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Roundtable #1: Are Games Getting Easier, Or Are We Getting Better At Them?

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Every Thursday, four writers for VGI engage in an open discussion concerning a topic that relates to video games or video game culture. This week's topic is: Are video games getting easier, or are we getting better at them?

Lee: Games have been gradually moving from a realm of semi-constant sensory gratification to a medium that requires about as much patience, if not more, than a movie. Will the gap between games in the vein of Dear Esther, vs. Angry Birds continue to grow wider and wider?

Jon: Mainstream games are definitely getting easier in order to make them more accessible. But who are we to say if it’s good or bad? The market ultimately decides. However, if more people are becoming gamers, then the need for them to be challenged will increase.

Lee: I feel that games may be getting easier, but it’s more to the point that their control schemes are becoming more refined. The era of side-scrolling 2D platform/fighters a la Castlevania will never be the same again, if only because our ability to control a character’s combat and movement with refined precision has grown considerably in recent years.

James: A game like Castlevania was very hard due to the limitations it placed on the player. You have a relatively weak weapon, only one extra item, and once you jump you are jumping.

But let’s look at Mario. Super Mario Bros. gave you the ability to jump in any direction and change directions, and was relatively challenging.

Then came Super Mario Bros. 2/The Lost Levels, and it really brought up the difficulty... while still offering players the ability to change directions in mid-air. In the present day, Super Mario Galaxy offers players the ability to “spin-jump,” which gives Mario a little extra oomph in order to correct a missed jump.

Josh: It’s hard to determine what makes a game “difficult.” The last game I played that gave me a hard time was Dragon’s Dogma. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a challenging game because the difficulty was based around trial and error--go do this quest and die because you aren’t a high enough level, but try again later now that you’ve found that out.

Games like Dragon’s Dogma are not challenging because of requisite raw skill and precise timing, like older games were.

Jon: I would venture to guess that the difficulty of games is cyclical. Arcade games were difficult in order to force players to give more quarters. Then those games were exported to home consoles and became easier. Then games were created for those consoles and became harder.

Gaming then expanded with the rise of mobile and casual gaming, making them easier. And so the wheel turns.

James: I spent three hours on one level in Super Mario Galaxy 2 because of its sheer difficulty. As control schemes are simplified and refined, it falls on the game developers to provide new challenges to match them. The reason why games seem a little easier now (strictly speaking about controls) is because character control has evolved faster than level design.

Lee: I think it’s also important to consider that gaming, as a passion/hobby, is much more widely accepted these days. Most of the younger kids I know play video games at least as a way to pass the time. It’s like turning on the TV now.

Some people take it very seriously, but it’s become something done casually, something that--when coupled with the increased human brain/electronic interfacing that’s taken place due to the huge implementation of home computers, cell phones, and tablets--means that human beings, as a rule, should be getting better at video games due to their continual use and continual acceptance in mainstream culture.

Consider typing. When I was in high school, we had to take typing classes. Lots of my classmates were either beginner or intermediate typists. But I’d been typing since I was much younger, and had no trouble with it. I’m willing to bet typing classes have replaced a lot of handwriting classes in many school systems, and at some point, it will be such second nature to the average first-world country human being that it won’t even be taught anymore.

I think this sort of gradual, evolutionary comfort with electronic interfacing has a lot to do with games getting easier; they aren’t all necessarily easier, we’ve just gotten better at them.

Josh: I don’t necessarily think we’ve gotten better at games. Going back to the classics, like Contra or Battletoads, still provides a challenge today. I think part of the reason lies in the fact that extra lives were limited in those games and the comfort of saving at any time wasn’t around yet.

Nowadays, you can play a game like Dark Souls and repeatedly die, but keep coming back because there is no “Game Over” screen. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all--I wouldn’t want to die in a game like that, only to start over from the beginning every time.

Readers are welcome/encouraged to post comments or questions concerning this roundtable below. Stay tuned for a new roundtable on a new topic next Thursday!