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Video games have gone through several evolutions throughout the years, and difficulty level is one of the most obvious changes. When I turn on a retro game like Dig Dug or the original Super Mario Bros., I can barely get past the first level. The entire game consists of struggle and frustration.
Nowadays, I find myself completing newer games in a matter of days (which makes them almost boring). At this point it’s obvious that video games have gotten ridiculously easy—but why?
The Truth Behind “Hard” Games
We all know that older games are harder. I’m talking about games like Contra, Ninja Gaiden, and Battletoads. You can’t tell me that you didn’t want to rip out your hair when playing those.
I can understand why the developers back in the day made arcade games painstakingly difficult. They wanted you to put more coins in that machine. In their eyes, the more times you got a game over, the better. You’ll just end up spending more money once you feel you’ve got the hang of it—but you’ll just keep dying over and over again.
When consoles started coming out, the games were still just as hard, but you didn’t have to keep spending money to get one more try. It just ended up costing you your sanity. If the consoles themselves couldn’t collect money, then why did old-school console games have no change in difficulty?
The truth is, games still remained difficult because the developers didn’t have the technology to make them any easier. In the early days of video games, developers were mathematicians and computer science experts. Video games were built entirely from scratch, which doesn’t encourage an abundance of creativity. Today, developers have pre-programmed tools at their fingertips, making it easier to design user-friendly games.
Developers had plenty of limitations in the past, including the small storage space of cartridges. They weren’t able to create an eye-catching game with tons of amazing features. Instead, they focused on the gameplay itself, rather than graphics and ease-of-use. When you can only fit five levels on a cartridge, why not make them worth your time?
Technological Advances Mean Easier Gameplay
These days, developers want to show what technology can do. That’s why you’ll see beautiful games with disappointing gameplay, just like Anthem. Developers can fit tons of data on a single disk, giving them tons of freedom in terms of graphics.
Developers actually want you to finish their games—they spent too much time and money on graphics to have you quit after the first level. The only way for developers to show off their work is to make it easy enough to complete.
You no longer have to play games where you spend one hour trying to jump over a gap in a platform. Every game function has been refined, allowing you to run, jump, and fight with ease. The combat system has become laxer—your character typically has an increased health bar coupled with more logical controls. Such improvements allow you to run through games much faster.
Attracting the New Wave of Gamers
I don’t want to attack the younger generation, but it’s a known fact that the population’s attention span has been getting worse as time goes on. With smartphones and the expansion of the internet, we now have immediate access to information, communication, and entertainment.
Kids don’t really have the motivation to play a game that doesn’t give them instant satisfaction—and that’s what difficult games don’t do. To accommodate younger players, games have been dumbed down. Easy games give young gamers confidence, making them want to spend more time and money on the game. When AAA games today are all about microtransactions, developers start pushing out games to satisfy the cravings of young people.
The people growing up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s didn’t really have much of a choice when it came to difficulty. Games were hard, and you had to deal with it. When that’s all you have, you’re forced to put up with all the faulty mechanics and outrageous obstacles in a game.
Difficulty Is an Evolution
Overall, games didn’t necessarily get harder, they just evolved. Developers have the technology to make games more attractive to every gamer, and some decide to use it.
Some modern games still keep the spirit of retro games alive by creating challenging levels. Check out our list of the hardest missions and levels in video game history to find out more.