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Can a video game be TOO hard?


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I came across a pretty good article on Slate magazine about the joys (and frustrations) of playing and eventually mastering a very difficult video game (in this case it was Ninja Gaiden). Some excerpts:


Mastering a hard game is kind of like learning a new language. You practice wearily, mangling the words, unable to say the simplest thing. Then one day you walk into a bar, and suddenly you know how to order a drink. When you have your first breakthrough on a hard game, it's that same existential thrill. With Ninja Gaiden, I stumbled into a room full of teleporting zombies and 12-foot-tall skeletons wielding battleaxes the size of lampposts, and instead of freaking out, I realized: Cool. I can handle this.


Game theorist Eric Zimmerman describes games as "systems of desire." They make you want something?to score a home run, to kill a zombie, to win a hand of cards?but they impose rules that make it difficult to do so. Games offer a carrot, a stick, then another carrot and another stick, on an infinite loop. When game designers successfully strike that delicate balance between challenge and reward, they create truly intoxicating play, the sort of game that grips you in a druglike ecstasy, feverishly hunched over your console until you look up and realize, good grief, it's 2 a.m.


There's also a shout-out to Mario Kart Double Dash as being on the opposite end of that spectrum. :)



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I don't really think you can compare arcade games to console games in that way. Arcade games are designed to make money, which means they have to strike the right balance of fun enough to keep you interested, but difficult enough that you have to keep pumping money in. Whereas with home video games, you've already purchased the game by the time you play it, so there's no need for a fiendish difficulty level to keep sucking quarters out of you.


That doesn't mean there are no hard home console games, though. You can't tell me that Defender is more difficult than Legendary Halo, for instance. They are both difficult in different ways. Defender (and other games like it) are based exclusively on reflexes, whereas Halo is much more dependent on a blend of battlefield strategy, reflexes, and a mastery of the control system.


Besides, I think it's clear from the article that the author does NOT think today's games are too hard, in fact he relishes the challenge of mastering particularly difficult games.

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