On difficulty in Videogames


Okay, here’s an argument which pops up all the time which I completely reject:

Do we have some arbitrary test in the middle of a movie which locks you out from seeing the end if you don’t pass? No. So why should these barriers exist in videogames?

Replace “movie” with “book”, “album”, whatever other medium you wish. I reject this almost entirely though – almost because I can, at least, appreciate the sentiment behind it – because, fundamentally, videogames are utterly unlike any of those things. You may as well replace the word “movie” with “brick”. Yes, there are many similarities too – videogames share commonality with movies often in terms of narrative, storytelling, etc. But your framework is entirely out of whack when you’re comparing passive experiences with active ones. It’d be more appropriate (but also far from perfect) to compare videogames to sports activities – would we criticise playing football in terms of not everyone getting the same out of the activity? Some people score more goals than others, many people regularly lose. Okay okay, football is a team game and many games are single-player, but almost all games share with sports the principles of having a playfield, a set of rules, and a goal to accomplish. Not so with movies, books, or going to a concert and this alone separates videogames from those by a mighty canyon. For heaven’s sake, that difference is fundamental to what makes videogames so unique, interesting, and varied.

The problem, to me, really just comes down to the progress made technically with videogames. Because it’s now possible to deliver high-fidelity visuals, oftentimes employing actors who also work in film, we’ve confused the two media. Games look a lot like films now, so they must act a lot like films too. No. No – no – no. They can, but they should do no such thing.

The only thing a game should do, is be effective in providing the experience intended regardless of what that experience is. You might find a game good or bad accordingly – to your taste or otherwise. It’s no more wrong to design your game to be challenging as it is to design your game to be easy. One may appeal to you and the other may not. But just because the game has a story does not mean that the game is designed for people to be able to simply passively enjoy it – that the story is just some oil in the water of gameplay that we can extract and allow to be enjoyed in isolation. That those things aren’t fundamentally and inexorably interwoven. If they aren’t, you’re probably looking at a badly designed videogame.

If you do want to design your game to be like that, I won’t criticise that either. You do what you want, whatever you think best. I’ll support your right to navigate your way through the ocean of design possibilities in whichever way you choose. Some ways may be more profitable than others, appeal to a more mainstream audience. Whatever. Make your decision based on whatever criteria you choose – who am I to tell you you’re wrong?

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