By Justin Trapnell
Edited by Savvas Savvinidis
What are we really looking for when we play video games? Certain things come to mind: entertainment; escape from reality; working with friends to complete an objective; or seeking a challenge of skill and wit. Regardless of one’s interests, two trends have grown to dominate most of the gaming community — games that are generally easy and games that require effort.
In recent years, bigger industries such as Electronic Arts and Activision have attempted to make their games more casual in order to appeal to a wider audience of gamers. Others go against the status quo and continue to make games that stay true to the gamer’s desire, such as Japanese company From Software.
When such major industry leaders make games more casual, they draw in a wider range of players, but, as a result, the overall experience is degraded. Take Activision’s Call of Duty franchise for example; published in 2003, the original Call of Duty offered a first-person combat infantry experience of major World War II battles. The game used simple mechanics and a medium level of difficulty, punishing the player for mistakes and reckless approaches. Still, the player was given a sense of freedom in their movement through each level of the campaign.
Call of Duty was well received, going on to spawn line of sequels and spinoffs. Since 2012, however, new installments of Call of Duty have become more linear in their campaigns, each level a game of “follow the leader.” The enemies run on poorly programmed A.I., and frequent autosaves remove the consequences of reckless playing. Quick time events have replaced unforgiving boss fights. While the multiplayer aspect of these games is well polished, the focus of FPS games having shifted to online competitive play, long-time fans of Call of Duty lament the loss of enthralling single-player campaigns to which the franchise owes its original success.
Most gamers have an innate fear when it comes to challenge. This is why the majority of developers provide varying difficulty settings, and why many publishers demand games that are, in general, easier. However, some developers will forgo this industry standard in order to make a product that they know their audience wants: a hard game. The developers at From Software, known for their famous Souls series, are ones such.
Games like Dark Souls challenge a player’s determination with grueling boss fights that depend on the player’s skill, intuitive world design, and a nearly overwhelming freedom to do what you want. Besides some basic tutorials, players are on their own, with the game’s highly detailed, often beautiful open world breeding a false sense of security. As a first-timer, you might treat it like any other game. Then, you die — a lot.
Death is not the end, however. It’s just the game telling you to step up. When you finally defeat that first boss, there is a rush of excitement and relief, a feeling of accomplishment in knowing that you’ve done something that most casual gamers might call impossible.