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In Praise of Easy: Lowering the Barrier to Entry

Easy Button

The challenge/punishment confusion is a major source of disagreement about video game difficulty, but it’s not the only one. Even when we have set punishment aside and are very clearly discussing only challenge, we run into trouble. Let’s take a look at the question of how much “easy” there should be in games:

Test Skills, Not Patience: Challenge, Punishment, and Learning

You and your friends are dead. Game Over.

Difficulty in games is a popular and thorny subject. Are games easier than they used to be? Does easier mean worse? Are games being “dumbed down”? And how do the dreaded “casual players” fit in?

The problem with these questions is that it is not productive to discuss difficulty as a single quantity. The term “difficulty” as it is commonly used encompasses two almost completely separate phenomena, with profoundly different effects on the player:

Play Me A Story, Part Two: What Makes A Metanarrative?

Part One is here.

Whether you’re watching a DVD or playing a video game, you have control over the progression of the experience. You may hold a remote or you may hold a controller, but the action on the screen will start, stop, pause, and continue, in response to the buttons you press.

The fundamental difference is the degree of choice you hold. With a movie, you can only choose whether to proceed. With a game, you choose how to proceed. Even subtle or trivial decisions, such as on what path to move your character, or which weapon to use on enemies, or where to position the camera, engage you in the creation of your own experience.

Play Me A Story, Part One: Metal Gear Solid and the Cinematic Game

Recently I’ve been watching my friend Iceman play through the Metal Gear Solid games. It’s been both entertaining and edifying. My own much-delayed foray into the series ended shortly after tossing grenades into a tank in the first game, and it seems that for every hour I watch Iceman play, I suddenly understand another previously-baffling joke or reference I’ve encountered somewhere.

As we watched the credits roll on the third installment, Snake Eater, Iceman turned to me and sadly confessed that he was starting to doubt the ability of video games, as a medium, to tell stories.

It’s a surprising thing to hear after watching the video game ending that holds the record for producing manly tears. But I knew exactly what he meant, and why he’d said it.

Spoiled Treasures and Guilty Pleasures: The Bad Good Game and the Good Bad Game

Reviewing games is harder than it looks. Particularly when the reviewer is tasked with summing up a twenty, forty, or even eighty hour experience into a single number.

The problem is that games are multidimensional. Rarely is a game simply good or bad - most are more complicated than that. An RPG might have a weak plot, but excellent characterization. A platformer might have ugly graphics, but compelling gameplay.

Every so often you’ll encounter a game that stubbornly straddles the line and defies binary judgment. It has solid reasons to be considered both good and bad. Reviews of such games tend not to score them very well, but of course that only tells part of the story. Depending on which side of the fence they fall on, they may be a Bad Good Game or a Good Bad Game.