Once upon a time, video games were difficult. Many had to be finished in one sitting, or you had to remember many passwords. Tutorials were rare — that’s what manuals were for. The games themselves were quite difficult to clear, and if you failed enough times, you had to go all the way back to the beginning of the game. Gamers who grew up in the 90s would know exactly what I was talking about.
Today, though? Things are very different.
Save systems are a basic requirement now, with some games autosaving as well. Tutorials are so common that most games don’t even ship with manuals anymore. They have been made far easier to clear, too; difficulty settings don’t hobble you like they used to, and dying usually punts you back to the last checkpoint — the GAME OVER screen is a thing of the past. In many ways, this is an improvement over the 90s era of gaming, since it makes games more fun and relaxing and less like punishing gauntlets.
But what does it say about our larger culture?
Video games are entertainment products, not academic content. They largely reflect the wants of their buyers, and today, we live in a world that expects content really fast and right now. In the 90s, you had to work for your content — find out about it, drive to the store, and hope it was in stock and in good condition. Today, you look for it on Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, or some other on-demand provider, and if it’s not there, you pirate it. We have physical goods shipped to our door instead of driving out to get them. We can find out about a place of business just by looking it up on Google; we don’t even have to see the place ourselves.
In a climate like today’s, gaming must be made easier. To underline this point, there’s an entire genre known as “visual novels” that have little to no gameplay at all. While movies, especially action movies, borrow more from video games, video games become more like movies.
That’s not to say that challenge has been stamped out. Player vs. player online matches are one example: you’re playing against unpredictable humans, not exploitable computers. Many games have “hard modes” that remove a lot of crutches. Games on PC can be modded to increase the difficulty level. The trend here is toward customizing one’s game experience to be as easy or difficult as one would like.
That’s the larger theme here — customization. Just as we are no longer tied to TV stations’ schedules, we no longer have to play a game that’s singularly “easy” or “hard”; difficulty is up to us now.
Not a bad place to be.