About Difficulty in Games

Let me suggest you to go and play the original Manic Miner for just 5 minutes: press 'O' and 'P' to walk left or right, respectively, spacebar to jump. Collect all the keys and go back to the flashing portal.

Did you manage to pass the first screen? If not, would you keep playing, or was it so frustrating that you don't want to see that game again?

Despite its outrageous difficulty, Manic Miner won several prizes back in 1983, is considered one of the 100 best Spectrum games ever and sold a considerable amount of copies at the time.

The line between difficult and frustrating has been lowered time and again since the 8-bit era. It's almost unthinkable that any commercial game nowadays could go gold without a thorough tutorial level plagued with on-screen tips, animated controller depictions, or even a practice mode, all in addition to an adequately tuned learning curve throughout the game, with the first two or three levels/missions/scenes being appropriately easy. Sometimes there's a manual (a PDF in most cases), but the point is: you learn how to play inside the game.

I'd like to stand out two fantastic satirical (Flash) games about this topic. Both state in their title what you have to do, and repeat it again and again during the game:

1. You have to burn the rope: a parody of extremely easy games, that take care of the player assuring that the right step is always taken; also, a criticism against over-complex games. Extremely short gameplay, and one of the most rewarding endings you can find.

2. Super Press Space To Win Action RPG: a hilarious parody about difficulty and predictability in Action RPG. Just one button to interact, while an epic (and quite familiar) story develops. What's the point of offering 90 hours of gameplay, when you are repeating the same interaction pattern again and again, and actually playing 'on rails'?

What I'm missing a lot, in videogames, is having the possibility  to learn the game rules outside of the game. Not in every game, of course, tutorials are nice, and an art in itself. But when you first play a new tabletop game, you are told the rules before game begins. Same with a card game. Or in your first non-virtual RPG session. Even playground games: when we were children, we found natural to learn, discuss and negotiate the rules before entering the magic circle and becoming noble Indian warriors or rude cowboys. We found, I insist, intuitively natural not breaking the immersion once the play started. It's a crucial part of the ritual of playing.

So every time I stumble upon a difficult, tutorial-less game, I ask myself: lazy developer, or lazy player?

As an example of this, try a game that goes beyond your senses: This is Inifinity.