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Video Game Difficulty and how it's Evolved

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 3

Casual, hardcore, and social gaming.  Just some of the types of descriptions of our current gen of gaming consoles and computers.  Why has the game industry broken down the gaming community into demographics?  Pretty simple really, they need to define their audience and what is the best way to appeal to them.  Though many gamers would like to call themselves hardcore, they are less likely that and just more likely that they enjoy playing several different types of games on various types of platforms.  Or maybe they just stick to a few types.  The real issue at hand though is that gaming is not hard anymore.  It's become increasingly easier to play a game and beat it within a few days for most.  Why is that?

I'm a child of the 80's and back then gaming was hard.  No really it was.  That's  because companies only really had a few good genres to work with due to technology restraints.  You were either playing a platformer, puzzle game or some form of sidescroller.  There were no first person shooters, no massive worlds to chat with friends across the world, and no 3D realism to suck you into the game you were playing.  It was just you, the controller and the game.  Sometimes you had a friend but that required getting to their house or vice versa.  

Because of these restraints of genre and technology it made gaming difficult.  Hit boxes seemed outlandish on your character and the slightest thing could kill you.  Jump controls were either to clunky or so fluid they caused you to move faster than you were wanting.  So then you may ask was it the developers intentions to make the games hard or was it due to the technology?  A little of both but more than likely it just depended on the type of game they were making.  Role playing games and adventure games were the most difficult with strange requirements and level difficulties that caused players to grind their characters to more power before progressing further.  At least in platformers you could make a mistake, learn and then move on.  It became a type of memorization.  

Link's difficult choices.

As technology advanced, gaming started to become easier.  More parameters could be added into the game and allow us to have a slightly more forgiving learning curve and not so unforgiving punishments for losing.  If you die in a game now, more than likely there is a checkpoint you just passed so you don't have to go through the entire level again.  If you died in the 80's, enjoy going through the first 3 levels again just to get back to where you were.  

Is it really that gaming is to easy now though or just that the masses from my time feel like they got jipped?  I hear things such as "Back in my day, you only had 3 lives to get through it all and maybe 1 continue.",  "Kids have it good with video games now a days." and my favorite "When I used to do the same thing you are doing now, it was harder."  I'm one of those people actually but then I realize that I actually enjoy having an easier time in games.  Some see it as convenience but I see it as advancement.

Now if developers want to make a hard game they can without relying on the restraints of technology so much and focus more on the gameplay itself.  They can develop unique scenarios for you to fight through to reach your princess, to collect all those items that will help you save the world or to just finish the epic story you have progressed through to see its rewarding end.  They don't have to have the controls be the worst part of the game even though sometimes they are with how many buttons are on a controller and how many things you can do with those buttons (give me my 2 back and I'm good!).

At the end of the day most gamers will realize that what they have now is still an inviting experience and keeps them devoted to the story and gameplay.  I don't know about everyone else but when I play a game I just enjoy knowing that it helps me escape from the everyday struggles of the work day and stress that comes with bills and life.  Without completely forgetting about them of course because, let's be honest, your gaming skills don't pay the bills.  Or do they?



Feb 29, 2012 5:16am
I think the extreme end of the difficulty curve (and my personal favourite) is competitive online gaming. For a competitive game the designers only need to create a balanced, interesting game (still a feat in itself) and the skill level of the players will determine the difficulty (assuming there is a good match-making system). If you are clamouring for a challenge in your gaming then competitive gaming may be perfect for you.

As for single player games (and non-competitive multiplayer) difficulty is a difficult thing to get right (no pun intended). I think modern games are more about the experience though some games still show off that a difficult game can be popular (see Dark Souls and Demon Souls).

Interesting article, got me thinking. Thanks for sharing!
Feb 29, 2012 11:13am
Thanks much for the comment!

So much I wanted to talk about with the difficulty curve in gaming and should have some more articles about it as soon as I do some more research on the different aspects of it.
Feb 29, 2012 7:28pm
Modern games attract replay value through bonuses, collectables, and achievements. Retro games attract replays through their difficulty level and thus the sense of achievement you gain when you FINALLY pass that level on SMB. :) I miss playing my retro games
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