Game devs: don’t challenge me!

So yeah, The 3rd Birthday is already starting to gather dust. Why? It isn’t you, Aya. It’s me.

I’ve discovered something about myself; I don’t want game developers challenging me.

Now wait! Hear me out. I don’t want them challenging me…I want them to give me ways to challenge myself.

Let me explain that.

About 1% of the way into The 3rd Birthday I hit a level where I have to avoid a monster. You’re told you can’t fight this thing: it’s all about evasion. The creature has 2 attacks. One of them knocks down about 1/3rd of your health with each hit, the other seems to 1 shot me. You have to dodge this baddie for some set amount of time, then you get warp out of the area.

I failed this mission the first time. And the 2nd. And the 3rd, at which point I headed to Gamefaqs to see if there was a trick. There wasn’t. Then I failed a 4th and 5th time, then I put the game down and haven’t gone back to it.

I’m not saying it’s a particularly difficult mission. But I’m old, my reflexes aren’t what they once were and the camera controls are awful so I can’t keep an eye on the beast. The difficulty, or lack thereof, of this mission isn’t the point of my rant today.

My point is, there’s nowhere to go in The 3rd Birthday except past this mission. The developers have challenged me to beat it, and I’m feeling resentment about that.

That doesn’t mean I want all my game playing to be easy, though. Consider a typical MMO. When I log in, I can decide “I’m going to try something really difficult tonight!” and head for some tough mobs or into a dungeon. Or I can decide “I’m feeling pretty mellow…I think I’ll just grind some low level mobs for coin and to feel mighty.” and do that. I can dial in my level of challenge on a minute-to-minute basis.

This isn’t limited to MMOs, either. Minecraft is in the news today because it has a launch date. I love Minecraft, buy y’know Notch hardly challenges us at all. Sure we can die but so what? The level of challenge in Minecraft is totally internal. Maybe you just hate to die but you’re determined to rid the world of creepers. Maybe you want to complete a structure before bed. Maybe you’re figuring out how to build a logic-switch in-game. Again, we dial in our own level of challenge.

Lots of (but not all) RPGs give us some leeway too. If an encounter is too difficult we often have the option of going somewhere else for a while, either to take on a different task or in order to level up our characters. This is that “grind” thing that MMO players hate but that lots of single player RPGs revel in. Particularly, it seems, lo-fidelity RPGs that run on handheld gaming consoles. Me, I don’t mind grinding, as long as it’s a choice, not my only option.

I’m sure there are other examples of this. I’m trying to quantify the difference between a totally single-path game that forces you to bang your head against every obstacle the devs put in front of you, and games that have enough lee-way that they offer some other activity for when your frustration level rises. I personally like to feel that I’m making some kind of progress. Die/restart/die/restart/die/restart is the worst of all gaming worlds for me. I come out of those sessions annoyed to have wasted my time and wishing instead I’d read a book or scrubbed a toilet or something. But Die/Restart/LevelUp/Die/Restart/LevelUpSomeMore at least feels like I’m inching forward. Getting some more bits of story can also feel like progress.

Maybe gaming just isn’t a good activity for us old, slow people who feel the passage of time more keenly than you younger folk do. I’m very cognizant of the fact that I have a finite number of evenings left in my life. I don’t want to waste even one of them playing a game where I make no progress. Not when there are so many thousands of games, books and movies I want to experience before I take on my ghost form!

4 thoughts on “Game devs: don’t challenge me!

  1. I myself am an older gamer myself, but have come to a different conclusion on gaming and (lack of) progress: progress in games is meaningless.

    I too used to be annoyed when I left my game without anything to show for it. Then as I quit one of my mmorpgs it dawned on me that all that progress meant nothing anymore now that I quit. Worse, I remembered the many nights I had “productive” gaming sessions that weren’t particular entertaining. Or that I had “invested” time in a goal that I hadn’t reached and didn’t feel particular important anymore.

    So these days my ONLY criteria i go by is: am I having fun RIGHT now. The result of this has been less gaming as a side benefit.

  2. I’ve argued before that players need control of the game’s difficulty. At least, if the devs want the game to be playable by a wide swath of players, each with their own reflexes and preferences. It seems obvious to me.

    (And yes, the RPG leveling fudge factor is a nice way to handle it, though it has its own problems, like when the game is tuned so that grinding is the only solution.)

  3. “Again, we dial in our own level of challenge.”

    Yup. The first few nights was all about building the perfect house. Symmetrical, cozy, but with a separate portion to act as a tinkering lab and a storage area.

    Then I could never tell when it was day time. So I discovered the joy of using glass, and went looking for sand. And on and on it went.

    So yeah man, I completely see where you are coming from.

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