Life is Hard, Gaming is (too) Easy?

Talk with any retro gamer and at some point the conversation will probably turn into a moan about how modern games are too easy compared with the titles of yesterday. I know because I’m guilty of this myself. Yet even with my rose-tinted retro gaming glasses on, this is one area where I think perhaps modern games have the edge over older ones.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not in favour of games that give you an Achievement merely for turning your console on or holding the controller the right way round. I like games that offer a decent challenge, but also ones where you at least have a reasonable chance of completing them, regardless of your playing abilities.

The thing is, despite a 30+ year “career” as a gamer, I’m not actually (whisper it) very good at them. I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of older games I managed to complete using my own skill, rather than resorting to cheat codes.

It’s no secret that most older games were rock hard. Memory and hardware restrictions often meant that they were relatively short, so to make up for this designers made them tough. Often they didn’t go through any sort of play-testing procedure, so the programmer (who knew everything about the game) underestimated its toughness and over-estimated the abilities of the average player. My gaming history is littered with titles that have been abandoned because I’ve reached the point where I could get no further.

When games were score attack titles this didn’t matter too much. Regardless of how rubbish you were, you could still look to beat your own high score (or those of friends). As games have become more narrative driven, it’s more important that everyone has a reasonable chance of getting to the end. After all, you wouldn’t expect to buy a book only to be told half way through that you could only read the rest of it if you demonstrated that you had a vocabulary that exceeded a certain level, would you?

Don’t get me wrong: I admire the incredible skills of those people who can rack up massive scores on the likes of Defender, Donkey Kong or Pac-Man and I fully appreciate that what is a tough challenge for me is a walk in the park for them. I can well understand the frustration of people who pay £40 for a game that they breeze through with barely a pause for breath; they want a challenge too.

For me, that’s where modern games have an edge over older ones. Generally speaking, older games played the same for everyone; modern games are able to offer a better balance. Some adapt to the ability of the player dynamically, automatically adjusting the difficulty level in response to their playing style. Others, like the Uncharted series or Batman: Arkham titles, offer a range of difficulty levels so that you can choose best suited to your abilities. If there’s the option to change this partway through (without having to start again from scratch), then that’s even better.

So yes, games have certainly got easier they have become more mainstream, but that just means that gaming idiots like me have a realistic chance of seeing the end credits – something I hardly ever did with the old 8 and 16 bit titles.


4 thoughts on “Life is Hard, Gaming is (too) Easy?

  1. I revisited a lot of those old games in the past two months and yes, most of them were freaking hard. I think one of the reasons why they became easier is the fact that there’s a lot more casual gamers around these days. Back in the 80’s, games were for gamers, while today it’s all about reaching the masses.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My 10 cent theory: I think a lot of the early games were freakishly hard simply because they wanted your quarters – it’s hard to make money if an average player can stay alive in Robotron for 20 minutes on a single credit. As games moved from arcades to our living rooms, the requirement to make them crazy-hard was no longer key, and we gamers wanted more engaging experiences. As a result, the emphasis naturally shifted towards sophisticated plot lines, character development, etc.

    One of the interesting aspects of gaming to me right now is the renaissance that the old, 8/16-bit styled twitch games are seeing. Titles like Spelunky, Super Meat Boy and Super Time Force not only look old-school, but they require a great deal of skill and practice to master. All three would be perfectly at home in a 1986 arcade and would gobble quarters with the best of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t mind that games are generally easier these days. In many cases harder just means more frustrating due to cheap deaths. Given the choice I would rather complete a game on easy than pump up the difficulty to hard and get stuck. Those seeking to test their skills still have the option of playing Dark Souls.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s my feeling too. If a game has an Easy setting, that’s the one I always go for. Some people might call this wussy, I just call it a realistic assessment of my own (pathetic) gaming skills!


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