Why I'm Okay With Video Games Getting Easier

I’ve read a few opinions from gamers that addresses the declining difficulty level in video games during the modern age. Usually the position taken is that games today tend to baby the player from level one to the end, with so many tutorials and objective markers that the games offer no challenge anymore. While I won’t deny that this is happening, I have decided to counter these concerns and suggest that the lowered difficulty level is actually a good thing. And there are several reasons why I believe this.

I want what I paid for.

Imagine going to the movies and halfway through the storyline, the movie cuts out and you’re not allowed to finish it until you complete a written exam. Or, maybe a movie that started in 2D suddenly becomes 3D, and then gets converted into a foreign language. Keeping up is going to be tough and ultimately you would probably want your money back. Either way, the thing that you just paid for is too challenging to complete and even though your bill included the whole thing, it doesn’t mean you get to see the ending. In the past, when games were less story driven, it didn’t really matter because when you got to the end all it said was ‘Game Over’. Who wants to get to that ending anyway? But today, game developers put a lot of time and effort into every level, character, and scenario. Why would they willingly exclude people from experiencing all of their hard work? Would a director be content if he/she knew most audience members weren’t seeing the ending of their movie?

Dark Souls - Xbox 360
Dark Souls - Xbox 360

People love the difficulty of this game.

 

I like a good story.

As I mentioned above, games of the past weren’t terribly deep where story is concerned. Sure, there were RPGs with a novel’s worth of text. But, for the most part, we were coming off of the arcade scene and that meant that games were quick, challenging, and pretty, but no one stood at a kiosk in an arcade to learn why Donkey Kong stole Mario’s girlfriend. Granted, not everybody plays video games for the story, and I’ve played plenty that have been light on any sort of narrative and still enjoyed the heck out of them. But the lowered difficulty level means that developers have the option to develop those more complex stories. Knowing that your player will be able to save their game and restart means you know they will reach later levels. This allows the developer to plan the story in an arc, the same way that a movie or a book does. And while video games don’t need to be the frontrunner for storytelling, they do provide a unique platform for users to experience stories first hand. Without the lowered difficulty level, games wouldn’t have this new avenue of storytelling.

I like innovation.

Branching off of what I mentioned above, when a developer knows the player will reach later levels, it gives more incentive to personally ratchet up level design, boss battles and puzzles. Whereas in the 2D era, difficulty usually came in the form of more/harder enemies and less life for the player. It was less about what was a natural progression in game design, and more about bumping up numbers (which generally resulted in sadistic and cruel scenarios for the player). I truly believe that some of those games from the NES/SNES era were unbeatable without a game genie. But if you’re developing a game that you want a player to finish, then you need to discover ways to make the later levels fun and challenging, but still surmountable. The 3D Zelda games are a good example of doing this right, as the later dungeons use a combination of old items/new and challenging puzzles to keep the gamer on his toes. It challenges us with what we have learned, not how twitchy our fingers are. I’ll admit that part of that is genre preference. But, in my opinion, the best games are the ones that make you adapt your strategy for winning, as opposed to doing the same thing over and over again, just faster.

I don’t like being frustrated.

I suspect that a lot of gamers from the 90’s, now that we’re in the working world, have more than enough daily frustrations to worry about. So, after a hard day of work, why would I want to come home and raise my blood pressure? I understand that there is a feeling of reward after completing something particularly challenging, but there is a line between enjoyable difficulty and needless slaughter. For example, think back to every last boss in a fighting game. They always abandon the fighting mechanics of the game in favor of cheap moves just to make you angry (The Dead or Alive series was notorious for this). And, of course, the elegant fighting style you’ve played with, up until then, goes out the window in favor of spamming low kick over and over again. I want to enjoy what I’m doing, not break my controller. I suppose it’s different when you’re a kid and you don’t have as many life frustrations, but as an adult, I really appreciate games that let me save often or store a life-restoring fairy in a bottle.

The argument for difficult video games.

I noticed that the difficulty of video games became an issue upon the release of Dark Souls. It’s an action RPG that will kill you more often than it will offer you any sort of hint as to where to go or what to do. I read the review of it, which was favorable, and had it recommended to me by a friend. However, both the review, and my friend only spoke of the game’s difficulty. While they were praising it, all they had to talk about was how frustrating the bosses were, or how dark and confusing the dungeons were. To this day I still haven’t played Dark Souls, and the reason is because I have no desire to willingly subject myself to that frustration. However, despite my reservations, those who play it were still speaking of it favorably. So clearly the game did something right.

Perhaps there is a niche of gamers who want a game that offers no help and instead makes you learn with the ‘trial by fire’ method. There is definitely a sense of satisfaction when figuring out a puzzle or boss strategy without the need to use a strategy guide, hint, or cheat code. And, it’s also different when the entire game has that difficulty, as opposed to an ‘easy mode’ where anyone can do what you did with less trouble. So, I get that, but as a whole, I think that for games to continue to be viable as a major industry, the majority need to be on the easier side.

The Elder Scrolls Anthology
The Elder Scrolls Anthology

The modern installments of the Elder Scrolls are a great example of scaling difficulty: a fantastic game that doesn't punish you.

 
Bloodborne
Bloodborne

Dark Souls arguably spawned a new genre of extra-difficult RPGs.

