Editorial: Are Easier Games A Bad Thing...Really?
The debate rages between the hardcore and casual gamers; the former maintain that easier games are hurting the industry and the overall quality of the entertainment, while the casuals claim that accessibility is what makes games fun, as they're supposed to be. For quite some time, I was on the fence regarding this issue, but I've come to a conclusion...well, a semi-conclusion, anyway.
Look, I certainly understand the hardcore train of thought. Back in the day, the console games were derived from their arcade counterparts, and hence, were almost as difficult to beat. Essentially, many were impossible without a code, and it's the primary reason we attempted to feed our NES controllers to the dog after a particularly frustrating round of Contra. "Beating" a game in those days was like obtaining a badge of honor; one would wear it proudly in school, and others would be downright awed. "Woah...you beat it?! Really?" Heck, most of the time, the less skilled gamers had to be happy with beating their own high score or reaching a new level; actually "beating" the game was most decidedly out of the question. And due to the social aspect of the early days, where all the geeks were into games, the fans liked having something over their more popular classroom brethren.
Sure, the jocks may get all the girls and go to parties on Friday night, but they sure as sh** couldn't beat Revenge of Shinobi, now could they? Nowadays, those same hardcore gamers are grown up, and don't particularly like the fact that those same jocks can now beat 90-95% of the games on store shelves. All it really takes these days is time, and perhaps not so much in the way of ability. This is the driving force behind the hardcore's complaints; don't be swayed by this high-and-mighty, "oh, it's hurting the industry" nonsense. That is completely illogical; despite the idea that the "purity" of past generations can never again be matched (an idea which I do believe), there's no denying that games continue to advance and get better with every passing year. The industry is still very much in a growth phase. Really, it all comes down to the fact that the hardcore are bitter and annoyed. What only they could do at one point - something their school rivals couldn't - can now be done by just about everyone.
And I understand that point of view. I do. But at the same time, one can make an argument that the vast majority of gamers play games to have fun, and I refuse to believe that anything that feels like a chore can be considered "fun." For example, I am quite proud of the fact I beat both Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry 3 on Normal difficulty; they were two of the most brutally difficult games of the last generation. But I'm proud because I'm not so great at such games; I'm sure the hardcore action aficionados would just laugh at me. But having played games for a quarter-century, I do consider myself more skilled than the majority of gamers out there, which must mean the vast majority aren't interested in a chore. I understand the concept of accomplishment; of being thrilled and excited and besting a truly challenging video game. But these days, I really just want to have fun, and the new, easier difficulty levels are helping me achieve my goal.
Developers seem to be headed in one direction concerning the subject at hand, but in other ways, they're also jumping all over the place. Take the DMC franchise, for instance. The first was hard, the second was easy, the third was brutal, and the fourth was somewhere between the first and second. They just keep jumping around, and to be honest, while I loved them all (except for DMC2), I think I had the most fun with DMC4. Why? Because it was challenging enough to make me satisfied with the effort when I completed it, and easy enough so I could have fun ripping apart the baddies. It also had production values and a level of polish the other three didn't have, and that's a typical byproduct of the growing industry. Now, look at Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. With more of an emphasis on action and a more fluid third-person shooter mechanic, Konami opened the door to many gamers who simply had to avoid the series previously...it was just too hard. A friend of mine admitted he could never play the first three, but he adored the fourth.
Is this such a bad thing? Granted, the argument will always rage because neither extreme is the answer; too easy and it gets boring and too hard and it gets irritating. Somewhere in between is the answer, but it will be a slightly different answer for just about everyone. Therefore, it's difficult to say where the line should be drawn, but I can say this: I don't believe the added ease and accessibility in games today is a negative thing. I don't believe it has any impact whatsoever on the inherent quality of a game, nor do I think it makes games less fun for the majority of fans out there. And besides, given the size of the industry now; the sheer level of diversity and amount of different genres and types, the hardcore can still find their tough titles. They'll find them in simulators and in the Hard difficulties of certain action games, and hey, let's not forget that some recent games have a very steep learning curve for the uninitiated. Wipeout HD is a great example of that.
In the end, if we agree that gaming is about entertainment and entertainment is about fun, than I can never agree that making games easier is a bad thing. Hey, we didn't try to smash our old controllers with heavy objects because we were having fun. No, we were pissed. We couldn't beat the damn game, we always died, and we were pissed. Yeah, the hardcore can say that was a big part of the glory days, and in hindsight, all that bashing of controllers was what really made it fun. And in a way, they're right. But in all honesty, I want to keep my controller as long as possible, and I want to wreak havoc like a bad-ass without feeling over-matched. Matched, yes, but not over-matched, and not necessarily under-matched, either. Get me?
9/26/2008 Ben Dutka