Have Video Games Become Too Easy?
By Eric Ashley (@flapjackashley)
I love video games, and I love games that tend to challenge me. Isn’t that the point of a good, single-player game? We shouldn’t be able to beat it in a half hour with one hand tied behind our backs. But there has to be a fine line between being too challenging and being too much of a pushover.
Are video games easier today than in the past? When I say “easier”, I don’t necessarily mean content-wise, but rather the fact that there were many less tools at our disposal. Sure there were helps like Nintendo Power Guides or 800 numbers (or even 900 numbers, oooh la la) to call to speak to a “Game Counselor”. But we didn’t have the internet back in the days of the NES and Super NES. And that, by default, made games much harder.
As I was playing the original The Legend of Zelda game on my 3DS Virtual Console, I remembered so much from it – such as the hidden secrets like which trees to burn down or where to set off bombs as well as the layouts and bosses of many of the dungeons. However, could you imagine playing a game like that without any kind of help at all? The first screen is basically bare, except when you get your wooden starter sword, and are given that ominous warning of “It’s dangerous to go alone!”. Dangerous, and wide open, to say the least. The little pocket-sized game instruction manual barely covered anything except possibly a few item and enemy descriptions, but you are largely on your own. How would anybody figure out the layout and order of the dungeons, or how and where to upgrade your sword? And woe be the person who encounters the Lost Woods. I remember thinking the game was completely broken as I kept seeing the same screen over and over and over and over.
It all seems kind of humorous now because I am so familiar with the classic title now that all of this is almost like second nature. But can you imagine being a kid and attempting to blindly play a game of this nature? How many kids today would have the patience to give a shot at this game and how long would they last before rage quitting without game helps? My help was getting together with friends and sitting for hours and putting our brains together to try and figure something out.
As a child who grew up on Super Mario Bros., that game was also a challenge but nothing compared to The Legend of Zelda. Even though Mario was untapped potential, your basic scrolling from left to right pretty much dictated how the game was going to be from beginning to end. Zelda was completely different. So different that I think gamers today can take a masterpiece like it for granted because even we can forget how much of a breakthrough game this was.
There are difficult games today, no doubt. Titles like Destiny, Ninja Gaiden and others come to mind when I think of hard challenges or games that have open worlds for which you can explore. And there were other challenging, hard games back in the day as well. But we kind of know what to expect now. Thanks to Super Mario 64 being one of the first major mainstream hits where the player could go in any direction in a wide open 3D world, it has conditioned us to games like a Grand Theft Auto just out of familiarity.
In the age of the internet, I don’t know if it is possible to make a hardcore, balls to the wall type of challenging game like The Legend of Zelda. There were helps back then, of course, but nothing anywhere near what we have today. We have instant players guides, FAQs, walkthroughs and more at our fingertips – at anytime with our iPhones and other smart devices. We can even watch someone play through the level on YouTube as a visual guide. For me, personally, even games that are hard, I know in the back of my mind that if push comes to shove, I can always look something up. I will never be without a lifeline. Thus, no matter how hard a game is today, it will always be easier by default.
Is it fair for me to say games and gamers have it easier today than before? Of course not. But it is a fact of life. Some people do try the high road and go without using resources available to them, but let’s face it… how many of us would just give up and throw away a $60 game just because we got stuck? I’d rather look up a help. Even back playing Zelda, I ended up using a help – my friends, because I didn’t want to throw away my money on a game I couldn’t finish. But now with so many things competing for our attention, patience levels have dwindled and it is just easier to “cheat” than to “go it alone”. It is even so normal that strategy Guides even come out in “Collector’s Editions”.
This does not mean I find games less fun, or that I enjoy them any less. I love my games. But there is a part of me that wishes back to a simpler time when working to complete a game really meant you had to work for it. Defeating Ganon at the end and celebrating with my friends by jumping up and down was an amazing feeling that can’t be completely achieved by sitting at home with your YouTube Let’s Play video leading you through it. I’m probably an old fuddy duddy because there is just a certain magic in finishing a game the “hard way” that you don’t get today. Perhaps that’s why I like retro gaming even more so than today’s games, because they remind me of a simpler time when gaming was just pure gaming, without safety nets.