Ridiculous Game Difficulty as a Selling Point
By Nathaniel Liles
I’ve spoken on this topic many times on its own, and that’s not to mention the countless time I’ve said it in reviews, but I feel like I’ve been encountering this problem enough in my day-to-day gaming that it’s worth yet another round of comment. Let’s say you’re a video game developer. Now, in development, you obviously have to direct your time and resources to various aspects of the game to make it a balanced, polished experience, but entirely too often, I’ve been seeing games ditch the “actually making a good game” plan of action by just replacing it with some sort of ridiculous, stone-wall difficulty because that’s in vogue right now. Oddly enough, this sells games very well. Just look at Dark Souls. Now, I’m not saying Dark Souls ditched the “actually making a good game” plan here. I’ve played Dark Souls, and even though the game is stunningly well designed, I found myself completely unable to enjoy it. Why is that? Why is it that when you’re talking to someone about Dark Souls, the primary talking point is the difficulty? There’s so much more to be enjoyed there, and while the difficulty is a great thing for people who’re looking for a crazy challenge, it bars the vast majority of gamers from experiencing all the great content that the developers put so much heart into.
I don’t want to take these ludicrous difficulties away from people. I see the draw, and for people who get a huge rush from finally overcoming that big, impossible-seeming thing, the difficulty is very much a good thing (when the game is also a good game, not solely an exercise in frustration). For me, however, in all my 15 years of gaming, it’s a frustrating-ass phenomena. You know, I go and find a really good game on sale for 50% off and I think “Yeah! People say this is a tough one, but it looks so good! I’ll tough it out!” The thing about that is this: There are lots of games out there. If I’m playing a game and there’s this brick wall of difficulty stopping me from seeing any more of the content, I get distracted. If I buckled down, tried it a million times, looked up a strategy guide, and tried it a million more times, I would eventually progress past that point and see some more of what the game has to offer. That’s all fine and dandy, but I have other games that have just as much cool content to show me, and they don’t demand hours of doing the exact same thing over and over to see all of it.
Not too long ago, someone told me that if I hated high-difficulty games, I would hate the entire golden age of RPGs. I was dumbfounded, because I found myself sitting there thinking to myself, “Wow, is this person right? I mean, I… Wait a second! I love RPGs! I hijacked my friend’s SNES for weekends in a row so I could fully appreciate these things!” Those games weren’t difficult with the sole intention of being difficult, guys. If the only thing you see when you look at a classic JRPG is a 16-bit dragon and a massive difficulty spike, there’s something wrong with the way that you’ve been appreciating your games. In addition to that, these games had a damn good reason to be difficult. You can only pack so much into those cartridges, and developers who spent all their time making their game as fun and good-looking as they could had to make the consumer feel as if they got their money’s worth. During the golden age of gaming, as it were, resources were limited, but since the technology was still expensive, they cranked up the toughness in spots to make the game last longer so you wouldn’t be sitting there, an hour after buying a game, thinking, “Wait… T… That’s it?”
Video game technology and culture have evolved like crazy since the 90’s, and that includes a change in the way people enjoy their video games. These days, we have plenty to choose from, and I don’t see the draw in spending time with a frustrating loop of the same level when I can go play another game and actually make progress at a satisfying rate. I’m not some hardcore gamer, and I feel like my demographic isn’t the smaller one. Developers, just… Give me an easy mode. I just want two difficulties. That’s all. One for filthy casuals like myself and one for the hardcore crowd. Nothing’s getting taken away from anyone. The only thing that would change is how many people get to be included in the adventure, and the $60 price of admission should go a long way to guaranteeing my inclusion.
Seriously, though. Two difficulties. Nathaniel Mode and Everyone Else Mode.
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/nathaniel.jpg”]Nathaniel Liles is a freelance writer, writing major, and indie musician based in Southern Indiana. While procrastinating or avoiding real-world responsibility, Nathaniel enjoys playing rhythm games, action RPGs, and very colorful games with many bright, flashing lights. You can listen to Nathaniel sing songs or download his music for free on his BandCamp page. You can watch him play games on his Twitch channel. You can also follow him on twitter at @NathanielLiles. And finally, you can read more of his writing over at EliteGamingComputers.com. He’s a pretty connected guy.[/author]