The Harry Dean Stanton Corollary

The Harry Dean Stanton Corollary

Naomi Clark and I had a remarkably reasonable discussion in the comments section here the other day, and I’ve been mulling over it since.  The gist being I was saying I didn’t really see the point of describing labor mechanics as a specific thing, and Clark discussing (at length, to her credit) what that point was.  I think she’s the right one here, which I probably would have figured out earlier had I seen the talk, especially since so much of my thinking of late has been in terms of organizational/behavioral economics (specifically, relating a large social game audience to a large corporation conceptually.)

So I am now proposing the Harry Dean Stanton Corollary to the labor mechanic.  Harry Dean Stanton in Fire Walk With Me, that is: “It’s just like…more shit I gotta do now.”

That line has been a go-to quote in my house since I first saw the movie, and it has cropped up more than once in relationship to games.  With many games, including ones I once enjoyed, I hit the More Shit I Gotta Do Now wall at some point; it just feels like too much work for not enough fun.  I think I made it to level 34 in WoW before the Harry Dean Stanton Corollary conquered me; those last four(teen?) levels (do bear in mind that I was a first-day player…this isn’t recent WoW I’m referring to) were dragging on making me feel like I had a second job rather than a fun game.  Finally I just quit bothering.

I hit the More Shit wall after about five freaking minutes of Cityville and the other Facebook games I have been attempting to play.

I think I get why plenty of people grit their teeth through the awfulness and play those abominations; I’m fairly certain that for a significant demographic, this playstyle represents their maximum creative experience on any given day.  I cannot help but imagine what might happen if one made a social game that was at least as creative an experience with a significantly decreased More Shit I Gotta Do Now level.

  • the ninja
    Posted at 21:46h, 03 March

    When knife-kills in CS became boring was when I truly encountered Stanton’s legacy.

    On a contrapuntal note, perhaps it’s the repetitiveness of the More Shit factor which accounts for much of such games’ appeal? Like a boring but stable rock to cling on to. But I’m just throwing that out there…

  • misen
    Posted at 05:34h, 04 March

    I think you’re talking about Echo Bazaar ( It’s got plenty of Shit You Have To Do but they throw new stuff at you with both hands all the time.

  • zara
    Posted at 07:20h, 06 March

    I second the ninja. There must be an appeal in the More Shit quotient because games like A Tale in the Desert exist and people play them. I think some folks are in games purely for the end and not at all for the means. It wouldn’t matter whether the actual gameplay experience is like watching grass grow (literally, in that example), as long as they feel like they are making progress toward a specific goal (grass mastery?) then they’re happy and having fun.

  • the ninja
    Posted at 22:51h, 06 March

    Grass master of the UNIVERSE!

    I’d add to that with the thought that watching grass grow can indeed be quite enjoyable…and maybe questioning our own preconceptions of what’s “fun” and what isn’t. I’d hazard a guess that you have lots of people playing to get towards a specific goal (like Zara says) as well as a lot who actually derive something “pleasurable” from the mundanity of it all.

    Well, at least until a creeper comes waltzing along

  • mary
    Posted at 07:58h, 07 March

    this post makes me want to find some recent studies on multitaksing. It is time to see if our brains are truly evolving and changing to match our media diaspora, or if we’re just distracting ourselves to death!

  • katie
    Posted at 21:15h, 07 March

    I do think there can be *some* appeal in plain old More Shit. But – ATITD didn’t exactly blow up in terms of player numbers. I think that the number of people willing to tolerate THAT MUCH More Shit for the [wholly theoretical, in my case; I think I managed to make some bricks before getting thoroughly fed up] eventual goals is fairly small.

    So I think that More Shit wall is probably a little different for everybody, and that it probably changes based on the game, too: I have watched my husband undertake what I consider to be repetitive drudgery in action games but I will (within reason) go through an awful lot of More Shit in a game like Nethack.

    I’ve actually been thinking a lot about what a super-realistic office simulator might be like, except with almost no actual working and almost entirely the extra-work activities (politics, signage, cubicle decorating, ambition) – partly because I think it would be an incredibly interesting multiplayer experience/experiment. So all of this does make one think.