If you’re reading this, I bet you’re not the kind of person who only plays 1 or 2 games a year. I bet you play a lot more. And if you’re like me and have been gaming for a really long time, getting bored is inevitable.
You might ask yourself “Why am I still playing this?” or proclaim that games aren’t what they used to be. Well, you’re right actually! Games are different now.
Traditional game design is a relic revered by a small percentage of the gaming population, and contemporary design is what sells. Most games exist to be experienced as opposed to beaten, and this has resulted in a reduction of player engagement. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as we can have a diverse industry, but it does mean the “hardcore gamer” gets bored more easily.
Luckily, I’ve stumbled onto a solution!
If you find yourself getting bored with gaming in general, start playing on harder difficulties. You can stop reading this post and go do it right now, but if you’re interested, I’d like to explain why this will make your games more fun. If you have a passion for games like I do, you’ll enjoy reading this post.
I’ll start with a brief history lesson.
Past versus Present
Old games (we usually refer to them as arcade classics) were designed to be brutally punishing. The more you died, the more quarters you had to spend. It was a brilliant business decision in order to extract lots of money out of customers and to maximize return on investment. We now see this model applied to DLC and Season Passes and frankly it pisses me off, but I’ll save that opinion for another post. The point here is that traditional game design dictated that games had to be hard to make lots of money.
As we transitioned to console and PC gaming, it was time to diversify. Companies couldn’t ask for your quarters (well now they can with microtransactions…), and in most cases they couldn’t build massive games that justified large price tags relative to their era. Most games had to be hard to force replayability so that you’d feel like you got a lot of value out of your purchase.
Gaming at home grew as an industry, arcades died out, and we got to a point where technological and skill based breakthroughs came rapidly. From single button games to MMOs, our industry had come a long way in just a few decades.
Games themselves expanded, budgets grew bigger, teams grew in size, companies were spending more money than ever before. As a result, games had to sell in greater quantities to maintain healthy profit margins.
There was just one problem. We went from 2 button controllers to 8 buttons, 2 analog sticks, and a dpad.
Think about how awkward it is when you see someone who doesn’t play games try to control 2 sticks at the same time in a first or third person game. How the hell are you going to sell a buttload of something with such a barrier to entry? The answer so far has been by reducing difficulty wherever else possible.
I had a good talk with a developer of a critically praised old school type of XBLA game once. It was a significantly challenging title. He told me less than 1% of all players finished it based on their data. Less than one percent!
This is why there’s a constant follow tag in Call of Duty campaigns, this is why the 360/PS3/Wii era introduced story only casual modes, heck, this is arguably why the Wii existed to begin with.
Video games became mainstream during the aforementioned console cycle, and it’s no coincidence that they got easier at the same time.
So if you’ve been playing for years and years, you’re inevitably going to get bored because you’ve developed a baseline skill level and contemporary games do not engage you in the same way.
Why Didn’t I Switch to Hard Mode Sooner?
I first noticed games getting too easy and boring for me during the early days of the 360. I was playing Gears of War. It was fun but its state of the art graphics/cover system helped you forget about its very basic design.
I decided to crank up the difficulty but found it to be uninteresting. A good hard mode requires more out of you and can create wildly different scenarios than normal, but Gears felt restricting instead. In my mind’s eye, I remember it as “the bullet sponge enemies got spongier!”
Next, I was running into a similar problem with FIFA. I tried the World Class difficulty. The AI kind of just kept onto the ball for no reason and didn’t do anything. I bumped it to Legendary, and the AI was a bit more engaging but still felt super robotic. Not only did it not represent the sport or the online metagame strategically, it forced you to severely limit your playstyle.
Call of Duty was the next game I tried this with. Again, I felt that the difficulty restricted the actual gameplay too much, and a COD campaign at that time was already extremely restricting.
So I tried a number of hard modes and found them pointless. Instead of having the AI “cheat” to create more robust experiences, these games were designed to restrict you as a player. I thought that was a terrible creative choice and a waste of gameplay potential.
I mostly abandoned my quest for exciting single player experiences and focused on having awesome multiplayer ones with my buddies. But if you’re not in school and have a full time job with other adult responsibilities, it’s not easy to line up playing times as often as you’d like.
When playing Far Cry 3 I was very impressed with how many systems and mechanics successfully interacted with each other. It felt liberating, it felt like the game was capable of handling wildly different playstyles.
I found myself using the bow almost exclusively because it added more of a challenge. I got pretty good with it and started realizing the limitations of the AI. The magic broke for me. “Damn” I thought. “I wish this gameplay design was more focused around survival in crazy combat scenarios.” So I bumped up the difficulty, something I hadn’t done in quite some time. To my pleasant surprise, I found the game way more engaging!
While my general tactics didn’t change too much (design and AI limitation), I was forced to use more of the game’s mechanics to win combat scenarios. Instead of restricting me like Gears, FIFA, and COD did, Far Cry 3 required me to open its toolbox in order to solve a variety of situations. How wonderful! Finally, a game lit a spark in me.
To be fair, Far Cry is open world so it’ll inherently have more variety than a linear single player campaign, but it deserves credit for having so many different mechanics and systems interacting with each other (relative to its time).
Since then I’ve made it a point to try hard mode on just about everything I play. I’m happy to say that most games I play these days are way more fun on hard because more designers understand what makes them fun. Even linear games like Call of Duty have introduced more variation to them which is great to see.
Why Is Hard More Fun?
If you’ve followed along closely, you noticed I mention engagement and restriction. Hard doesn’t mean “punish me daddy” for the sake of punishment, it means that more should be expected of the player and game.
Hard modes are more fun because they let you interact in more substantial ways with your games. They create new scenarios, they increase tension and suspense, they make you think more critically, they unlock a whole new level of possibilities.
But only when designed to account for engagement.
I’m sad to say that World Class and Legendary are still mind numbing in FIFA, but the design advances I’ve seen in other games like The Witcher 3 and Black Ops 3 give me lots of hope for the future.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying games on more casual settings, but don’t be scared of turning the difficulty up if you’re getting bored! You might just have a whole lot of fun.
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Featured image by Victor Hanacek.