Difficulty in Games

Posted October 11, 2009

So after looking at thoughts on Demon’s Souls I started thinking about difficulty in gaming. The majority of people who play it say it’s hard but still really good. The people who haven’t played it take that as a negative thing. The assumption has become that a game that is described as hard, is so because it’s frustrating and thus can’t be fun. That’s simply not the case with a well designed game. To see why we need to analyze what makes a game fun.

Fun can be described as the emotion that’s triggered while learning new things. Learning comes from being presented with a situation you are unfamiliar with, then performing experiments to see what happens. Every time we discover something new, our brains give us a little chemical feedback to make us feel good about the discovery and also retain the new info.

Games elicit fun by providing a series of learning opportunities. They give you an unfamiliar world with a set of ways to manipulate it. Also, they provide challenges to guide you through how best to manipulate the world. The level of fun is determined by how well these challenges guide you. If they just tell you how to do it, or there are too many challenges teaching the same thing, then the game is too easy and not fun at all. Conversely, if the game makes it difficult to learn how to overcome the challenge, or there are not enough challenges to teach you properly, then the game is difficult and also not fun.

The secret sweet spot where the game is fun is called challenging. It’s when you progress at the right speed, and feel you’re getting better at the game. The problem is that most people have a different spot for a given game, and so most modern games have transformed to avoid this problem. They look very nice and give good narrative, but they’ve lost game play.

Demon’s Souls seems to be challenging with a lot of good game play. Meaning that you may die every once in awhile, but you know it’s just part of the learning process, and thus part of the fun. Next time you fight a that monster you realize you should have thrusted rather than parried, and when that works you get some more of the sweet crack called fun.

Honestly, I’m looking forward to this game now.