Should video games be challenging?

wonders why current video games lack the challenge needed for real fun

Image: Solatron 3000

Video games have been on the downward slide when it comes to difficulty. The popularity of Life is Strange and other, more slower paced games have led to game developers making their games easier. I can remember when I first bought Battlefield Bad Company and was genuinely pleased when I finished a level without dying. For all the mechanics that modern games have, most have downgraded to a glorified “resolve” button to stop you from dying, and giving you more time to eat your snacks before the next cutscene.

The reason I am sore about the topic of game difficulty is because recently a friend of mine bought me Dark Souls 3. For those who don’t know, it is a game where you learn to appreciate and enjoy the subtle muses of bashing your head against a spiked wall. In short, stunningly hard. Switching from my unteenth Skyrim playthrough to Dark Souls has taught me more about the futility of life more than a midnight daydream ever could. But, I love it. When games are challenging, I discover that I am actually really bad at video games. The payoff for success is a lot higher when the road to get there is bumpy and tacked to kingdom come. The level of satisfaction that comes from defeating a boss after 15 attempts is one of the most fulfilling moments while gaming I’ve ever had. It is hard but it is all the better for it. To me, Assassin’s Creed, and Lara Croft have sacrificed something when trying to appeal to a mass market. They have traded the risk and reward of intense and challenging gameplay with the ease of access akin to mobile games. That is, I think a shame. If you can’t stomach multi-hour multiplayer sessions and prefer the solitude found in single player games, gaming really won’t be that difficult anymore.

Of course, I don’t mean games should be hard for the sake of being hard. They should be challenging, but not unfair. Personally, I have always found it weird how the protagonist in Skyrim was able to best soldiers in combat and even floor a dragon in the first 40 minutes of gameplay. How was I able to learn the skills to best a dragon in the time it takes for me to burn my dinner? In Dark Souls, when I see a gigantic monster with tentacles, I expect to get completely creamed if I sneeze at the wrong time. In this way, challenging games are better, as they are not unreasonable. If I encountered a dragon in real life, I wouldn’t be able to get a swing in before I became the dragon’s alternative to Fridge Raiders. So, it is all the more exciting when I am as fragile playing games as I am in real life, as it makes the accomplishments when playing games all the more impressive.