As I’ve been talking about earlier the difficulty level in games have gradually decreased over the last 10-15 years (for another article on this, read “Stop holding my hand, games!“). In most ways this has been a natural change, due to the “spreading” of games to a wider audience. When more and more people get into gaming they also bring different expectations and demand different things of the games. Better accessibility is one of these things, and I think difficulty belongs to the scope of accessibility.
Lowering the difficulty is an easy way to make games accessible. Imagine if you are not so much into games, and then you get to try a few, but every time you try them you fail at the first encounter of any considerable challenge, perhaps even without knowing why you failed. I agree that making games more accessible is important in the goal of making games more accepted in wider circles, but that does not have to mean lowering the difficulty to almost ridiculous levels at times. I would hope that game designers instead would improve the learning process in games better, so that most controls are as intuitive as possible and that the controller itself reacts as smoothly as possible; bad controls is a way to make games less accessible. Use the first levels to introduce new controls with easier challenges; a great example is Mirror’s Edge’s first level, where you have to climb or jump over a few obstacles and by doing so you learn the basic movements that will suffice for most of the game. Some games require new ways of thinking along the way, and these should also be introduced, at least so you have some clue when you face harder challenges requiring these new techniques.
If we return to the topic of this article, the fear of difficulty, with this I mean that along the way where the difficulty have been lowered gradually over the years people have also started to expect that all games should be easy now-a-days. This has been apparent for a long time, but I had thought that at least reviewers and “hardcore” gamers would still like a real challenge, but even this group seems to expect that all games should be easy. A re-make of Baldur’s Gate (called Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition) was released recently and it was with a bit of a shock I read in a review that one thing on the negative side was its difficulty. Apparently the reviewer had failed quite many times with some encounters of monsters and enemies.
My biggest concern on this is how the game’s difficulty can be counted as a negative side of the game!? This is, at least in my point of view, due to lack of experience and knowledge in the game. I remember playing the original game a long time ago and one of the best memories were the exceptional challenges. Sure, I died many times and some challenges took a long time to solve, but that is how a challenge should be, at least in this kind of games. I can live with that Super Mario 3D Land give you a super power-up if you fail a few times in a level, since that game is aimed at a younger audience; if you want a bigger challenge, it is just a matter of not taking the power-up (or NOT checking out the solution on Youtube…).
Baldur’s Gate is based on strict rules, so it is just a matter of learning the rules, then the challenges will be more beatable or you will at least understand why you failed and hopefully you can use your last failure to improve next time.
A game I haven’t tried yet, Zombie U, have apparently also gotten some bad press due to high difficulty level. What I’ve read is that the game’s enemies (zombies) are very hard to beat and the powerful weapons and their ammunition is few and far between. But again, isn’t this a game that is supposed to be about survival and that it should be hard to succeed, otherwise the game itself would fail…?
All hope is not lost though. The unexpected success of Dark Souls and some tough Indie titles, like Limbo, have brought back the want of difficulty among some gamers. I hope this continues and more games will come that give you a real challenge, without automatic regeneration, auto-saves, and too many hints. More challenges for the gamers!