Are videogames becoming less challenging?
F ive hours. That's how long the average single player experience lasts in a videogame these days. The frustration, agony and excruciatingly painful gameplay sessions that were once synonymous with the wrist-breaking, fingertip-wrecking pastime are history now, thanks to game mechanics that have been cleverly put in place by game developers at the behest of their overlords, the publishers, so that gamers can run through game after game, month after month. Yes, that sounds tremendously evil, but in reality, it's probably the best thing that has happened to gaming since the invention of the gamepad even if, at some level, it makes the games of today less “hardcore” than those of old. But it's not as simple as it sounds.
Due to technical limitations, game developers of yesteryear were forced to artificially increase the amount of time someone spent on a videogame by making it frighteningly difficult and if possible, impossible to finish. Play Contra: Hard Corps or an arcade game at Blur, for instance, and you'll find that if played flawlessly, it can be finished in 45 minutes, but an average gamer will take a year to finish it because if you die, you have to play it from the beginning. On the other hand, get shot in Modern Warfare 2 and you can simply hide behind a large garbage bin until your health (magically) regenerates and jump right into battle afterwards. Yes, difficulty is “scalable” (i.e. you can choose to play at a harder setting, say “veteran”, for instance), but the average gamer is only going to play it at the game's default difficulty setting and complain about the short campaign length afterwards.
Many proclaimed the “death” of single player gaming once videogames became multiplayer-centric experiences thanks to great services such as Xbox Live, Playstation Network and most important, staggeringly fast broadband Internet. Multiplayer gaming was no longer a social activity, with gamers sitting by themselves on preposterously comfortable couches in front of gigantic television screens, munching on chips from bags that were about the same size, hitting buttons on their controllers with their greasy fingers whilst bad-mouthing a middle-aged Romanian gentleman halfway across the world over their chat headsets. All of a sudden, there were millions of these gamers, and it made perfect sense for developers to target this highly receptive audience. The five-hour “story” mode was then born, as was the endless multiplayer experience, even if the said experience involved little-to-no human contact. And thanks to casual games and “hardcore” games with scalable difficulty, there are infinitely more gamers today than there were when games were impossible to finish.
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