The Most Beautiful, Amazing Thing A Video Game Can Do? Be Really Frickin' Hard

Too easy. If there's one complaint that gets lodged almost universally about modern-day video games, that's it.

All the hints and dialogue prompts smothering today's playable experiences betray a wobbly-kneed insecurity — "b-but what if they don't g-get it?!" — on the part of those folks who sent games out in the world. And, even worse, incessant hand-holding insults players more than anything else.

That's why it's nice to see — in The New Yorker of all places — a piece in praise of a sublimely difficult game. The article shows an understanding of why devoted gamers show up to play a video game, saying "Real gamers are like real art lovers. They demand extraordinary difficulty."

Joshua Rothman's piece focuses on indie developer Stephen Lavelle's English Country Tune — recently nominated for an Independent Games Festival award — but traces it back to a lineage that includes Tetris and bullet-hell shooters. Dig this little bit that sings the praises of challenge:

English Country Tune is very, very serious; it wants you to think like a mathematician, to feel your way forward with instincts about spatial relationships which you didn't know you had.

I'd argue that you feel the same thing in a really good platformer, too. The feedback loop created by having your perceptions, reflexes and wits tested over and over feels incredibly good and, if unlikely successes like Super Meat Boy and Dark Souls are any indication, that loop's exactly what a certain strata of gamers want.

Missions Impossible: The Joy of Ridiculously Difficult Video Games [The New Yorker]


    I hope that developers, publishers, and players can start to tell the difference between when a game is hard, and just infuriating.

    What meat boy and demons souls did was they set a really hard challenge, but provided you with all the skills and knowledge to surpass it. This is the same thing the mega man games did.

    More recent games make them hard because the developers removed information from the game, the player doesn't know what to do or where to go, and that makes for a game that is artificially hard and it just infuriates the player.

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