One more thought I had overnight about puzzle gameplay: they can have a real social aspect. Watching somebody else play a shooter or a platformer can be reasonably entertaining, but if you’re watching somebody else play a puzzle game (which neither of you has played before), then it’s effectively a cooperative game: it’s almost irrelevant who is holding the controller, both of you can give suggestions for what to do next.

And it also sheds a new light on the aggregation technique that I mentioned in my previous post. The idea there was to reduce uncertainty (in this case, of the solvability of the puzzle) by increasing the number of puzzles that you have to solve. But you can also reduce it in another way, by increasing the number of people who have a chance to solve the puzzle.

And this isn’t just a theoretical point: Liesl and I basically played through Zack & Wiki together. I think that made it more fun for both of us, just as a social thing; I am quite sure, however, that there were several puzzles in that game that one of us would have been unable to figure out alone, but fortunately those puzzles were generally different for each of us.

I’m not entirely sure what this suggests to game designers, however: I can’t think of ways off the top of my head for them to actively encourage cooperative play in puzzle games. The flip side of that, though, is that it’s a technique that game players can use without depending on game designers for help at all – the next time you play a puzzle game, grab a friend, have a blast, and don’t be surprised if you find it a lot easier!

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