Harder than Dolomite!

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How hard do your want your video games?

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been playing through the original Deus Ex lately. I also mentioned that Nintendo made good on the 3DS Ambassador program, which allowed me to download Zelda, Zelda II, and Metroid onto my 3DS (I could also download a few other games, but the selection is, ah, slim).

I don’t think it’s any secret that modern games aren’t nearly as challenging as their predecessors. Frankly, I’m astounded I ever developed into a gamer at all, considering that I cut my teeth on the NES. Nintendo games were brain-damagingly hard. These days, most of them don’t even seem fun – they’re more like some particularly cruel form of monastic penance.

And yet, as I’m playing through Deus Ex, which is, by the way, over a decade old, I can’t help but feel somewhat underchallenged. Of course, I can save my game constantly in Deus Ex, which I do, so whenever I die I rarely lose more than a few steps. I’m guessing that without the save feature Deus Ex would be considerably harder.

I could obviously through the game without saving – or perhaps with minimal saving. Which begs the question:

Should we have to manufacture our own difficulty in our video games?

I want to move off of Deus Ex for the rest of the post, because the ability to save your game anywhere is an extraordinarily common feature, especially on PC games and their ports. But why is that? My deep seeded cynicism believes it’s because designers don’t want to spend time tuning the difficulty of their games. And when I consider it, that’s not necessarily some terrible sin; the designers can make a challenging game, where one well placed head shot terminates your heroic endeavors with extreme prejudice, and not have to worry about the game being too hard since players inclined to failure – such as myself – will have been well trained early on during the game to save early and save often.

I’m left wanting more, though. No, I don’t want a return to 8-bit days of yore, which I’m surprised didn’t spawn some sort of controller insurance industry from the sheer numbers of them smashed against a wall in frustration. And I’m not even being all that critical of the free wheeling save anywhere and shrug off the consequences genre. I think, though, that we can do better.

That said, I have to wonder, how hard to we actually want our video games? I think the answer for most of us is, “Hard enough to make us feel like we accomplished something.” Unfortunately, that’s a moving target for game designers to meet, based on the skill level of individual players. I know that I, at least, want a little more challenge in my games – just don’t make me play some modern era Battletoads.

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