Difficulty in Video Games
Sup beautiful people? 😉
This month sees the release of Elden Ring – fromsoftware’s newest bludgeoning weapon. Now, personally, I like a good blunt object to the head as much as the next guy. 💪
Needless to say, I will forsake my social life to play this imminent masterpiece. Unlike one of my best friends – let’s call him Bob here – who absolutely despises all fromsoftware games. 😱
I had an interesting discussion with Bob, one that left me pondering the meaning of difficulty in games, which led me to write this article. Lego. 😎
My first argument was that my taste in gaming was just too sophisticated for poor ol’ Bob to understand. 😥 Naturally, I was just trying to get a rise from him, as I personally don’t believe in “taste”. But this is an argument that gets levied around, so let’s debunk it, shall we?
Do some people prefer harder games and vice versa? Yes.
Are all preferences mutually exclusive? Nope.
Just because you enjoy getting pummeled by the AI, does not mean you won’t enjoy getting caressed by it either. 🤤 If we truly consider taste and all it stands for, then we have to consider the fact that it can grow and change. People get attached to an image of themselves which they constantly reinforce with repetition. And in the end, the lie becomes the truth – it's easier to accept and conform than the discovered awful sincere truths. 😅
If you don’t allow yourself to experience new things then you will never grow. Your “taste” is ever-shifting, it’s just that you aren’t listening to it. Comfort zone got you on lock boi. 💯
And here we arrive at this article’s crux. Trust. Allow yourself to trust the developer. If you do that and you still struggle with the game's difficulty, then I concede – that game is not for you. But I’ll bet that 8 out of 10 people will find the new experience refreshing. 😁
And of course, this goes both ways. If you don’t allow your “taste” to shackle you, then I bet even your HARDCORE GAMER 😤 heart can melt. You just need to let your preferences run wild. Never constrain yourself.
👽 Now that we’ve established that almost anyone can enjoy anything (if they allow themselves), we have to unpack what that means. 👽
Bob told me “if only Dark Souls had an easy mode”. Now, Bob enjoys his platformers. I told him “imagine if Hollow Knight had a hard mode”.
I think it’s easy to see how this argument doesn’t hold any weight. Game difficulty should be fluid, not constrictive. Since its inception, it was meant as an inclusive mechanic. When we forget this, we forget the very point of adjustable difficulty. And even worse, we shun the products that don’t have this feature.
When I first played Demon Souls, I thought it was one of the worst-designed games ever conceived. 😅 This fallacy did not last long, however, as my fever at the time did not allow me to play anything else. Once I persevered through the slog of learning something new, the game greeted me with an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. 😄
Granted, I trusted the dev because of necessity, but it worked out all the same. 😇
“The worst thing a kid can say about homework is that it is too hard. The worst thing a kid can say about a game is it's too easy.”
This is a famous quote - and it's a good quote, don't get me wrong - but I hate the notion: in order for games to have value they have to be challenging. Again, this isn't incorrect. I'd say this is one of the cvore principles of making a compelling experience. But not all experiences are built equal, and not all experiences are meant for everybody. Sometimes man's gotta chill, yo. You know what I mean? 😎
Games are hard to make and harder to balance. We should always take this into account. If a game’s difficulty is hindering our enjoyment, then we should consider the difficulty as a bug rather than a feature. 🤔
This only works if we’ve trusted the process. It all stems from that. If we are untruthful with ourselves, we will forever live as our own shadow. Doomed to follow a fake forever. 😲
Too dramatic? For sure. But we have to inject some drama into a topic as nerdy as this one. 🤓
When is the difficulty a feature and not a bug? When both you and the developer know what you’re doing. A rarity I know. But it happens more often than you think.
UNFAIR IS NOT DIFFICULT
This is important to remember as many wannabe HARDCORE GAMERS 😤🖖 don't make this distinction. Games like "I Wanna be the Guy" are not difficult, challenging maybe, but that means nothing. Hitting your head against a brick wall isn't difficult, it's just stupid.
Making something hard for the sake of it being hard is lazy design. The challenge needs to be understandable and react-able. Cheap deaths might increase the death counter, but that's all it does. Cheap design makes cheap games. 💯 // drake meme
A good example of this is Dark Souls vs Dark Souls 3. DS3 is a fine game, but it's noticeably cheaper than DS1. In DS3, there are numerous occasions where your death is unavoidable. Only after you've died and lost your souls can you adjust your gameplay (an easy example of this are the ambush enemies from 'around the corner'). In comparison, DS1 relies on clear communication with the player, making every death feel like you are the one at fault. And not the dev pressing their thumb on the scale.
I think fromsoftware learned this lesson, as they fixed it in Sekiro.
You need to apply conscious thought to everything. It's the only way to not unintentionally lie to yourself.
📣 “But Jov, this sounds like worrrrk. I just wanna play the gamzzz.”
Well, Bob, maybe you shouldn’t talk about game difficulty then, hmmmm? Or maybe, just maybe, you were boosting your online ego, eh? You want everyone to know how hardcore of a gamer you are without putting in the work, eh? Eh?? 😤
“Hard fun is, of course, the idea that we take pleasure in accomplishing something difficult: the joy in meeting and mastering a challenge. As a result, when someone is doing something that is hard fun, moment by moment it looks more like "work" than "fun," but the net effect is pleasurable overall.”
― David Williamson Shaffer
Jokes aside, understanding one’s self opens up doors you never thought possible. 🤘
Since this was such a niche topic I tried to incorporate many examples applicable to everyday life. I'd bet it sounded pretentious as $#!@ 😂 but that's ok.
You should take everything I said with a pinch of salt (and some vinegar while you're at it yukyukyuk). Most times things are just poorly made, ya know? No paradigm shift will fix that. But at least if you followed my logic, you would know whether a said product is actually poorly made, or just not made for you.
That's the hope at least. 😁
At the end of the day: you do you. Enjoy the stuff you enjoy and hate the stuff you hate. Just... maybe give things a shot from time to time, yeah?
You'll never find buried treasure if you don't search for it.
This piece went in a direction I didn't predict, but watcha gonna do, eh? I hope I made some sense and you came out of this article a better person! I'm not holding my breath though. 😂
Shout-out to the 🍕PIZZA🍕 gang, 🤙 gang. 🤙
Have a good one, yo. 🙌