Editorial: Am I Stupid?

Hello, Nate’s dearest, darling doves.

Recently I have come to the conclusion that the gaming industry thinks that gamers are a pack of jibbering morons. I do not know if this is due to the influx of casual gamers and the industry’s desire to pander to them, if I am simply older and wiser these days, or if there is some sort of epic conspiracy going on here. I tend to lean heavily toward the first option.

This is the way games make me feel. Except for the manly bit.
This habit of dumbing down games because gamers are too stupid to walk upright is not exactly new. Most of us remember the watered-down game we were presented with in the form of Final Fantasy 2. Heck, they did not even think that we could handle it if they called it Final Fantasy 4. Oh, the confusion! There are also countless games with sickeningly easy tutorial modes and “hint” systems. However, beyond tutorials and training levels, games have historically had a pretty decent track record when it came to respecting our intelligence. Games could be challenging, and were unapologetic about it. They made you sob with frustration because you did not know the boss’ weakness, or whatever, and they goddamn fed on your tears. And by golly, that was the way I liked it.

There are various ways in which games have dumbed it down for us recently. Sometimes developers colour-code, highlight, bold and underline important words for us, as if we are all too base and simple to actually read and comprehend the entire text bubble, and need a Vidjagames 4 Dummiez version (I am looking at you, Final Fantasy series). Sometimes the insult comes in the form of a plot twist that is meant to be a huge shock and surprise, but we all saw coming 2 discs ago and could never figure out why the idiot characters were out of the loop (Oh wow, Xenogears! I thought you were just using lazy character design there with Sigurd!). Finally, this can also manifest itself in the form of games essentially playing themselves for you. Yes, I went there. Suck it, Nintendo. That is a weak, weak gimmick.

When I think back upon and even play my old retro favourites, I cannot help noticing two things. One is that the game really gives me more credit than modern games tend to. With minimal and often vague directions, I am expected to figure out where to go, what to do, who to talk to, what they want, etc. Nobody highlighted things in neon pink so that I would not miss it, there was no handy red arrow shining in the distance like a shiny beacon of dimwitted hope, tellimg me where to mindlessly run. No, I had to figure crap out for myself. And it felt really good. This brings me to the second thing I have noted from my old favourites. I get a much stronger sense of accomplishment and feeling of pride when I finish a more challenging game. I had to earn every stage, every level, and I really feel it on the inside.

What do you all think? Do you feel that, in general, games are becoming easier, or more helpful when we get stuck? Are plots more predictable? Or am I just being cranky, and there is really the same mix of easy/hard as there has always been?

0 comments

  1. -I remember when you had to shoot an MGS boss and watch for their reaction animation in order to discern their weakness, in the newest game bosses have big red glowing bits to shoot …

    -There’s so much money tied up in games these days that designers are made to design games that are accessible to everyone, and that means the lowest excessively common denominator.

  2. Yeah, I think SN’s got a pretty good point. That would explain why smaller publishers/developers can still make balls-hard games when they want to.

  3. Stupid people don’t deserve nice games!

    Or food!

    Or air!

    :(

  4. Well stupid people don’t get nice games, they demand mediocre games, and that’s what they consume in swathes, like a great plague of locusts …

  5. Final Fantasy, and I’m pretty sure Square in general, has always been very guilty of this. If you know you need a shiny thing but don’t know where to get it, go talk to the NPCs in your current town. At least one of them has heard a rumor about some crazy old man in the cave to the east that protects a shiny thing, or a child saw a bird with something shiny and chased after it until they confronted a big monster and ran away. As you said, they’ve gotten more irritating about it, with their brightly colored words and “here, let me put a gigantic fucking X on your minimap,” but they’ve always spoon-fed their players. To the point that I can’t finish FF2 (real 2, not 4) because its so ingrained in my head that one of the NPCs has to tell me where to go so when no one tells me, I wander the map aimlessly until I wind up somewhere I know I’m not supposed to be because the random encounters have gone from easy to rape.

    Also of interest, this isn’t just in RPGs. Racing games are doing it too, and while they’ve always done a little bit of handholding by giving you the option of an automatic transmission, they typically followed the same formula: you do the tutorial and learn how to follow a line, then tells you “here, have a Ford Fiesta, now go beat the Ferrari.” Now, with the most recent incarnation of Forza, you can buy powerful cars and upgrades right off the bat, and it shows the proper line to take the entire time, with the added feature of being color-coded to tell you “here’s when to brake, and here’s where you speed up again.” I can’t wait for all the accidents that will happen in a few years when kids start getting their license, “I’m sorry officer, but the color of the road wasn’t changing to tell me what I needed to do.”

    I think that’s the biggest part of this trend that bothers me: what is it doing to us outside of video games? Sure, we’re catered to like a bunch of slack-jawed morons while the controller is in our hands, but what happens when we’re confronted with an actual challenge? There is no Pansy Mode in the real world with brightly colored words. When you go to work, your boss will not have a red blinky light telling you what their weakness is…no, its not a nutshot, unless you want game over. Sure, we use video games to escape from the real world, but if they’re grooming us and future generations into a swarm of drooling monkeys whose only reflex is to throw poop, the future holds much worse things to need to escape from.

  6. …sorry, long comment is long. Look what you make me do, Ginia, I rage and rant and get all overly excited. Now I must throw poop at you to compensate.

  7. It’s not fair to blame old school RPGs for having the “talk to everyone to find out what you’re supposed to be doing” thing in them. Nearly all of them you play the Legendary Hero(es) summoned for the task of Saving the World. There’s little to no backstory and it just throws the players into these unknown blankslate character’s shoes to somehow save the world.

    So the gameplay mechanic is you explore the world and figure out what to do. The only reasonable alternative I can think of on an old 8bit system would be to have a HUEGLIEKXBOX exposition dump, probably in the game’s manual. I’d kind of prefer to walk around and just ask the tiny sprite people walking in random patterns 24/7. Had things been differently we’d never have gems like, “I AM ERROR.” and “I am Arylon, the Dancer!”

    While old school games don’t hold your hand they also tended to be more straightforward. Compare a NES controller to a 360 controller. Or having no savegames or maybe a password system compared to auto-save. With the possible exception of 8/16bit Tactical RPGs (I didn’t play any besides Ogre Battle) they weren’t very hard to figure out.

    The problem I see with current titles is that many are just plain easy and force you to sit through tutorials for things that are bloody obvious. If a gameplay mechanic is actually complicated a lots of people, possibly including me, won’t understand it by all means blink something telling me a tutorial is available.

    Probably the worst offender I can think of was FF8. It had long, boring tutorials for the most GLARINGLY OBVIOUS things in it.

    Gee, I can Draw Magic from enemies by putting ‘Draw’ on the battle menu and then using it? That should take at least 10 minutes to explain to me with textboxes I have to advance through manually.

    Gee, I can Junction spells to stats and different spells have different effects? At least ten more minutes for that.

    Gee, Junctioning ‘Blind’ to my Sword makes my Sword Blind enemies? Holy Fuck! That just blew my mind and took ten minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

    How about telling me something about how enemies level up with me? Or give me some clue how this item refining crap works? Or any of the other random, weird shit changed from FF7 that you need to read a FAQ to have any idea how it works?

    Yeah, I hate me some FF8.