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The Easy Way Out: Has Modern Gaming become easy?

by on April 14, 2014

I despised the Lion King game for one reason only; the second level. Everyone knows the second level, right? The one with the tree platforming (which took me hours to do) that transitioned into riding on the ostrich’s back while dodging the various roots and branches in yourw way to race to the end? That was the level that took me HOURS to try to master, only to give up when my dad couldn’t help me get past it. There was a moment where I felt I had gotten close to the end, but I died from missing the jump button and tripping over a root. It would have been fine…had there been a checkpoint. I remember turning off the game disappointed and wanting to stop because I could not get past it. Even now, in the present, I tried it again and gave up after a second or third try.

Retro games, for a lack of better term, were notorious for being difficult and challenging to even the most hardcore gamers. A lot of them required memorizing the patterns and timings of their enemies like Ghosts and Ghoblins. Others required a willingness to explore the 2 – 2.5 D plain for whatever secrets may lie around like Metroid. For that extra spice for the masochist, some games would add a time limit to beat the game with little to no clue how to do so like Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. If you really needed help to get through a level, well….Nintendo at least provided a help support line to give you an idea how to get past the area. That, or you and your friend would spend hours solving it until you finally got it down. A lot of my gaming moments are doused with a sense of accomplishment for being able to do just that; get through a level with a friend or without help.

Cue to present day gaming, and I’m currently stuck in a battle that I feel I’m losing in BioShock: Infinite. Luckily, I have Elizabeth there to throw me an item that gives me a chance to turn the tide. Or I’m dying repeatedly in God of War, and it’s giving me an option to switch to easy since I can’t figure out the routine. I’m lost in Dead Space? Easy, here’s a line to tell me EXACTLY where to go. Where is the challenge in modern gaming? Moments like these beg gamers to ask a nagging question in the back of many minds.

Has modern gaming become easy?

See, many gamers complain modern games are getting “too easy” by holding the hands of the gamer through tips, tutorials and other features to help steer them in the right direction. All these features take away from the satisfaction of having learned how the game plays, or where to go or beating the improbably odds.

Think about it: nearly every game has a strategy guide that helps you through the game. Instead of having one standard difficulty mode (or two), most modern games have several ranging from “I’m just here for the story” to “WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF” (aka Easy to Legend mode). A lot of modern games may have moments where timing is important…but only to figure out how to go in guns blazing to kill hundreds of enemies on screen. If you get lost, more than likely there’s a little icon hovering over where you have to go next to point you in the right direction. Plus, who doesn’t love checkpoints so you don’t have to restart from the beginning right?

At the same time we have to consider several factors that dumb down modern gaming. Today, most (if not all) the rage is about justifying the price tag on a game to ensure that players feel they’re getting their money’s worth. How do you quantify something that can’t be measured in numerical value? Create enough content that feels like the length and gameplay is worth the price. This is attempted in several ways. One, create a lot of space to explore multiple paths leading to the same outcome. It’s a great trick to generate slightly different experiences for people that maintain the linearity of the story. Or two, you create a lot of side quests, collectibles and in-game easter eggs to go look for once the main storyline is over to sink more hours into the world.

Another way studios are trying to create more content are through the “challenges” to attain Achievements/Trophies: introduced during the Xbox 360/Playstation 3 days, these rewards systems have been a mainstay in gaming since. The problem with these is that the achievements range from being slightly challenging (being able to get through an entire level without dying or being seen) to just handed to the player (you completed the chapter? DUDE, you get an achievement). By rewarding players for being able to complete something, or having a list of criteria to fulfill to get them all, it creates more challenges for the players to accomplish while going through the main campaign. While not going too far in depth but this has been a point of contention in gaming. (This topic will be explored by Jake  in his article linked here when it’s ready).

Now, include the increasing usage of morality choices, multiple endings depending on certain criteria met, or hybrid genre games (the blending of two genres into one) and there’s third factor in the emphasis in content creation: replayability. The more a game is replayable with all the extra ways to play the campaign the longer it’ll stay on a players shelf . Sometimes it’s executed well (Deus Ex, Mass Effect, InFamous to name a few) or done horribly (luckily I have yet to experience this).

If they can’t do any of this then chances are the games will end up on the “Pre-Owned” wall area in a local GameStop near you pretty quickly.

The other major, and probably more realistic reason for games on “normal” becoming a little easier to play is due to expanding the market to reach “casual gamers:. Aside from the cost of producing a major game requiring a lot more sales in order to just ‘break even’, more and more people are starting to venture into gaming. In order to not alienate them and instead to keep them hooked, games have to be a little easier with the learning curve to make it more accessible.

It’s also harder for developers to be able to assume people are going to take their time figuring out the control scheme and instead have to tell you right away through lengthy “tutorials”. Players are more into knowing how things work right away in order to get into the meat of the game when the challenge of figuring out mechanics was once part of the experience.

Last, and probably just as important, is the fact that major studios are taking less risks in gaming development because of the cost of making a game. A lot of studios these days face the looming uncertainty that they’re going to dole out massive amounts of layoffs after shipping off a game. That’s because if you include marketing, the cost of development and expectations set by publishers, there’s a lot riding on how well a game sells. Sometimes, even successful games don’t do enough to maintain a studio from having to shut down. How often have we read in increasing frequency a major developer selling millions of their recent game only to be told they didn’t do good enough? Studios can’t take the creative risks, or choose not to, because of the outdated business model the gaming industry goes by.

However, that isn’t to say that games can’t be difficult or provide a challenge. There are plenty of options games provide in order to ensure the “hardcore gaming” crowd can get their fill of challenging gameplay. Plenty of modern games provide harder difficulties for players to playthrough the campaign with harder enemies, less health and less resources. Games like Dead Space have modes that even limit how many times you can save in a single playthrough while upping the ante in difficulty

Some games even provide hardcore modes to allow you to turn off the HUD (maps, waypoints, etc.) in order to have a more “immersive experience”. Not to mention, there are some games out there still trying to capture the old school feel of games like Dark Souls.As I’ve been told by many, it’s a game so frustrating that it’s actually addicting.

The point is; modern gaming is easier to reach out to a bigger, generalized audience but provide enough options to create the hardcore, challenging experience some gamers go for. This is an age ruled by an outdated business practice, the influx of a casual audience and price justification and not by the overall experience itself. Until we can change the way games are handled, we will continue to see this kind of “hand-holding” behavior some gamers have come to despise.

So to those reading, why don’t you tell us what you think? Do you think gaming has gone soft? Or do you think it hasn’t? Tell us in the comments below!

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