The 480th Argument Against Locking Content In Video Games

Many years ago, someone decided that games would be more fun if you couldn't play all of them right away. Want to race on all the tracks of a racing game? Beat the easy ones to unlock the cooler ones. Want to fight as every fighter in a fighting game? Play a while and unlock them.

Unlocking content in games you bought sometimes makes sense. Maybe you shouldn't immediately have access to the last level of a shooter or the last dungeon of a Zelda. Maybe you should have to play to earn that. Maybe (forgive me for the inside joke) you should have to prove that you're a master of unlocking.

I believe, however, that most of the locking of content in modern video games is archaic. It's a vestige of games being designed to keep children occupied and quiet, the better to keep parents content with having spent $60 or $70 on am Atari or Super Nintendo cartridge.

What's the excuse for Crosswords Plus?

Crosswords Plus is a collection of more than 1000 crossword puzzles. It was released last October for the Nintendo 3DS. It's very good at the basic things it needs to do: it's fast, responsive, reads my handwriting as I scrawl in clues, doesn't waste much time with extras. It's nearly as simple and clean as crossword puzzles are black and white. Solving a puzzle in it is a pleasure.


The game is far too easy. It's far too easy because it was designed with the bizarre assumption that anyone who would buy or download a collection of crossword puzzles can only — or would only want to — handle the easiest crossword puzzles first. Hence the game's "easy" and "medium" classes of crosswords puzzles being accessible from the start. What of the "hard" and "expert" puzzles? I have no idea. They're locked.

Back in early November, I jumped ahead to the game's 100th medium-difficulty crossword puzzle. The game's records show that I cleared it in six minutes and 35 seconds. Nothing new was unlocked. I then cleared the 99th. Still nothing.

We don't want to have to pass through crossword kindergarten just because video game designers decided a couple of decades ago that locking off content in some weird way made the playing of games more rewarding.

I've finished eight of the game's "medium" puzzles, all with little trouble. I still can't access the "hard" puzzles. I went back to the "easy" puzzles and played one of them. I cleared it in 62 seconds. Still nothing unlocked.

The only unlocks I've gotten in the game are the "Wordsearch", "Word of the Day" and "Anagrams" mode, each of which unlocked apparently as a reward for turning on the game on different days.

None of this makes much sense to me.

All I want to do is play a challenging crossword puzzle. And yet I can't. I have to pay my dues, I guess. I have to... well, what were the designers thinking? That this is a role-playing game and I should have to grind my way through stupidly easy puzzles to earn the right to play tougher ones? Do my speedy completion times not hint to this piece of software that I'm smart enough to not need to play the easy puzzles?

Occasionally we gamers get lucky and a Rock Band 3 or a Super Street Fighter comes out with most or all of its content unlocked. And then sometimes we get an absurdity like Crosswords Plus that seems to have been created by people who have no idea what their ideal customer wants. I'm willing to guess the majority is with me on this one. We don't want our intelligence insulted. We don't want to have to pass through crossword kindergarten just because video game designers decided a couple of decades ago that locking off content in some weird way made the playing of games more rewarding.

Locking off tough crossword puzzles in Crosswords Plus is an archaic embarrassment. Nothing more like this, game designers. Please.


    The locking of content in this particular case is silly, but I'm not against the locking of content in general. It provides a reward to the player for doing well, and can help sustain interest in a game. Sometimes this is negatively referred to as "Skinner Boxing", but the fact is that many games are just a lot more enjoyable and compelling when you know there's a reward coming for your actions.

      Yep. As long as you're not locking the content behind a pay wall, unlocks are awesome.



        Best feeling ever.

    I can't stand it when the hardest difficulty of a game is locked. If I've played the game before or am familiar with the style of game, why can't I go straight for the hardest difficulty if I want.

    Having content or upgrades or cheats locked makes sense, but difficulty settings in shooter or RPG games comes into the same argument as this crossword. Gears of War (insane), Quake 4 (general), BulletWitch (hell), Prey (cherokee) and the original Mass Effect (hardcore, insanity) all examples of games I'd have liked to replay but don't want to go through kindergarten difficulty first.

    I don't consider Zelda to have locked content, the dungeons are meant to be sequential as you learn to use your new tools better as you get them.

    That being said I hate Time Sink games, Halo 4 Multiplayer for example I get XP for playing the game, I need Y amount of it to unlock the next thing. Some modes pay better than others but I have to grind and do busy work to do it.

    I hate the games where you can unlock everything from the psn, or play the game to unlock it.

    I think that one of the best examples of unlockable content is BlazBlue. You start with every character already unlocked. However, if you want the unlimited (Powered up) forms of them, you must earn enough experience and money. You don't even have to grind really, all you have to do is play through the story and arcade modes and you'll find yourself with enough money. This money can also be used to unlock extras such as fan art and concept art.

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