Sometime later this month or early next month, thirty-five masochists will meet up in Frozen Head State Park outside Wartburg, Tennessee to run what is widely accepted as the most difficult marathon in the world. The Barkley Marathon, held annually since its inception in 1986, has been finished only sixteen times. It’s a brutal, multiloop, hellscape of a race. It’s also an inspiring example of design.
When we criticize game design, we often bring up the concept of clarity in a variety of forms. How clear is the interface? How clearly does the game communicate its goals? Is progression clear? Does it tell the player where to go next? Or what things that the player is doing wrong? Clarity is an excellent game design goal. Except for when it isn’t.