Desktop Dungeons brings with it the old discussion about unlockable content. It’s designed as a short game; Rogue by way of Minesweeper. Finish the game under the right conditions, and you get more conditions that facilitate further unlocking. The game is hard, so you’re only going to beat it some percentage of the time. As you get better — or at least get further into the unlocking process — the game gets harder, forcing the player to put in that much more effort for the next unlock.
It’s a regular progression: play, play, play until you play well enough to meet a condition; then move on and play some more. There’s always another carrot, until finally there isn’t. And look at all the time and energy you’ve invested to get there.
Since I downloaded the game, I have found myself in a feedback cycle. I imagine it’s the impulse that a compulsive gambler feels. Hey, it’s only another ten minutes; I’m on a roll now; I know I can beat that boss if I just choose the gnome and conserve my potions. And so okay, I die. But this next time I’ll make it for sure.
This isn’t healthy. By no measure on Earth is this healthy. And yet for about ten years this has been a popular way to extend the life of simple games. You might call it a sort of meta completion compulsion. Often large-environment games will riddle their worlds with stars and packages and honeycombs to collect, and unless you track down every last one you’re not playing the game right. Often hardcore skill-based games will hand out letter grades for performance, and unless you earn the highest grade in every challenge, you’re not playing the game right. In either case, you’re probably missing out on something. This unlockable business comes from the same place, but translates a little differently.