Wax And Wane

Power in videogames is a funny thing. Conventionally, we’re told that as we play games, we accrue more power, which means the game can also increase the types of challenges it presents you. This means levels can become harder – harder than you could even handle at the start of the game – while the player becomes more competent.

What I’ve been kicking around for a while now is the idea of shedding power.

The game can start you out with a host of abilities and you can goof around with them. Chances are they’re ridiculous for your starting ability. Imagine beginning Quake with all the guns after all. There’s very little resource management, very little challenge imposed by the toys you have access to. This is to give the player a real sense of power and the potential to play.

Then the first major gate in the game requires the character give up on of these powers. This will be easy. The player character no doubt has a ‘least favourite’ of their four or five major powers. And then the game progresses another step, and you have to give up another power. And then another one.

Slowly, the game stops being an easy, goofy, off-the-top power fantasy. You’re now struggling with things that were easy.

In the end, you have to choose the last power you sacrifice, and try to complete the final challenges – unknown to you – with the one power of the two you have left, as best you can.


  1. I had this idea of FTL playdd backwards – a brand new ship, will all its systems intact and working properly on a journey without any major repair stations, slowly degrading to a powered hulk with jury-rigged weaponry. The game of damage control, basically. Even a wooden ship will go, with sailors succumbling to scurvy and hull overgrowing with barnacles. Something like that.

  2. So the irony of game design is that in giving you some structure to make yourself feel more powerful, the game actually undermines your ability to feel powerful? I’ve been thinking of that, too, albeit from a more deterministic perspective. IE If I didn’t achieve it through luck, then it’s just a series of steps that any idiot could perform. I, as an individual, am not necessary to this process.

  3. I mentioned on Twitter but i’ll mention here too: The Sumerian story of Inanna’s descent into the underworld goes pretty much exactly like this, only she loses *all* her powers by the end of it. And then confronts her sister, who is her shadow self (in a Jungian sense)! And anyway, the whole thing would make a *really fantastic* game, and someone should make it. :P


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