Game Design

Difficulty in Games

Gamasutra’s Soapbox: Difficulty and the Interstitial Gamer by Michael M. Eilers talks about the idea of gamer who grew up.

Years ago, video games were for children. Today, while a lot of non-gamers think that it is still the case, most gamers are adults. These are adults with lives outside of school and video games, and they don’t have a lot of time to spend on games. I believe I fit that description, a realization that has always been sad to think about.

The article makes the point that games that make use of the same designs employed in the 80s won’t work as well today. Designs doesn’t mean that you can’t make a Pac-man clone. It means that what is normal in games is drudge work by today’s standards. Years ago I would try over and over and over again to get past a Megaman boss or time the jumps right in Super Mario Bros. I had nothing but time to dedicate to games. Today, if I hear that a game has arbitrary jumping puzzles or has dangers that I can only get past the first time with clairvoyance or cheat guides, I tend to take a pass. I also don’t spend money on MMO games because I can’t be guaranteed that I will get good value out of my monthly fee.

Now, it isn’t to say that I don’t take pleasure in playing these games. I just don’t have the time anymore. Years ago, I played strategy and role playing games for days or weeks at a time, then stop playing those games for a few weeks or longer. When I came back to the game after such a period of time, I couldn’t remember what I had done so I usually erased my old save and started over. I get a slight empty feeling at this point because I can’t feel comfortable continuing a game that I barely remember (“that’s not my character anymore”) nor can I feel good about deleting the progress I had made. I get that exact feeling today when I get a chance to play a game for an evening but can’t return to it for weeks. When I was younger, I might stop because I wanted to play a new game or had a lot of homework for that week. These days it is because game time is rare. It is more like I was able to find some time to play a game instead of having my game time interrupted by something else. I suppose it is why LAN parties are so popular. You get to schedule an entire day or two (or three!) to just playing games.

So gamers have grown up for the most part, and the game industry’s mainstream isn’t the hardcore game player anymore. I touched on this idea slightly when I discussed the idea of making games girl friendly. I basically say that games should be more accessible in general to attract non-gamers rather than specifically female non-gamers. This article made me realize that non-gamers are actually a subset of people who aren’t playing games. Interstitial gamers make up another part of it, and while I knew they existed, I didn’t realize just how large of a group it may be.

And then there is this article at Gamers With Jobs which gives an…interesting point of view on difficulty in games. There are no pictures so it is workplace safe.

One reply on “Difficulty in Games”

Today, if I hear that a game has arbitrary jumping puzzles or has dangers that I can only get past the first time with clairvoyance or cheat guides, I tend to take a pass.

I feel the same way. Part of it is because I don’t have as much time for playing games as I used to, so I can’t be bothered with such repetitiveness. Another part of it is because I just don’t enjoy these kinds of ‘challenges’ anymore, even though I loved them as a child.

These days, most games seem to steer clear of the problems you describe. To me, this is evidence that game design has evolved over the last few years.

However, I’m left wondering exactly why I don’t like games anymore where you can only learn the proper course of action by doing everything wrong at least once. Is it really because I don’t have the time to play them? Is it because I’m more impatient than I used to be? Is it because I am now accustomed to a higher standard of game design?

It might simply have to do with age. In general, children seems to be a lot less bothered by repetitiveness than adults. So, maybe repetitiveness in games isn’t a matter of available time or better game design, it simply has to do with target audience. (I’m fairly certain it doesn’t have anything to do with patience, since children are usually way more impatient than adults.)

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