On Difficulty and Quality in Games

A certain masochistic streak runs through the gaming community, one which judges the quality of a game purely on how hard it is.

Which is not to say that challenge cannot be fun. I’m a huge fan of Etrian Odyssey IV, a game which attempts to brutally shut down the player at every turn. But what makes the game fun is not just that it’s hard, but that overcoming this challenge is a fun experience. The battles are fun, the dungeon exploration is fun, and you get a strong sense of fulfillment from overcoming the challenges in it.

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The Unnecessary Failure State

For as long as I can remember, people have naturally accepted that games must always have some kind of failure state.

If you take a fireball to the face in Mario, you die. If you get bit by a dog in Contra, you die. Run out of lives and it’s game over. You have to restart the level, or world, or sometimes the entire game.. The punishment for not doing well in a game is dying, and many people will measure a game’s worth by how often it made them die and go back to a checkpoint. For as long as there have been games, there have been deaths, game overs, and fail states.

So why is this?

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