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 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?