Gaming Blogs

The Unfixable Problem: Challenging Vs Hard Mode

I’ve been alive for 30 years, and I have moved almost 9 times in the span of 19 of those years, and while in the broad strokes that’s not a long time. Having seen many aspects of culture and society come and just as quickly go. From Tamagotchis to Yo-yo’s being a thing that every kid just had to own. My point is, similar to growing up I learned that the longer something persists the more important it must be and nothing comes to mind stronger than the growing argument of games being too hard. What used to be an excuse for small sections of the gaming community to shout “git gud” at people has become a strong point of contention for both gamers and the critics of the medium itself. Should games be easier? Accessible? Or should people treat games the same way people treat sorority life and “toughen up”? Are we talking about a Dev problem? Or a player problem? The questions are ceaseless with millions of variations and arguments being waged regularly.

For me, at the very least I tend to believe this argument boils down to a conversation about the difference between a game being “hard” or a game being “challenging”. Believe me, I understand that many people believe these two words to be synonyms but in the case of this piece, I will attempt to establish them both as two very different words in the context of gaming.

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When someone usually describes a game as “Hard” they usually do so because the game lacks a core element that makes any game enjoyable “Fairness”. The notion of being fair is a common sticking point in games, and not just of the video variety. Fairness usually boils down to whether or not the game presented a situation where you have an equal chance of succeeding as you do failing. However, in hard games, this tends to be slanted more in the game’s favour. The game places the player in near impossible situations or situations where the player would have no way of succeeding without prior knowledge. Whether that be fast scrolling levels that seemingly expect you to predict when jumps are coming or boss fights that seemingly beat you because you didn’t know or weren’t told what exactly you were supposed to do to succeed. I’m not exactly saying that the game has to or should always spell out to you what’s expected, but like Jigsaw, the tools should be clearly laid out for you, so you can make the decision.

A keynote here I want to be very clear on is that these notions can’t apply to every player, one for every one hundred players who fail, you will find two or three players who succeed. It is purely the rule of averages, the greater the task the lower the number of people who CAN and WILL succeed.

Now we get to challenging games, the preference I think all players tend to lean to (the irony of my semantics is not lost on me). I tend to think of games that push you to keep trying. You are your own worst enemy and your greatest opponent. When you lose, it is solely on you and you alone. You were too slow, You knew the attack was coming and didn’t dodge it. Point is, the game sets you up for a fair fight and you whether consciously or not know that you are to blame. You find yourself likely looking inward saying to yourself “okay, that sucked, how exactly can I stop that from happening”. In many cases these games don’t typically elicit a “Rage” gamer response, it would be pretty silly to imagine someone raging loudly at themselves. Instead, you would see someone becoming determined, trying over and over again creeping inch by inch till they finally nail down that award-winning formula, or strategy.

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I’d like to use myself as an example of this second category, so allow me to set the scene. I was participating in a 4-day long marathon of the Bayonetta games, That afternoon it was me and my Friend Ark who was currently playing Bayonetta 2 till the others were around to play. We were just half way if not a touch more through the game and we had decided to turn the game on Hard Mode. Having gotten through Bayonetta and had a bit of a god complex with just how fair and seeming easy sequel was. That was until I hit the boss of that stage that proceeded to beat me repeatedly. The real kicker was, it wasn’t long until healing options were gone and each attempt on the boss had to be done in a clean fight. No Healing, no items, Just me, the boss and a clean fight. The choice was simple. Beat the boss in a clean fight and keep playing, or reload the entire level on normal and spend another hour or so getting back to that point.

Video Link: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/306430722

While it’s a long video I’d invite you to use it as a case study in the difference between how I describe a hard game, and how I handled the challenge. If a Picture is worth a thousand words, Video is worth a few million.

Astute readers will have noticed that I haven’t given any examples of games in the first category where most of you would expect them to be. If I were to give an example of a HARD game, I’d be met with dozens of responses claiming I wasn’t capable in gaming, or the game wasn’t hard at all. This article is entirely subjective based solely on the experiences and thoughts of a man at a keyboard. Any example no matter how airtight would end in failure. I have kept examples for that one category excluded, and invite you the reader to suggest games that fit into either category. Who knows, maybe together we can make sense of things. I look forward to reading and sharing other experience in this amazing hobby.

 

In my next write up, I hope to discuss the big one “Accessibility”. This is going to be fun.

Find Mike on Twitter @Resobaso

 

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