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Video Games Should Be Hard

February 26, 2013
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demonssoulsI’ve been playing Demon’s Souls the past couple of weeks. It may be the most infuriatingly difficult video game I’ve played in my 3 decades and change of playing these things.

If you die, you lose all of your souls (the game’s currency) and you have to get back to where you died in order to regain all that soulcash. Sometimes you really want those souls back, but in your quest to retrieve them you die before reaching your previous point of death. Now those souls are permanently lost, replaced by an infinitely smaller pile of souls gathered on the failed retrieval quest.

It’s brutal, to the point that some would liken it to mental abuse in gaming form.

I love it.

I approach gaming from a decidedly old school mentality. I don’t give a damn about plot in video games. I loathe sitting through cut scenes. Character development is a joke. I’m not even concerned with beating a game. Reaching some predetermined end point created by the game developers doesn’t give me the same sort of satisfaction as it does for other people. For me, playing video games isn’t about accomplishing a goal, and it isn’t about achievements or trophies. It’s about gameplay.

I’m interested in playing with a set of rules and seeing how good I can get within the parameters of said rules. I play fighting games for that reason. I like to compete with some other person to see who can beat up the other person using the game’s rule system. By beating that dude I’m not unlocking some story bit or progressing along some path, I’m just playing some game and seeing how good I am at it. The same goes for old school point-driven games. Most of those games are about seeing how long you can survive and how many points you can rack up before your inevitable death. There’s no reward for getting to a certain point beyond seeing if you can beat someone’s high score. I get more enjoyment out of that than I do seeing some scripted events play out.

galagaDemon’s Souls isn’t quite the same as those old games, since you’re trying to beat levels in order to progress in the game’s story, but it has that frustratingly hard gameplay in its favor. If a game has a set ending, I want that ending to be something I have to struggle to achieve. If I die, I want setbacks. I want limited lives, and if I run out of those lives I want to start over at the beginning. If I don’t have limited lives, I want other repercussions for my failures. Demon’s Souls takes away all of your hard-earned souls if you die, and you have to fight to get them back.

Basically, I wanna have to get good at the game in order to reach the ending. I don’t get the same fulfillment out of a game if I start right back where I was when I lost a life. If the game boots right back up at some quicksave point, what’s the point of having health bars and stuff like that? If you’re gonna streamline things that far, you may as well eliminate player death all together. The way games are going nowadays, stuff like “lives” and energy bars and stuff like that feel more like relics of an old gaming system that are no longer relevant for modern sensibilities, yet game developers still cling to them. If you wanna go down the interactive movie route, you may as well throw away the trappings of older games in favor of something more appropriate for these styles of games.

But yeah, that interactive movie style of video game isn’t something that interest me. I dig the Metal Gear games for their ridiculous take on politics and philosophy and shit like that, and I’m amused by Suda51’s games, but that’s pretty much where my interest stops. I’m not into that immersive storytelling. I’m into the challenge of trying to figure out how to fight stuff and shoot stuff. I like puzzles and bosses with hard to find weak points and gauntlets of foes whose moves you have to memorize to defeat. If I don’t get that sense of frustration and futility, I feel like my time’s being wasted. If I can beat a game without being challenged, it wasn’t a game. It was just some overpriced CG movie with bad voice acting and a generic plot done better in real movies.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2013 6:56 PM

    I don’t know how you feel about platformers in general, but if you like challenge and haven’t played Super Meat Boy, I would suggest you do.

  2. February 26, 2013 8:03 PM

    Yeah you know, I haven’t played Demon Souls or Dark Souls (that’s out on PC right?), just because it looked a bit bland to me…but supposedly everyone who tries it get insanely addicted and I’m kind of scared of getting additcted to anything before Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite. I beat Dead Space 3 about a week or 2 ago and that was a really fun game. Felt a bit drawn out….but only for me because I know I have a low tolerence for length of games in odd situations. Sometimes I want them to last forever..where some I’m like, “can I please be done with this?” even though im having fun. weird huh.

    Anyways, yeah Essentially the first level of games these days is an unskippable tutorial and it disgusts me.

  3. Aiphrem permalink
    February 27, 2013 1:37 PM

    Plots are getting to be less and less interesting for me nowadays in games, I get your point. In the past year I have to say of all the games that I’ve played, my favorites have been Super Meat Boy, the Binding of Isaac, the Legend of Grimrock, Touhou, YS, etc. etc. Basically difficult games who’s reward are finishing “that level”, or “that boss” through skill and determination.

    Ya, I also got addicted to Dota 2 in the past year. Dunno what your stance is on online competitive games, but it’s definitely one of the hardest games I’ve played so far.

  4. Stef permalink
    February 28, 2013 4:46 AM

    Not sure if video games should be hard, but they definitely shouldn’t copy movie aesthetic to tell their stories. They should have their own form of narrative.

    You may not see it(or care), but even Demon’s Souls has a narrative conveyed mainly through the gameplay and setting.

  5. JAM permalink
    March 4, 2013 6:19 PM

    Dark Souls prepare to die edition is fan-fucking-tastic. I haven’t had this sort of suspense in a video game is years. You always have to been careful and prepared or your dead as shit and sometimes your still dead as shit anyways. It also makes you think because you can’t just hack your way through. I have 120 hours played and I still haven’t beat it. Shit i’m not even sure if i’m half way yet.

  6. Di-Dorval permalink
    September 1, 2013 10:37 AM

    Loved this game for the adventure feel it offered. Loved to travel in this dark land where everything tries to murder you. Getting to the next bonfire always felt rewarding. And I also loved how the easy the game felt when I began a 2nd play-through. It’s really all about skills.

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