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Video Games and Difficulty

Remember when video games were hard? Remember when you had to evolve your Charmander into Charmelion just to beat Brock? When it was nearly impossible to finish Donkey Kong Country 2 with 102%? When Ninja freaking Gaiden 1-3?

What happened? You got older. You got better. Video Games never got easier; you just got better. Arcades died. Difficulty wasn’t as important as they weren’t trying to eat all your coins. Limited lives vanished and were replaced by checkpoints and save states. You developed hand-eye coordination, the capacity for abstract thought and planning, and in certain cases, learned that the best way to handle clunky and counterintuitive controls and game mechanics is with patience.

Part of the fun is a good challenge. When I put in almost any game today, I have the expectation that I will beat it since it will have saves, checkpoints, unlimited lives, etc. When I bought a game as a kid I had no expectation of victory and there are plenty of games I played during my childhood I only managed to beat fairly recently. Video games being hard was a way for developers to try to stretch out the length of games and make you feel as though you were getting your 60 bucks worth.

Now they can actually fill it with content instead of artificial difficulty. However, I do agree that at times there is too much hand-holding in games now. Anyone worth their salt knows the phrase “Nintendo hard.”

Then again, challenging games aren’t exactly dead. Go play Demon’s Souls and see how badass you are getting shit on thirty minutes into your first playthrough.


What we have to remember though, is that time consuming does not mean hard. It’s tedious. Or if you want to put it another way, it takes dedication but it isn’t genuinely difficult at all, which is what most people have problems differentiating. Most video games aren’t that diffucult at all if you have basic problem solving skills and hand-eye coordination. As a child, yours aren’t fully developed yet, so the games seemed more challanging in these cases. Video games have traditionally always been doable by kids, and that trend continues. If you want a challenge from a video game, up the difficulty as you please.

I still maintain the real problem is save states, checkpoints, and unlimited lives. The reason I had a harder time with games as a kid was because I’d either have to shut them off before bed and restart it at a later time, or I’d run out of lives and/or continues and have to start over. When you can always pick up at a checkpoint just a couple minutes back it is pretty much a guarantee you’ll ace almost any game with a little determination. An example of this is Gunstar Heroes. As a kid playing on Sega Genesis, I could never make any real progress. Recently, I downloaded the Xbox Live Arcade version that includes save states, and I was able to beat the game in a matter of a couple of days.

The games themselves got easier through technical innovation (saves, memory cards), doing away with certain gameplay mechanics (lives), and just not being made around the idea that a machine needs to eat your quarters. It’s not always the games themselves though. You got experience and subconsciously memorized all the game play cliches, and your problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination have improved over time. Go put in Super Mario Bros. and compare your progress now to when you were a kid. Go on.