The Truth Behind Games Being “Easier” Today
Table of Contents
The Truth Behind Games Being “Easier” Today
Let’s be real for a second here. Video games have gotten way easier in the last three to four decades. Back then, it was easier to earn a doctorate in thermodynamics than to become a video game master. That’s because many of the games were just ludicrously difficult, requiring countless Game Overs and dozens of lost lives before a typical player could even get to the ending. Nowadays, however, most of the games that we’re exposed to are far easier to beat compared to their teeth-gnashing, rage quit-inducing predecessors. But why is that? While some would like to state that it’s because a lot of the gamers are becoming soft, the truth tells a much more complicated tale.
Older Games Incentivize You to Pay More
We all know that the older games are harder. Games like Contra, Battletoads, Ninja Gaiden, and Ghosts N’ Goblins are just some examples that scream “look at me, I’m tough as nails!” If you’re telling me that you didn’t want to rip your hair out when playing those, then you’ve either got the patience of a saint or you’re lying.
Kidding aside, developers during those days made painstakingly difficult arcade games not because they wanted their players to be punished, but rather, they wanted you to put more coins in the machine. In their perspective, the more times you got a game over, the better. You’ll end up spending all of your allowance and lunch money until you’ve got the hang of the boss–only to end up dead in the next boss encounter.
When gaming consoles became a hot item, the games were still just as hard, but at least you didn’t have to keep spending money to get one more try and only had to pay the cost of the game itself. Still, though, it just ended up costing you your sanity.
Anyone Could Get Into the Industry
Anyone could try to become a video game developer when the industry was still in its infancy–and I mean, anyone. Video games were hard because these developers didn’t have the experience to make them easier. In the early days, developers mainly consist of computer science experts and mathematicians. Since the games were built entirely out of scratch, there’s not enough encouragement to let creativity take over since everyone’s busy just trying to get the game run.
Let’s not forget about the technical limitations. Storage spaces were extremely tiny on game cartridges. As a result, many weren’t able to create eye-catching games with tons of useful features that they dreamt of. Instead, all efforts were focused on the gameplay rather than the ease of use and graphics. Today, developers have plugins, pre-packaged development kits, and entire engines at their fingertips. Without a doubt, it’s much easier to design user-friendly video games with lots more content. Since they can now also produce games that have hundreds of gigabytes (looking at you, Call of Duty: Warzone updates), they have a whole lot more leeway in terms of packing in the graphics.
Gamers Have Honed Their Skill Over the Decades
The more you do anything in life, the more you’ll be better at it. This statement alone might be the simplest explanation for why video games seem to be “easier” today. We’ve been playing games for a long time. Considering that a lot of the gamers came from before or after the fall of Atari, it’s natural for them to get better at their craft if they’ve been doing it for years.
In 1985, Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System–NES, for short. Whether you were a youngster or a kid at heart, chances are you’d never played anything like Super Mario, Metroid, or Mega Man before. We were greenhorns, so of course, it’d make sense for us to make a ton of mistakes or die a lot. When the later systems came out (Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis), gamers kept playing and improving their skills, eventually leading to being able to anticipate what everything a game could throw at them. Heck, developers even let us experience new, innovative technology our ways like analog sticks, Wiimotes, and Kinects. Whatever the case, most of us had become seasoned enough to figure out how they worked and master them in due time.
Quality-of-life Changes Were Made
When game development kept improving, there were a lot of quality-of-life changes made that ultimately led to the video games of today becoming “easier”. As we’ve established so far, old school games were generally unforgiving if you couldn’t finish them in one go. I remember the times where I had to plug in our family’s Famicom on for a whole night so I could resume the game that I was playing. The point is unless you had understanding folks that would let you pause the game and leave it overnight, the passage of time meant that your progress was halted.
Many of today’s games have already provided a solution to that problem, thanks to what’s possibly the greatest gaming invention: autosave. How it works is exactly as it sounds like–as you’re adventuring and doing quests, the game will automatically save your progress, making it so that you rarely ever have to backtrack a screen or two if you die. This makes finishing the game way easier since you no longer have to approach an enemy or obstacle with fear that it might kill you and turn your afternoon into a total waste.
Attracting A New Generation of Gamers
Not to diss the younger generation, but it’s a known fact that that our attention, as a society, has been getting worse. In this day and age, we now have immediate access to entertainment, communication, and information, and you have your streaming services, smartphones, and of course, the internet to thank for that. Kids these days don’t have the motivation to play games that don’t offer instant gratification and to accommodate this shift in societal expectations, the games have been dumbed–err, watered down. Easy games give the younger generation confidence and make them want to spend more time and money on it. This led to today’s AAA games pushing a whole lot more microtransactions to the players.
Ease of Access With Multiple Difficulty Modes
In a lot of times, it’s not that the difficulty in video games has vanished–it’s just simply no longer the only path you can take. “Nail-bitingly hard” was the default difficulty setting in a lot of games in the early days. Like in Mega Man 2 (the Japanese version), it was the only setting available. If you couldn’t beat it, you simply had to try and try again until you finally could. While some games offered an Easy Mode, gamers took it as a sign of being babysat by the developers.
Today, however, the typical difficulty setting is far more balanced, thereby allowing more playing to finish a game without feeling like the victory/ending was just given to them. That being said, having the option to play in “Easy Mode” is an added convenience for casual gamers that just want to enjoy the story or breeze through the game quickly. There’s no real con of having a scaled-back difficulty option in games, and while the elitists might say otherwise, it opens the gate for newcomers from older and younger generations alike to experience what gaming is all about.
From Winning to Completing
Players only had one goal in mind for most of gaming’s history: to win. In Sonic, you had to beat Dr. Robotnik. In Mega Man, you had to thwart Dr. Willy’s evil plans. In Mario, you had to beat Bowser to save Princess Peach. Whatever a game told us to do, we did it, no matter how difficult it was. In the past couple of gaming generations though, this focus has changed significantly, and it’s all thanks to “achievements”. When you’re playing a game like Skyrim, finishing the main story and killing the evil dragon Alduin is just another fun thing to do–there’s a whole lot more to see, and the true challenge lies in completing the entire game. That means collecting every collectible, finishing all the sidequests, getting 100% of the achievement trophies, and making your character as strong as the game will allow. The point isn’t to just win anymore, but to complete and experience everything that a video game offers.
A lot of times, simply doing everything is time-consuming and challenging in itself. There are instances where some of the trophies in a game will almost be impossible to earn, but the best part of all this is that it’s all optional. You can try to collect all 999 Power Moons in Super Mario Odyssey. On the other hand, you can also just simply collect the minimum and face Bowser to save Peach for the umpteenth time. The point isn’t to just win anymore, but to complete and experience everything that a video game offers. If you truly want to challenge yourself, that course of action is there for you to take.
Games didn’t necessarily get harder, they just evolved. Now that developers have the technology to make their products more attractive to every gamer, it makes sense for them to utilize it. There are still modern games that keep the spirit of retro games alive by creating challenging levels, like Returnal and Demon’s Souls, for example. Video games should be playable by people, regardless of their skill sets and experience levels. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement, and yet it often is.