Damn I’m Good – Inquiring playability of difficult video games
Suppose two sets of paths are laid out for people. Each of the paths lead to the same end point or end goal. Both of the paths included trials, traps, enemies and a boss waiting at the end. However only one path possesses a guide, a breadcrumb trail and a series of check points throughout the way. The other however contains none of these things and should you end up dying along the way, your body will be revived and placed at the start of the path, forcing you to recomplete everything over again. No saves, no checkpoints, no remorse. What causes people to venture down these paths? Why risk the trouble and tribulations of going through the game just to be shot down at every corner? Games such as: Demon’s Souls, Monster Hunter, Catherine, and Ninja Gaiden, all include elements that might make the game significantly more difficult compared to other games released in its year. I’ve chosen to inquire about the playability of harder games, and the reason people might end up playing them.
Simply comparing games in terms of difficulty is not enough. We must begin to understand why people would play a video game with such an inherent difficulty. What drives a person to play a video game, knowing full well the game is designed to be extremely tedious and difficult? Games like From Software’s; Demon’s Souls pride themselves on developing a game with mind melting frustration and insane level and enemy designs. Perfectly making the user feel isolated, scared, or pushed to verge of giving up within single-player mode. The hurdles of trying to co-operative play in Demon’s Souls are just an addition to the frustration of the game. But people play, and they continue playing until they get it right. Many drop their controllers and will to go on along the way, but there are a few who make it to the end.
Games like Atlus’: Catherine for console permits players to select the difficulty pre-game, but still maintains a core difficulty throughout the game. Regardless of play the user will still meet grueling fast paced puzzles, game-altering decisions, and numerous flights of stairs to climb, with plenty of baddies. The contrasting play genres the game shifts you through, going from dating simulator one minute to a Q-bert style puzzle game gives a sense of night and day, which is a key element in the game.
We can also argue that the games individually possess elements of mechanics and dynamics independent to each title, yet we see a similarity through aesthetic appeals. The games chosen to discuss share elements of aesthetics such as: challenge, discovery, expression, and submission. Challenge and discovery are elements vital to games considered hard. The challenge, self-explanatory for the most part, employing the use of level design and opposing factors to stall or slow down the player trying to progress through to the end. Whether it be understanding level designs and layouts, mob attack patterns or what answers to input for the best ending, challenge of figuring out the right path is always a significant make or break decision. Incorrect choices usually result in dire and cruel punishment. Forcing a retry or a re do of all the stage again. In Catherine, though players are greeted with a checkpoint within levels, dying while completing a level usually results in a mediocre or satisfactory end score.
Players are often challenged by their own limitations and led on a journey of self-discovery. It becomes more of an effort to beat the game, than to have the game beat them. They might set individual goals and structure a plan according to present skills sets. Learning to adapt to beat the game morsels at a time compared to running straight through. Practice may not breed perfection but it certainly gets the job done, especially in the gritty levels of Monster Hunter and Dark Souls.
When challenge spills into an element of discovery, players will encounter challenges by the hundreds and will probably be retrying certain parts to the game to understand how to progress, games much like Contra, or Monster Hunter where scouting is key to preparation. Though we can examine the literal sense of discovering new parts or areas to a stage we must not ignore the ‘discovery’ of new play practices. The notion of preparing, and strategizing your way through uncharted territories. Discovering new aspects and play methods to make level completion easier is part of the experience in playing games with such difficulty.
It becomes the submission of users to yearn for sensation. Players will input numerous amounts of hours playing to simply figure out something or get past a stage. Players learn to hone their skills and settle their irrationality. Players are looking for opportunities to challenge themselves through strategy and problem solving. Perhaps it is the idea that through the extreme difficulties we experience an added sense of accomplishment and gratification. Even the simplest act of opening a gate, pulling a lever, or making it past a dragon in a stage add to the enjoyment of the game in a way inexperienced. Creating an emotional experience to drive users to a determined goal also apply. Aside from expressive aspects, the intrigue of seeing what lies past the closed curtains or at the end of the level, players gain incentive through relation with the game to progress onwards. Players must work for reward rather than have it handed to them. High-risk situations input, result in high reward output.
After venturing through both paths and realizing what looms at the end of each and the factors dealing with difficulties specific to each one we can assess why people might want to take the path less travelled on. Perhaps the addition of self-discovery and triumph over obstacles in the difficult path are more appreciated. Or the simplicity of getting to the end of something extremely arduous drives players to pick up titles like Dark Souls, Monster Hunter or Ninja Gaiden. The end point, the appraisal, the objectives all play roles in determining the factors as to why people play games with such high difficulties.