Games Aren't Getting Easier, They Just Can't Seem to Stop Holding Our Hands
I was playing Dark Souls the other day, and I came to the (very simple) conclusion that I really enjoy Dark Souls.
Then I started thinking: What it is that makes Dark Souls different, why is it so much fun?
Some people might say, that it’s charm lies in it’s difficulty. I have to argue. Don’t get me wrong, I think it IS a difficult game, but it is totally fair. Once you get the hang of it, it is not even that hard. Then it hit me. Most of it’s difficulty comes from letting go of your hand. The game does not tell you about anything, you have to figure it out by yourself, and it is so much more fun that way.
Let me use a playground to demonstrate how some games are handling the player.
Imagine that every game is a big playground.
You are a little kid, going to the playground for some fun, but in every game there is the shadow of your father, who took you to the playground in the first place.... Telling you how to use the slide, warning you not to jump off of that because it will hurt you, literally holding your hand. It ruins the opportunity you had to explore, learn, and discover the playground on your own - just like some modern games do
Let’s start off with one of the most popular, defining modern military shooters.
Yes, I am talking about the Call of Duty series.
In every CoD game, that playground looks like a lot of fun from afar. It is a well constructed playground, with simple, but enjoyable installments in it.
Don’t get me wrong, I think CoD is a nice playground. Your father just won’t really let you get into it.
The problem is that you can not really enjoy it as much as you want to, because your father just won’t let you. He takes your hand and guides you through the whole playground. The only times he lets go of your hand is when you go on one of the toys, but even then he is just standing there giving you instructions on what to do, and if you don’t do what he says, he will get really angry.
You are playing in the sandbox, and accidentally get some dirt on another kid? BAM You are a traitor, start over from the last checkpoint. Your father will take you through the games one by one, limiting your freedom, and your fun. Don’t get me wrong, I think CoD is a nice playground. Your father just won’t really let you get into it.
The most fun I had in a CoD singleplayer was probably the airplaine mission in the original MW game. It was just a bonus mission yet it was one of the most awesome. The game suddenly let go of your hand, and threw a bunch of guys at you. Playing it on the hardest difficulty was surely a challange, but there was one other factor it was different. It was the same every time. It had the exact same guys spawn from the exact same point. It did not have any nonsense like infinately spawning enemies until you advance or anything like that. It was hard, but you could beat it. You could memorize enemy spawns, and rely on the game, that it will play out the same every time.
Dark Souls anyone?
Let’s go to another playground.
It is almost the total opposite of the last one. On this playground there are many-many little installments, and one very big one, that is composed of more sperately enjoyable parts.
I am talking about Skyrim here (Oblivion is exactly the same).
On this playground your father is much nicer. He won’t lurk around for long. He will just take you there, hold your hand for the first few minutes while he shows you around. He will not show you everything, only part of what there it is to see, but he will tell you how to do things. He will arm you with the knowlege of how to play on most of the things there. The he will just sit on a bench and let you play. He will not disturb you until you make the mistake of 'climbing' on the main game.
I loved Skyrim and Oblivion so much, but there is just one thing that annoyed me in both of the games.
Once you start the main story you have to finish it. Once you have closed the first gate in Oblivion, or killed the first dragon in Skyrim they are present in your game. They kind of limit you in your adventure. It’s like once you have started them your father just comes around and says, 'hey get back here and finish the big one first.'
Don’t feel like it yet? Here is a dragon you have to fight. Oh it completely killed a whole village without the chance to talk any of the guys there? Bad luck. It was a limiting factor for me in both Oblivion and Skyrim that once the main quest is on it IS on. Of course once I figured it out, I never actually started the main story. As long as you don’t touch it is okay. Just be careful, because if you do, you are in for a treat. Luckily the new Fallout games did not force you to complete the main story. I had completed the main story in both new Fallout games. Did not finish it in Skyrim or Oblivion. Simple things.
Then there is Dark Souls.
Basically your father just don’t care. He takes you to the playground and leaves you there.
It’s all up to you to figure it out. You may die in the process, you may get frustrated, but you will never blame the playground. It was your mistake. It is all just skill. Once you get to know your way around the playground you will start to feel awesome. You can defeat most of the things with ease once you played for a bit longer.
Moving on from the metaphors, it just does not feel good when a game thinks I am a child, or that it is the first game I have ever played.
Like in Remember Me.
I will be honest I liked that game. Okey the combat got a bit boring after a while, but playing it on Memory Hunter difficulty, I found it challenging enough to keep me playing. It even had a little bit exploration. Then it started to act like I am playing my first video game ever.
I have a strict rule when playing games, that have exploration: first always find where to go, remember that point, and ONLY go to there when I am done exploring everything. If it is possible I want to go the other way (I found out that this rule was not getting me anywhere in Dark Souls most of the time). So whenever I started exploring a bit, Remember Me just started giving me hints.
'Hey look there!' Oh... he still didn't go there.
'Hey maybe try to shoot that thing!' Dang he must be stupid, he still did not get it.
'Hey, if you point your crosshair there you can go through the door!'
I KNOW. Come on, I know where to go.I just don't want to yet. Sheesh.
I am not a mobile gamer. I am a PC gamer. I am playing games for real. I can figure Dark Souls out, please, I won’t get lost in the obviously constructed environments of Remember Me. Then there are things like sequels. It’s like:
'hey we know that you have probably played the other two games we made that had the same exact mechanics, but you have to learn them again just in case you are suffering from a long-term memory loss.'
Let me play. Don’t interrupt the flow of the game. It is okay to tell me once, but only once. I don't want you to guide me through every single step.
I think this is exactly why rougelikes and rougelites are having a revival.
Games might not be getting any easier today, they are just holding your hand.
Also this is why Dark Souls has became a cult game. It is for us, who still like to play it the old way. Games might not be getting any easier today, they are just holding your hand. It is almost that they want to make a hard difficulty, but on the other hand they really do not want you to die.
No wonder gaming is shifting to the direction of multiplayer only titles, but I want my single player experience.