After all, you already paid for the room, and rpg inns tend to all be the same. But when you try to leave the next day, the concierge demands you pay 200 coins for each additional night you spent. If you can’t afford to pay, you are conscripted into the hotel business, and must work as a bellhop until your bill is paid off. This involves waiting behind the desk until a couple comes, then leading them to their room. Occasionally you might even get a tip! Once you’ve worked off your debt, you are free to resume the game normally.
I love moments like these in games because the designers anticipated the player’s attempt to subvert the game and answered it. When players love a game enough to play it over and over again, they invariably start trying to push the boundaries of the game. This is why glitches and game breaking maneuvers hold such an attraction to us. Clever players can find every way to break the game and push beyond its intended limits. Clever developers can anticipate this and reward the players for pushing these limits. That moment where you think you’ve gone beyond the expected limits, only to find more of the game waiting for you is a rare, wonderful moment to experience as a player.
To me, it is these moments that define the Mario series of games. The famous warp zones of the original Super Mario Brothers are a perfect example. Clever players will learn how to get above the block ceiling early in level 1-2, and naturally they will wonder what happens if they get above the ceiling at the end. Will they be trapped? Will they fall off the edge? Platformers were completely new at this time, so no came in with any preconceptions. However, the designers anticipated that players would seek to climb around the boundaries of the level, and when the player tries this they are greeted with a surprise. The limits of the game were waiting to be expanded. Popular web games Candy Box and Frog Fractions are games that are almost entirely built upon this dynamic. The game can never be “won” in the traditional sense if you simply try to play by the rules you are given. Instead you must seek to subvert the framework you are given and once you do you are rewarded with a much larger game.
This dynamic is not limited to video games by any means. It is an integral part of Improv theatre games. The audience seeks to test the limits of the actors with creative or surprising suggestions, and are surprised and amused when the actors adapt every challenge into a larger scene or narrative. Of course, the conversation between audience and actors in theatre is much more direct and fast. No developer can create a game that can respond to any player input or suggestion the way an improv actor can respond to an audience. But when those rare, wonderful moments happen in a game, I still feel like I’ve had a sort of conversation with someone. Someone separated by an ever expanding time and space and communicated through an object rather than in person, but a conversation none the less. I push and call, and through the game the creator lets me know that they have heard this call and respond to it.