Let’s Face It, Difficult Games Scare Us

Rigid Force Alpha has brought players back to a time when arcade games were designed to take your money and your dreams. With their bullet hell title, Com8com1 has successfully humbled an entire generation of gamers, who thought their old school joystick training was enough to get them through the fray. Like many of them, I too have been nearly brought to tears. I have been humbled by the face melting difficulty of this game, but I never whined about it. After all, completing video games is only for those who put the time in them to succeed, right?

Well, apparently somebody did whine about it. The developers recently released a patch that lowers the difficulty of the game substantially. The easy mode has been brought down to that of a beginners guide to side-scroll shooters. In fact, many of the enemies don’t even fire a shot. It looks as if the difficulty of this particular title may have been too much for some gamers to handle.

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Anyone who has ever played an arcade cabinet knows how difficult these games can be. Courtesy of IndieDB

This type of game play “nerfing” is becoming all too common.  Players can give feedback to developers who can patch out the difficulty in games with just a click of the mouse. Many see this as preserving the fun that video games have to offer. Others, like myself, see this as being a reflection of the culture that we currently live in. Most gamers want to be able to complete their game within 30 hours of game play. They also want to replay very little of the content. Why is this the case, and why are we afraid of difficult games?

From the Age of Tooth and Nail Gameplay

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “You can not know where you are going unless you know where you have been.” This is very true for the subject at hand. The secret to finding how gamers have been jaded by difficult games comes from the past.  It stems from the earliest titles that were first on coin-op machines in the arcades. These games were not designed to be completed, they were designed to take your money. Progression was based on score, and the highest score was placed on a leaderboard that would forever show the greatest players who ever graced the cabinet. That was usually AAA.

Home console gaming came on the coattails of those coin-op machines, and many of developers made console ports of those titles. Of course, the difficulty was never changed. The old habit of creating nail-biting titles did not die immediately during the NES era. This can be seen best through how the Konami Code came to be (you remember: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start). Konami created a game called Gradius in the late 80’s that was so hard that a code had to be placed in the game so that the developers could actually complete it. The game creators forgot that they had put the code in there, however, and the game was released with the code intact.

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The first Gradius title humbled so many players in the 80’s. Courtesy of Youtube

The learning curve began to change when JRPGs became popular in the mid-90’s. These games introduced “grinding,” which allowed players to become more powerful through fighting enemies. If an event was too difficult, all it would take is more time to get through it. There was not a great deal of skill required.

If you Play It, You Can Beat It

A friend once told me that modern video games are like a gallon of ice cream; you might not be able to finish it one setting, but you will eventually finish it if you keep working on it. Game developers have created ways for players to progress through their games with relatively little difficulty. Sure, a player’s avatar will die, but the knock back to a checkpoint is not as severe as it was 20 years ago. Gamers used to be placed right back at the beginning of a level after they died, but now they will be pushed back a few minutes, sometimes seconds before their deaths.

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Courtesy of Imgflip

In psychological terms, games today offer a lot of carrots and not a lot of sticks. The idea behind the metaphor is that of a horse and a buggy. Carrots are offered to the horse as a reward to doing well, while the stick is a punishment for doing poorly. Gamers do not like to be told that they are doing poorly; gamer rage is a thing now because of that. So additions like achievements have been added to give players more of an incentive to continue on in the game. All this has worked because the video game industry is now a multi-billion dollar movement that has seen growth the world over.

Games Are Generational

I am someone who could be considered a “beta gamer”; I began playing video games when they were first gaining popularity. As such I have noticed that there are officially two generations of gamers in the gaming community. The OG gamers, like myself, remember the good ol’ days of difficult titles and horrendous consequences for losing, while the younger gamers know that a game can be completed with enough time put into it. These difficulty curves show a “generational gap” in games that proves the gaming experience can evolve and grow as the culture changes.

Many of us are afraid of difficult games because we have been conditioned to beat games. Games like Dark Souls are current examples of difficult titles in which completing them is a badge of honor that many do not have the patience or skill to acquire. This fear, however, does not need to hold gamers back from playing new and difficult games. Some titles may be difficult but are willing to work with the preferences of the two gaming generations.

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Yeah, and seeing it 1000+ times can get old. Courtesy of

Rigid Force Alpha is a wonderful game that has attempted to bring these two generations together. The nerfing of the game’s difficulty truly seems silly to me. However, for the younger generation who knows game completion through play and not skill, this is a welcome change. Many of us OG gamers have come accustomed to the newer styles of gameplay. Just for fun, though, I ask you to dust off that old NES and play a few titles. Perhaps you will then see just how far we have come from those incredibly difficult games of yore.