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lenses:lens_of_difficulty [Motivational Design]

Motivational Design

Lenses and Patterns for Motivational Game Design

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Lens of Difficulty

The Lens of Difficulty focuses on the concept of challenging the player, specifically at the correct level. Difficulty ties into the motivational need of Competence. Challenge provides an effective way to capture the player's attention, but imposing too much challenge can drive the player away. A balance must be maintained between frustration and boredom, to allow a player to both learn how to play and stay interested, facilitating competence.

The diagram illustrates the various levels of difficulty the player can confront, leveled between the two extremes, frustration and boredom.

Focusing questions

  • What level of challenge do you want to present to the player?
  • Have you adequately prepared the player for the challenges?
  • Should the player have control over the current level of difficulty?
  • Does the balance of between frustration and boredom provide the correct type of challenge/fun?
  • How is the game providing difficulty?
  • Are situations becoming more complex or are they using larger numbers?

Can be instantiated by




Super Smash Bros. Brawl


Super Smash Bros. Brawl is the most recent iteration of the Super Smash Bros. Franchise. Since the earliest iterations, this fighting game had a campaign mode that allowed players to decide on what level of challenge they wanted to face. The designers realized that players would not all be able to face the same level of challenge when they began playing the game, and allowed for the players to improve by taking on harder challenges when they felt ready. The ability for the player to set the challenge heavily promotes Competence as the player will always be able to find a balance between their personal skill level and the challenge that they choose to set, maximizing the experience by removing designer error is setting hard difficulties pre-release.


Player Choice

A common design decision for correctly leveling difficulty is to provide multiple levels of difficulty that the player can choose from. This design decision is widely used and very common, so if you are having trouble balancing the game correctly on a single difficulty, consider this method to create a better gradient of difficulty.


At the current time, there are no available tools


At the current time, I am not aware of any metrics.


The lens is speculative.



Currently looking for references to improve the depth of the page's information.

List of scholarly and professional sources and references that serve as background or support to this pattern. Please reference using the APA citation style.


lenses/lens_of_difficulty.txt · Last modified: 2014/05/14 21:15 by awilliams