I Think You’ve Mistaken Me for Someone Else

When you make a mistake in a game, you die. Or lose. Or sometimes you stumble across a secret or method you never though of for winning! But usually it’s one of the first two. Many gamers grew up in a time where they remember dying constantly before beating one level. With each mistake, they learned something new. More and more, however, we’re seeing games get forgiving. Our mistakes have fewer penalties. This is unthinkable to the aforementioned gamers. According to them, gaming has been taken over by casuals who force developers to water down mechanics in order to appeal to a broader market. This complaint sounds like sour grapes, and there are definitely far too many “hardcore gamers” who venomously attack people who don’t stack up, reminding everyone that they beat games when they were “actually hard”, however there is something to be said for the frustration had by people who paid a steep price for entry into a hobby only to see it become easier with each passing day. You got really good aiming with a particular gun, but then the developer put in a missile launcher that any idiot can use to kill you in one shit. You beat games with convoluted passwords and continues, when now you can just save anywhere and restart at the same spot after death (or sometimes not even die!) You endured trial and error to figure out which tokens you needed to buy that piece of endgame equipment, only to have a patch come out that practically handed it to new characters. It’s easy to understand why someone would be frustrated that all their hard work wound up meaning nothing. Full disclosure, I still think this is sour grapes, but I don’t want to take away from the frustration. So let’s discuss how games approach mistakes, and what it may mean that games today are “easier”.


Let’s talk about older games. In the late 80s and early 90s, video game consoles were only starting to truly adapt to the capabilities of their technology. Suddenly detailed backgrounds and character sprites were possible, controllers utilized (mostly) well-implemented button systems, programming was capable of generating more and more complex patterns and reactions. Though they were looking much better than their Atari-ruled predecessors, it was still a bit of a sandbox, with certain limitations that wouldn’t be overcome until later. This time period is when a the first generation of “gamers” really came into their own. Before this, video games were simple diversions or the realm of coding “nerds” fighting for high scores. With them now accessible, all kinds were playing around with soldiers who fought aliens, plumbers who fought turtles, alien soldiers who fought other alien soldiers…

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Alien. Soldiers.

This combination of new design and new gamers created the perfect test setting. Gamers were not only required, but were willing to die again and again and again in order to truly master a game. While some games took it a little too far and garnered criticism, they still were used as badges of honor for any gamer daring and persistent enough to actually beat them.

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Make one wrong move, and you see this.

So flash forward to today. We see games with autosave features that activate every few steps, tutorial levels that hold your hand through every mechanic, free lives everywhere! We live in a world where Pac Man went from this…

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Waka waka waka waka…

To this…

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It also used to be harder to find inflation fetish art!

Much of this is to do with the exponential advancement of gaming technology and storage space. Games can just do more things now, and one of those things is tell you how to play the right way and allow for you to keep playing regardless of how bad you do. Also we’re not modeling our games off of titles designed to suck money into an arcade machine.

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The concept of trial and error given form through the power of quarters.

It seems like this shouldn’t even be an issue. If there are easy games and there are hard games then each camp should be happy and anyone who is complaining is kind of a jerk. This is mostly true. However, there are some games, especially online games, where the two camps overlapping is impossible to avoid.

Recently, Final Fantasy XIV Heavensward released a patch to update content and make certain things easier. Before this patch, players had to spend weeks on end mastering mechanics and gathering materials to receive a piece of high quality gear they could use to take on the hardest fights in the game. Certain items you could only receive once a week, others required amassing special currency to build up enough. Many people struggled for months to finally get their hands on a fully powered Relic Weapon. This patch changed all that. This patch drastically reduced the requirements, requiring less currency and lifting the restriction on weekly drops, making the items accessible for each time you performed the duty involved. Many were thrilled. Many were angry. I happen to have been of the former, but I can understand the frustration of the latter. Now all of their devised tactics, their dedication, their putting up with the occasional asshole player who would undo everything in a particular dungeon they had tried so hard to master, it was all rendered pointless. The mistakes made by those who had squandered their currency, fumbled through dungeons, idled away were suddenly rewarded.

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WHYYYYYYYYYY?

I definitely think making video games appeal to a broader audience is a good idea. I also think that people who complain about games becoming “too casual” really need to get back to condescending people on their Xbox headsets. But I think it is fair to suggest that there’s still a place for serious mistake making in games, and a place for forcing the player to learn. It doesn’t have to be impossible, but it doesn’t have to be insultingly easy either. However, if anyone really thinks hard games have gone to the wayside, they are dearly mistaken. Perhaps their mistake is that they aren’t looking hard enough.

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