The Difficulty of Difficulty

One of the main difficulties in developing games is the decision on how easy or hard it should be. In the early days of home videogame consoles during the 1980s, games for the Nintendo Entertainment System tended to be challenging, decades later inspiring the TV Tropes article Nintendo Hard. As game generations elapsed, titles started to ease up a little on how challenging they were, increasing their widespread appeal yet simultaneously alienating those that preferred harder titles. Therein lies the arduous task of trying to increase the appeal of games to more casual players while pacifying gamers that prefer challenging videogame experiences.

An obvious solution to the question of difficulty is to have different challenge settings that either are selectable when starting a new game and unchangeable throughout the game, or are actually changeable within the game, as is the case with many entries of Bandai-Namco’s Tales franchise. However, many games tend to have fixed difficulty that greatly restrict their appeal to casual and hardcore gamers, and more lamentably, many mainstream videogame critics correlate a game’s difficulty, low or high, with its actual quality, and tend to deduct points largely in the case of titles having lenient challenge.

However, there can arise the difficulty of actually labeling a game’s difficulty as easy, moderate, or hard. One major factor in this area is the actual skill of the player, who might have vast experience with videogames or minimal exposure, and may actually find games that mainstream players find hard to be cakewalks. A solution to this issue of challenge assessment is GameFAQs’ videogame page polls on game difficulty, with “Just Right” being the central choice, although this system somewhat fails in the case of games with adjustable challenge, with no choice on the website on whether a game’s difficulty can vary.

This freelance game journalist will acknowledge that he has had a great variety of different videogame experience in his career of writing game reviews and the occasional editorial for the approximate past score, although he will admit that sometimes he has trouble assessing a game’s difficulty. There are games that he’s played that the average player has claimed to be easy that he thought were hard at times, and games that the common gamer think hard that he had little problem with. He’ll further admit that he firmly believes that playing a game should never be a chore, and that games with lenient difficulty have more widespread appeal.

Most of the time, if this reviewer feels a game is “hard,” it’s artificially so, and he definitely isn’t alone in this thought, as the trope Fake Difficulty explains, with many developers relying upon cheap tricks to make their games “difficult,” such as the tendency of Japanese roleplaying games to have save points rather than allowing players to save their progress at any moment. The argument that liberalized save systems make games easy, in this reviewer’s opinion, is a load of bull, since he’s played quite a few titles that allowed players to save their progress any time yet are still hard, mainly Square-Enix’s classically-difficult SaGa series.

The best solution to game difficulty, in this reviewer’s opinion, is simply to make challenge adjustable so that casual and hardcore players alike can be content, since fixed difficulty most of the time just alienates players from either camp. Although this reviewer more prefers casual difficulty settings, and largely plays games on the easiest difficulties, there are times in which he’s enjoyed harder games, so he definitely isn’t close-minded towards such titles, so long as their challenge is actually genuine rather than merely artificial and cheap. Developers, however, should definitely make efforts to appeal to players of all skill levels.

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