There is no denying that years ago when the inception of video gaming came around, video games were sometimes over the top difficult and tedious. The games of old have no doubt given everyone a struggle at any age and have definitely given me a hard time. It’s probably a lack of polished game design and real understanding for the bar of difficulty and where to set it, but it was an enjoyable setting to play through no doubt. Today’s games in any level of the industry are the exact opposite. We now have a decent understanding of where to draw the line between easy and medium, hard and insane. However sometimes I feel as if I’m not being challenged enough in a video game, and I know I’m not the only one.
But were difficulty levels just over the top stupid and insane because of the missing information that we have now? Or were they that difficult on purpose? There are a dozen things I can think of off the top of my head that make a game difficult to me, some aren’t as obvious as others, like controls. There were games for the SNES and the N64 that had the absolute most horrendous controls; I swear I would guess they were configured by a blind monkey on acid. Admittedly even some of today’s games have terrible controls as well, I respect Dark Souls for its difficulty but I can’t imagine it would have been as hard without the sluggish controls and abnormal learning curve.
Have we just become some kind of pseudo ethereal super gaming beings where everything is just super easy and we scream at developers for harder games? Obviously that’s impossible, but it is worth taking a look at the difficulty of today’s games, and sometimes the lack of it. I’ve personally noticed the hardest games for me are the ones that don’t just require SKILL; they require the execution of SKILL. These two things teeter very close to each other and are often very skewed, and looked over. A perfect example of the right amount of balance between skill and the need for execution of skill are games that are played competitively. A game like League of Legends or StarCraft 2, Dota 2 or even competitive FPS games like Counterstrike all rely on raw skill and knowledge, but in order to be played at the highest level possible, they require the proper execution of skill. Anyone can shoot someone in the face in counterstrike, but it takes a professional to know the right time to shoot someone or duck behind a wall and escape.
These may not seem like terribly important things but when thrown into a competitive environment sometimes a decision made in a split second is all it takes. There are different needs for these decisions in each genre of game and it takes a different person to be skilled at different games. When we first had video games that we were bashing our heads against the wall because we got stuck on one level, it often came down to one properly timed swing, jump, or dodge. Now we have more polish on games and are able to smooth out the rough edges on things so that it still requires skill, but not so much of that perfectly timed clutch jump.
Polish is probably the best thing to happen to the video game industry and possibly the worst as well. Polish can make or break a game as much as much as anything else, and can eventually ruin the experience of the game. Some company’s know the perfect amount and know just when to lay back and give the player a rough time, as well as give a helping hand here or there. Other companies make their games available to a broad spectrum of audiences and opt for the approach of making sure there is never a rough corner, never a missed exit, never an instruction misunderstood.
There is no doubt that there are challenging video games in this decade, and many have come and gone will be remembered. What makes video games difficult isn’t just pinpointed to one or two things, it is dependent on plenty of variables that some companies and players have yet to understand. There is nothing wrong with a game that isn’t challenging at all, but we all need to be tested in some aspect. I will always appreciate an over the top challenging game that will punish me repeatedly and make me frustrated, but the best thing about the video game industry in this age is that we have a game for everyone. Video gaming is truly a thing for every kind of person, but there is nothing more satisfying to me than a difficult game.