Duck Hunt’s Fatal Flaw – It isn’t the dog. It’s the sound.

It isn't really his fault.

It isn't really his fault.

By simply making the duration of the success song less then the duration of the failure sound, Nintendo made it more important not to miss then to actually shoot the ducks. It’s the dog’s sound and length actually breaks the gamer’s concentration, not the dog itself.

By Justin Baumgardner

Nintendo had no idea what they were really getting themselves into when they created Duck Hunt and released it with the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game was simple enough: hunt a few ducks, destroy a few clay disks. There was moderate challenge there, and it was enough to keep you (and sometimes a friend) interested for a period of time.

But what Nintendo didn’t foresee was the sheer amount of frustration the game actually fed into the veins of gamers. It was bad enough that you had no idea how the Zapper worked, and why it had atrocious accuracy on some days over others. However, the addition of a particularly joyful canine made you want to rip your hair out towards the end of your gaming session.

Duck Hunt’s Fatal Flaw – It isn’t the dog. It’s the sound.

While the game is fun for the first few minutes of playing it, the software’s design actually prevents a player for playing long periods of time. This comes from the reward/punishment system instilled into the game’s mechanics.

The short-duration success sound for shooting a duck is extremely fast and rushes the player right onto the next round, whereas the taunting dog is almost double in length. This doesn’t seem like much of a problem. However, when you are in a groove of successfully shooting ducks in consecutive rounds and you miss – it’s the dog’s sound and length actually breaks the gamer’s concentration not the dog itself.

Look at a majority of your favorite games. When you do something right, you get rewarded with a tune, or fun sound, or something else consistent with your perception of success. If you were to do something wrong, you may only get a sharp tone or a “try again” style screen. You are encouraged to keep playing. It is fun to see that you can eventually succeed in whatever game you are trying to beat.

With Duck Hunt, things are the exact opposite. You are hardly awarded for completing a round, and you are laughed at when you can’t complete it. The image of the dog (as taunting as you might think) is actually only part of what makes you so frustrated when playing through Duck Hunt.

The dog in Duck Hunt is a prime example of classical conditioning. You are conditioned by the game to work for the happy “success tone” through its insanely easy first few levels. However, as it gets more difficult, you are discouraged to miss by an annoying 8-bit laugh. Where is that laugh coming from? The dog. Now, you are afraid to miss. You don’t want to be insulted and laughed at. However, notice that you don’t actually hate the dog when he is picking up the birds you shot. You aren’t thinking about him. You’re only thinking about not missing the birds.

The game trains its players to not want to miss, instead of just enjoying it for what it is. By simply making the duration of the success song less then the duration of the failure sound, Nintendo made it more important not to miss then to actually shoot the ducks. Players actually are worried they won’t hit the duck, instead of having fun trying to shoot them. The simple discrepancy in sound durations is what made the game frustrating, not the dog. The flapping of the duck’s wings don’t help either, as they act as a sort of “ticking” for the time bomb that is to ensue.

Look at a game like Eets for the PC or XBox (Gameplay video). When you successfully complete a puzzle, you get rewarded with a fanfare and congratulatory explosion of colors. When you fail? The game simply says “Bummer” and lets you try again. You easily move past that “bummer” because you want to be successful and solve the puzzle. With Duck Hunt, the sound durations are reversed. You easily move past the “success” sound, because you are fearful and bracing yourself for the “failure” laugh. There is no fun in gaming with fear.

So, Nintendo…

You didn’t know better. We forgive you. Releasing an 8-bit game back in 1985 was a huge accomplishment. Creating a light gun was genius and innovative. We aren’t going to flip out because one game made us angry.

However, the question remains:
The last time you played Duck Hunt, were you happy when your gaming session was over?

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Of course, classical conditioning aside, you always wanted to do this:

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Leave your comments below! We’d  love to hear from you!

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2 Responses to Duck Hunt’s Fatal Flaw – It isn’t the dog. It’s the sound.

  1. Andrew says:

    But the anger that dog makes us feel is part of the magic that Duck Hunt had. It would not have stood the test of time if it was not for the evil dog!

  2. Justin says:

    It figures that only days after my article CH does a video about Duck Hunt… http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1894241

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