Shigeru Miyamoto and Forced Time Travel
Take a look at this article:
Here are a few excerpts from that article with my comments below each one:
. . . Miyamoto argues that a game is better if you have to start the level again because it increases the level of intensity and makes the game more enjoyable. If you have a risk of dying before the final boss, it makes it all the more urgent that you don't fail. At the same time, Miyamoto states that this means the player gets to play through an easier part of the game to get to that hard part and this means the player gradually gets more skilled at the game as well as a sense of mastery over it.
Going back to the beginning of a level, or 5 levels back, or all the way back to the beginning is what ruined the fun in so many games. Knowing that I have a limited number of lives is intense enough. Playing through an easier part that I've already 'mastered' is tedious busy work. It doesn't improve my skills and increase my enjoyment of the game, it just makes me want to shove the game designer off the side of a mountain, let him climb back up, push him off again, let him climb back up, and keep repeating until he finally gets the message.
This design was built as a direct response to the design of arcade shooting games, which had developed the continue system as the games became more difficult: pop in another coin to continue playing through that really hard part. This means that "the player would always be playing at the very limit of their abilities… It's exciting, but it doesn't feel very good." It also doesn't give them a sense that they are good at the game and able to breeze through a part that was initially very difficult. (In a sense, this also feels like a tirade against save states and auto saving, which makes the player repeatedly attempt a difficult task until they get it right. Psychologically, this keeps the player at a high level of frustration, but if used more sparingly, it can also be used as a safety net for games that did not have continue points.)
The solution isn't to fling the player back in time. Just make the game adjust to the player. If the game notices that the player is having too much trouble, lower the difficulty a bit each time the player loses a life.
What Miyamoto is essentially talking about is a system of guiding a player into the Flow state. At first, the game is very easy, and so the player might feel a little bored. However, the difficulty will slowly ramp up, and the player will eventually reach a spot where the game's difficulty matches their skill. The player will then reach a part where the difficulty is simply too high, and they will fail. This might cause some frustration. However, by returning the player back to the beginning this places the player back in the easy/boredom stage, which helps them rebuild their confidence and get them back to the flow state. (Of course, if the player dies repeatedly enough, then they will become too frustrated to continue.)
That's a huge steaming pile of nonsense. Sending players back does not build confidence; it increases frustration and makes some players throw their controllers across the room. It also snaps players out of the flow state. Wikipedia says that "flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity." To keep the flow, don't send the player back; make the game adjust to the player. Keep the player immersed and moving forward.