Why Difficulty Isn’t The Same As Challenge

Dark Souls Meme

After years of playing games from all sorts of genres there is one aspect that determines whether or not a game is truly enjoyable.

Difficulty.

There are many different ways to look at a game (of any sort).  Whether you are playing a board game, video game or even a card game – it is always the first question asked.  “Is it hard?”

In the case of video games, this is something that is as subjective as any review that can be given.  Primarily because there are different settings for most games out there.  Sports games even have sliders that allow you to customize different aspects of the CPU/AI and even your own players to make the game more realistic, challenging or even simply more difficult.  Other games (like Dark Souls) are built to put the gamer into a submission hold of difficulty.  Often, these games are cast to the side as ‘not worth the trouble’.  In the case of Dark Souls I must agree.  I played the game for a few hours and couldn’t beat the first boss without wanting to shoot my LCD and throw my PC out the window.

I have experienced both sides of gaming when it comes to a game being nearly impossible or simply so easy it is laughable.  This is why it is necessary to make the distinction for those of you out there looking for solace.  Some games like Madden, NCAA Football and other sports titles have communities that will trash on someone for winning games 50-0 and taking home the championship every year.  These slider Nazis are often as bad as any other internet troll when it comes to raining on someone’s gaming parade.  This is also why it is necessary for us to understand that making a game more difficult doesn’t mean the same thing as increasing the challenge.

What makes sports games difficult for a noob/novice isn’t the intelligence of the opposing CPU team as much as it is learning the controls and maybe even the basic strategies.  Once the complex control schemes are learned the game can become relatively simple.  In some cases sports games become far too easy for most gamers.  This is where you must turn up the challenge in order to have a better experience.  Changing the sliders and even your play-style can make for a more challenging and enjoyable gaming experience.

Other games like Call of Duty have difficulty levels that really do nothing but increase the damage done to the player by enemies.  This isn’t so much difficulty as it is a minor change in how ‘challenging’ the game is.  What would truly make the game more difficult would be to make it less forgiving when a player dies.  Much like Dark Souls makes it almost infuriating to die (because you become weaker) and lose everything (unless you go pick it back up).  Call of Duty, Halo, Killzone and virtually every FPS let you save your progress at numerous checkpoints to prevent you from needing to play through the same long sections every time you die.

Some games are just not the preferred style of gamers.  Often you will see a rift between fans of Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid.  While neither of these games are necessarily more difficult than the other they have different functions and handle differently.  It is always going to start with style and preference but in the end a game comes down to complexity.  It is in that spirit that Metal Gear is a bit more difficult than Splinter Cell.  That isn’t to say that Splinter Cell isn’t challenging or possibly more ‘realistic’ but many gamers decide on these two games based on style rather than challenge.

This isn’t to say that I want my experiences in first person shooters like Call of Duty to be more difficult.  I often play those games for a break from my life that can be difficult enough.  Perhaps that is why we need to realize that there is a difference in how we should look at our gaming experience and even the experience of others.  While some games present us with almost impossible tasks and difficulty others will give us the ability to lay back, hang out and wreak digital carnage all over the place without breaking a sweat… or thinking too much.

Where do you stand?  Do you prefer a game to be downright difficult/complex or do you prefer something simply more challenging?

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