The Problem With Difficulty In Games

With the advent of game developers pandering to a more casual audience and with the rising popularity of the Dark Souls series, game difficulty has been at the forefront of the gaming community’s discussions for the past couple of years. Games like League of Legends suggest that developers should retool classically ‘hardcore’ games to allow for easier adaptation from non-gamers, while other games find success in appealing to the most niche of niche audiences. Are games like League of Legends easy? Are games like Dark Souls hard? No. The question is not about difficulty, but rather about what game developers expect from their audience.

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The dictionary definition of difficulty states that it is attributed to “a thing that is hard to accomplish, deal with, or understand.” By that definition, the Souls series could be hard, but calling a game ‘hard’ carries with it a negative connotation that makes it seem like a quality of the game, rather than a quality of the gamer. Games aren’t hard, as much as gamers are lazy and stupid. The role of the game designer is to help guide the gamer through the product, just as an author’s goal is to create a coherent flow with their mastery of language, but that doesn’t mean that the author doesn’t also expect certain qualities from their audience. The author is inclined to write for their demographic, but, beyond certain ridiculous extremes, it is up to the reader to be able to read. Likewise, a video game presents objectives and obstacles for its audience and expects the gamer to make clever use of gameplay mechanics to overcome those obstacles. Games like League of Legends allow users to ignore certain gameplay mechanics without repercussions under the guise of being accessible to new gamers. Instead of limiting the amount of gameplay mechanics to a more digestible size and easing the user into the complexities therein, LoL opts to allow gamers to smash their faces against their keyboards and rewards them with praise. Conversely, Dark Souls punishes gamers for every possible mistake with death and lose of progress. In this way, I would not call League of Legends easy or Dark Souls hard, but rather I’d say that Dark Souls expects you to not be an idiot. If you don’t like not being an idiot, games like Dark Souls and, perhaps, gaming in general isn’t for you.

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This isn’t to say that games can’t be difficult, as there are tons of games that one may struggle with, even with extensive knowledge of the gameplay mechanics. The problem, however, is that the gaming community is falsely accusing games of being difficult or falsely praising games for being accessible, instead of dealing with the fact that a majority of gamers don’t like having to learn and think. Accessibility and an appropriate difficulty are both respectable qualities that game developers should strive towards in their games, but allowing gamers to be idiots does nothing to actually accomplish either of those goals.

TL;DW – Games aren’t hard, you just suck.

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