Dylan is six or seven, and frustrated that his toys don’t live up to their promise:

If the Etch A Sketch and the Spirograph had really worked they would probably be machines, not toys, they would be part of the way the adult universe operated, and be mounted onto the instrument panels of cars or worn on the belts of policemen. Dylan understood and accepted this. These things were broken because they were toys, and vice versa. They required his pity and patience, like retarded children who’d been entrusted to his care.

Jonathan Lethem – The Fortress of Solitude.

I’m enjoy the book a lot, but that paragraph leapt out at me early on and has been dog-eared since.

Margaret talks a lot about one possible pillar of good game design being “how is this interestingly hard?” I described this to her, and she suggested that what distinguished many (but not all) toys as toys were being things that were interestingly shit.

Of course, not all toys are; many of the very best are just genuinely interesting. I immediately leap to Lego to answer that one. But broken-in-interesting-ways allows for subversion and exploration; enjoying it not despite, but because of brokenness. Difficult-in-interesting-ways allows for mastery. Both are interesting, and worth pursuing.

And yet: reading Dylan’s disappointment, as he realises the Spirograph is just not as tolerant a device as the cover of the box suggests, I felt that same feeling in my gut; the same feeling I felt at six or seven, realised all my efforts with my Etch A Sketch were doomed to being rubbish. Interesting, but broken.