I grew up during the heyday of the 8-bit generation. I grew up playing the Famicom/NES games like Contra, Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden, Punch-Out!, The Adventures of Bayou Billy and Megaman. I’m proud to say that I’ve beaten all these games, even Contra without the Konami code that gives you 30 lives. Those games are noted to be some of the hardest video games ever created. However, I can’t toot my own horn and say I’m kind of savant when it comes to finishing the games during that time. I still have yet to finish Ghost ‘n’ Goblins, Battletoads and Top Gun (because of the infamous plane landing sequence).
While all of these games are punishingly difficult, we loved playing them because they have this intangible fun factor that makes them as enjoyable as they are hard. There is just this certain thrill and feeling of accomplishment whenever I used to beat a boss or pass a stage. But video games seem to have been taking it easier on gamers nowadays. It was a badge of honor to finish a game like Contra or Castlevania. But now, finishing a game seems pretty mandatory that anyone can do it.
In fact, there are already systems in place to make things much easier for gamers. First person shooters have auto-lock so that your targeting crosshairs will lock on to the nearest baddie. Arrows and markers will pop on the screen, telling players exactly where to go. When you die, you respawn close to where you met your demise and not at the very start of the level. Some games will even allow you to adjust the difficulty settings on the fly if you feel the game is just being too unfair. This is a far cry from what most gamers had to go through. Sure, there were ways to cheat like the aforementioned Konami code that everyone reading this should know by now. But you still had to beat the game under your own power. You still had to knock out Mike Tyson using your skill and reflexes. You still had to make it to that giant heart in Contra, Konami code or sans Konami code.
Oh, there are still some really difficult games today and they have a really strong fanbase. There’s Dark/Demon Souls and the new Ninja Gaiden that came out in 2004 that have caused some hardcore gamers to smash their controllers in frustration. But those games are few and far between. In general, games feels much easier to finish nowadays. And, honestly, that’s actually a good thing for the gaming industry as a whole.
If you really think of the history of video games, it’s actually hard to fathom how huge gaming is today. Growing up during the 8-bit days, playing video games made you a nerd and a geek. You were an outsider and couldn’t hang with the cool kids. And I know this for a fact as I grew up during this period of time. We were expected to grow out of the “fad” of playing video games as it was a children’s pastime, not for teenagers who had sports and sex on the mind!
Playing video games were generally for losers before. Nowadays however… well, there is still a slight stigma to playing video games, especially if you take the hobby incredibly seriously. But it’s not as prevalent as it was before. Today, it’s fairly commonplace to see people on the bus tapping and swiping away on their cellphones as they play games like Candy Crush and Clash Royale. Games like Call of Duty have crushed sales charts on a regular basis because it seems like everyone just loves playing it. Essentially, it’s not that big of a deal to see a man, woman or child playing video games now. A good part of why is that game have become must easier to finish. And as games are now more palatable to the casual audience, more people are buying video games.
Games also have to be easier nowadays because they’ve also become much more complicated and complex. It was actually a much more straightforward experience playing video games on the Famicom or NES you didn’t have to really think all that much. In most games of the time, all you had to do was run to the right and kill or avoid all the enemies you come across and jump over the occasional bottomless pit. That’s actually all you had to do in games like Contra and Castlevania! There was just so much you can do with just two buttons.
But as time went on, we kept on adding more and more buttons, which facilitated a need to add more functionality to the games. With more to do, games had to adapt to make things a little less cumbersome for the player unless you wanted their brains to explode from overload. Metal Gear is a great example of this. On 8-bit systems, it was a perfectly capable stealth game but you were limited to what you could do. You couldn’t even crawl in the first game! But the series started to really shine when Metal Gear Solid hit the PlayStation! All the added buttons on the PlayStation’s default controller had a use. From crawling, punching and switching weapons, every button was used and it made for a more satisfying experience, much more than what the NES controller could’ve pulled off!
But those two reasons above are actually just the result of the main reason why games have become easier. The main reason why games are easier is because developers are no longer focused on making their products butt-crushingly difficult anymore. You see, it would normally take a gamer days to finish a game because of how challenging they were. In actuality, games were actually pretty short lived experiences but felt like they were much longer because they were incredibly hard to beat. Heck, there are YouTube channels devoted to speedruns, which is essentially finishing older games as fast as possible!
But as technology improved, games could be much longer and deliver much more than just running to the right. More cinematic stories could be told now. Graphics can be much more realistic. Developers can be much more creative with the games they create. In short, games can be much more immersive and innovative and this is the general direction games have taken.
In fact, it’s pretty much what we expect from games today. We definitely expect more from our games today. We expect really complex stories and fantastic looking cinematics like in Metal Gear Solid. We want games to be filled with sidequests and Easter Eggs galore so we can spend our time searching every nook and cranny for them like in Final Fantasy. We want our game maps to be incredibly huge so we can try ridiculous things like driving from one end to another in Grand Theft Auto V. We want out game experiences to be bigger and longer. And that’s exactly what games have become today.
We don’t need our games to be difficult anymore as games are now as long as we want them to be and more. We don’t really miss the “good ol’ days” when games would crush your spirits by being almost impossible to defeat or feel that wave of relief when we defeat a particular boss or complete a tricky jump. Okay, we old school gamers do remember those days wistfully just so we can shake our fists at today’s generation of gamers and tell them “When I was your age…” and stuff like that.
So, while games today is much easier, that doesn’t mean that they’re not as fun. I will miss the challenge at times of actually getting incredibly frustrated with a boss that seems invulnerable to all my attacks or when an attack knocks me over into a pit. But that doesn’t mean that I will dismiss today’s games just because they aren’t hard anymore. Gaming today without the high difficultly isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing; it’s just different nowadays.
What do you think about today’s games being easier than before? Let me know in the comments section below!