 

Conclusion

It’s hard to tell if the reasons I mentioned are responsible for the decline in difficulty, or if it is a result of younger gamers unable to take on a higher challenge. Game developers frequently listen to feedback from their fans, and if many complained that their previous game was too hard, they will take that into account for their next project. So, whatever the reason is, I do feel that gamers, as a whole, have benefited from it.

Think of a game like Angry Birds; it’s a simple concept that gets progressively harder as you go. However it remains largely the same, in terms of game design, throughout its levels. It’s quick, challenging, and simple enough to fit on your mobile phone. Now think of a game like Skyrim; a sweeping epic fantasy that gives your customized character the chance to freely explore a three dimensional fantasy world filled with deep characters and story-lines. I’m not saying that Skyrim is inherently better than Angry Birds, just because it’s bigger. I’m saying that Angry Birds adheres to the formula of older video games where the developer didn’t necessarily make the game with the intent that people will finish it. It’s meant to be played in short spurts and offer up a fun challenge. I would go as far to say that the majority of people who download Angry Birds, probably don’t complete it to the end. Where as a game like Skyrim, or the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, are the kind of games that the developer wants you to complete. A lot of work went into the later levels and if the game fails to encourage you to reach those later levels, then they must have done something wrong. If easier games hadn’t opened up the industry to a broader audience and stepped away from the ‘hardcore’ niche of gamers, we might never have had projects with such scale and beauty.

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Comments 10 comments

WretchedRapture profile image

WretchedRapture 4 years ago from California, USA

I love it. Very well done.


ryancarter profile image

ryancarter 4 years ago from Falkville, Alabama

Great hub, man! I like how some games offer insane difficulties for those who want the challenge, like the Devil May Cry series. I also dig how games like the first Modern Warfare offered some extreme difficulty in it's achievements.


Zakmoonbeam profile image

Zakmoonbeam 4 years ago from Parts Unknown

I am right with you to be honest. With a new family growing by the minute, I just don't have the time to lose over and over again. I play to escape reality, not to be punished ;)

Great Hub, thanks for a good read, and the fact that I am not alone in this!


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

WretchedRapture - Thank you for the compliment and the comment!

ryancarter - I'm glad you brought up achievements. Most modern games have them now and it really is a good way to offer more difficulty, without punishing those who want to experience the main game. There certainly are ways that both crowds can be pleased with the same game. Thanks for the comment!

Zakmoonbeam - It's going to be interesting to see what games succeed as the early generation of gamers gets older. I'm sure in 50 years, every retirement home is going to be outfitted with a video game room. ;) Thanks for the comment!


Ironman1992 profile image

Ironman1992 4 years ago

I think it appeals to both audiances of gamers, those who like easy games and those who like difficult games, when a game offers difficulty settings. I do like my games to be challenging if they are good games. I don't really want to get stuck and have to spend an hour on a boss fight if it turns out I don't even like the game and am only playing it because I'm bored. Also, if a game is hard, it should be so for the right reasons. When a level is designed to be hard, because the boss or the puzzle is simply difficult, that's one thing, but when the level is difficult, because the gameplay does not work right or the camera does not work right, that can get old quick. The reason a lot of people like difficult games is because of the satisfaction that comes with winning such a difficult game. And you said you like getting what you paid for. That means something different to everyone. Some people don't feel they are getting what they paid for unless the game provides a challenge that takes them a long time to beat. Different people like different games, and I hope difficulty settings will become more popular to appeal to both audiances, because I still like difficult video games, though after one playthrough on the most difficult setting, it would be nice to able to play through on a casual setting.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

Ironman1992 - I agree that difficulty levels are the best way to please everyone. Though I do appreciate it when a developer goes out of their way to make the more challenging mode slightly different. A good example is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. They released a special edition disc on the GameCube that included the original game, plus a version called the 'master quest'. Essentially everything was the same, except the puzzles in the dungeons were altered to be more challenging. I thoroughly enjoyed playing through it because it was a new take on a classic, as opposed to playing through with harder hitting enemies or less life. But, I do understand that this method requires more programming on the part of the developer, which isn't always cost efficient. Thanks for the comment!


iloveyoujenny profile image

iloveyoujenny 4 years ago from Illinois

Fantastic hub! You're very talented. I agree that there probably is a niche of players that like Dark Souls just because they want to feel that gratification of doing everything on their own. I still haven't tried Dark Souls either because everyone only complains about the difficulty of the game and I hate being frustrated! I still think that the classic games from our childhood are fantastic but the story line's and the amazing graphics of today's games are incredible.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

iloveyoujenny - There is definitely a sense of accomplishment when completing a very challenging game. I remember enjoying F-Zero GX on the gamecube and that game could get really sadistic at times. But I think, as I get older, I have a lot less patience for games. Not only that but I like games that start easy and increase the difficulty gradually over the course of my play time. As opposed to throwing me into the deep end on level one. Thanks for the compliment and the comment!


shin_rocka04 profile image

shin_rocka04 4 years ago from Maryland

I'm loving what they are doing to games, but I don't have the time to play a game that'll take me a few weeks to beat or even more. Sometimes, a simple fighting game or a Mario Kart style game is all I need.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States Author

shin_rocka04 - I also enjoy the games that I can just pick up and play for a few minutes at a time. I think I've played more soul calibur 4 than any other Xbox 360 game, just because the format complimented my time. Though, I did notice, that I was still playing for several hours, I just didn't realize it. Thanks for the comment!

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