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Where's the Challenge? - The Struggle of Video Games Now

The steady decrease in difficulty has been a longtime topic in the video game community, but it's not as bad as people make it seem to be.

Video games are getting easier. It's a simple fact that anyone who's anyone can recognize. If someone denies that... well, they're simply in denial. Possibly knee-deep in it.

We're no longer in the Golden Age of Video Games

The age of companies putting a game on the shelves, you booting it up, and you making your own guesses about what and how to do something because the game was not going to give you any hints: weren't those the good days? Sorry to say, but that age has long since passed. Now we're in the age of AAA and indie games, of first-person shooters and casual games, of companies trying to break into the mobile gaming market. 

That's the kind of mentality that runs through the video game community now: "if it's easy, then it must suck."

With video games getting easier with every passing year, there is a common complaint in the community: "where is the challenge?" What's the point of going through a game if there isn't any real challenge to face? Where's the experience of struggling, of learning and improving from your own knowledge, of companies having enough confidence in players to let them do whatever without holding their hands? 

But let's look at this in a different light: just because video games are getting easier, it doesn't mean that it's an entirely bad thing.

Not everyone plays games to get their asses handed to them.

There are people who deal with frustration, overcome difficulties, and spend hours completely tasks daily. That is called "work". When those people get home, they don’t want to be challenged and frustrated by yet another thing. So relaxing with a game that actually lets them wind down (and doesn’t hand their asses right back to them) shouldn’t be some kind of video gaming crime  the branding of a scarlet-red letter. Some just want to escape their mundane or already difficult lives for some fun and relaxation. Video games were and are meant for fun, and when that's inhibited by tedious challenge, not everyone's going to love it.

We’re no longer in the Golden Age.

People always refer back to the Golden Age - the popularity boom of video games from the late ‘70s to even the late ‘90s - as the time where video games were the best. That twenty-ish year period housed the prime examples of what “real” video games should be. They were difficult, gave you no second chances, and left you great satisfaction when you completed a level or the game itself. But with the change of the times and improvement in technology, the difficulty has changed. Now we’ve dipped into the age of ease and casualness.

“Dying and starting over more times than people have fingers” is an accurate way to describe the "Golden Age".

But what people don’t seem to remember (or so casually gloss over) is that these games were difficult for a reason. Technology was simpler back in those days and developers didn’t always have the means to create full-fledged or, simply, long games. They relied on difficulty and repetition to keep players around and stuck to the television. Developers now can create fuller, longer games by virtue of their own creativity, not difficulty. And as human nature goes, when someone creates and puts the effort into something, they're going to want people to see all of their hard work. So making their games easier or, at the very least, more manageable is just one of many ways developers try to fit that agenda.   

To bring back this backbreaking sense of difficulty, to return to this so called golden age, is not something we need to do. At that point, it would just be difficulty for difficulty's – and nostalgia's  sake.

It's simple evolution.

Technology, the times, and what people want have changed. While there are people who still want that backbreaking sense of challenge and difficulty, there are just as many people who want to go through a game for the story and experience.

There's still an audience for difficult games like Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, but there's also an audience for more casual games like Pokémon and Mario.

That experience may not include dying over and over again until they finish the level, quest, puzzle, boss, or whatever. That experience has changed along with what developers could do. Stories, characters, wide-open platforms, new and different gameplay, etc., etc. have entered the equation. Difficulty isn't the sole thing developers have to focus on, though it's also not something they can abandon entirely.

We live in the undoubtedly best age for technology (and social change, human rights, etc., etc.). There's no reason to adhere to old, nostalgic ideals of difficulty when we can experiment and play around with what we can do.

Published May. 12th 2015

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