Elden Ring and the value of difficulty in video games

Elden Ring and the value of difficulty in video games

At this point, if you have heard of Elden Ring it is because you have been told that it is a difficult game. Of course, difficulty isn't the only interesting thing about FromSoftware's latest title, but it is a cornerstone of its design and reputation. The slogan of the studio's previous games was "Prepare to die", and some sections of the community born around the game have an answer ready for anyone who asks aloud questions about its accessibility or wonders if it is not appropriate to introduce a mode. easier: "learn to play".

Elden Ring: the merciless fight for freedom The long-awaited videogame by Hidetaka Miyazaki and George RR is released today Martin: it is pure philosophy of life. A life hard as hell. Read the article If you are not familiar with the world of gaming, you might think that such a game can only appeal to a certain demographic of players; yet Elden Ring has already sold tens of millions of copies and is, to date, the best-reviewed game of the year. This does not detract from the fact that the game is difficult. Complex games are destined to stay with us though, because difficulty isn't inherently a bad thing. The toxic climate that surrounds them is, like in most similar cases, a cultural problem. Extracted from that context, complexity can offer a rewarding, positive and profound experience.

Difficulty is not a simple concept: it does not refer only to the impossible levels of Super Mario Bros. A book, on the other hand, can earn the label of "difficult" when it contains an esoteric vocabulary or a syntax experimental, is structured in logarithmic spirals, or requires a basic knowledge of ancient Greek mythology to be able to grasp all its allusions. It could also be emotionally complex when it explores sensitive topics such as self-harm or suicide.

Different Difficulties In his book Experimental Games, Critique, Play, and Design in the Age of Gamification the scholar Patrick Jagoda makes a distinction between three types of difficulty. The first form of difficulty he identifies is mechanical (as in the case of the Super Mario level). Then there is the interpretative complexity, which includes both the process of creating meaning starting from simple thoughts such as "that castle could be dangerous", but also the capacity for deeper reading and attention to a theme that we associate with cultural criticism. (in this area the characteristics associated with being a good critic or a good player diverge: capable players are closer to people who can read very quickly while storing large amounts of information).

The third type of difficulty, explains Jagoda on the phone, is affective, and has to do with the way in which a game can arouse our emotions: "These are games that, at the simplest level, make us sad or produce social or political situations complex that players must overcome - explains Jagoda -. Through a game it is possible to explore difficult topics such as surviving a tumor, in ways that are not necessarily complex from a mechanical point of view: I am thinking of a game like That Dragon, Cancer. "

That Dragon, Cancer. (NUMINOUS GAMES)

Courtesy of Numinous Games Putting mechanical complexity aside for a moment, interpretative and emotional difficulties are difficult to separate. For some time scholars have debated how the two things are connected: does a labyrinthine book like Ulysses [by James Joyce, ed] have a complexity for its own sake? Or can inducing an audience to strain to reflect can take it to a greater level of depth, which more superficial art cannot reach? The growing sophistication of video games means that they have now become part of long-standing aesthetic debates.

Ultimately this conflict is one of the reasons why different games exist for different people, just as Marvel movies can coexist (to some extent) with arthouse films (which in both cases can be seen as inaccessible, boring and pimp by a certain type of audience). Yet the debates rarely reflect this aspect: "I think this conversation would not be the same if we were talking about an older art form, like cinema - says Jagoda -: no one would question the existence of auteur films. Yet in video games there are sometimes positions contrary to author games in general, or against the more difficult games ".

However, we cannot ignore the mechanical complexity that remains the most distinctive element of the medium . In his book, Jagoda points out that the concept had legal implications: in 1942, New York City banned pinball machines, arguing that the pastime was akin to gambling. The legalization of the game in 1976 centered on the thesis that pinball was actually based on skill. In other words, pinball's difficulty set it apart from gambling. In video games, high difficulty levels were often inspired by the pursuit of profit: they kept people spending their pennies in arcades and stretched older, shorter games, justifying the price. The first difficulty settings - easy, normal and difficult - appeared in 1977 on the Atari; since then, discussions on the subject have never stopped.

Problems and solutions WiredLeaks, what to know before sending us an anonymous report Read the article There are well-known and compelling arguments against extremely difficult games, or at least about the culture built around them. The extreme difficulty excludes certain groups: those who do not have great hand-eye coordination or enough free time, for example. Some players seem to rejoice in this exclusion, for reasons of a competitive nature that would not disfigure in Squid Games or for the fear that an easier mode could make their favorite series trivial. This sentiment can manifest itself in less damaging ways such as teasing casual gamers by more experienced players who want their peers to rise to the challenge, but also in more serious phenomena such as skill issues in an industry that routinely ignores players with disabilities.

There has been an improvement in this area, however, explains Jagoda. One solution is dynamic difficulty, such as that employed by artificial intelligence in Left 4 Dead, which modifies the number of zombies unleashed against a player based on their progress in the game. Another method is to rely on human generosity: Just like teachers who help a student extricate themselves from an abstruse piece of Shakespeare, players learn from each other through guides, videos or forms of online collaboration. Difficulty is a collective problem that can foster collaboration, explains Jagoda, who designs alternate reality games that attract thousands of players, who can try to complete certain missions for weeks.

"Some of these missions are extremely difficult, or require a very specific set of skills - says Jagoda -. It may be necessary to know a particular language or a set of languages ​​to solve a puzzle, or it may take a certain type of mathematical knowledge to solve another; maybe there is You need to be tech-savvy to solve a third. And we don't limit ourselves to the difficulty of the puzzles. We make the games cooperative rather than competitive, so that different players can step forward and solve particular puzzles on their way to completing the puzzle. It's another way of handling difficulty: making it a group problem rather than an in problem dividual e ".


Courtesy of BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Jagoda adds that it would be wrong to say that there is no reason to engage in challenging games, because overcome the difficulty it represents a special form of pleasure, especially when collaborating. For reviewers, the world of Elden Ring didn't take shape until the day it was released, when the game began to populate with its characters ("Difficulty is what gives meaning to the experience," he told The New Yorker. game director of the game, Hidekta Miyazaki, in a recent interview). We often use terms such as immersion, tension and liberation to describe the successes achieved in the game. Nintendo is famous for making games that are easy to learn and difficult to master. In his book, Games: Agency As Art and philosopher C. Thi Nguyen compares completing a complicated game to what climbers call "flash": successfully solving a problem on the first try. Difficult games provide "a harmony of skill," he writes, a rare feeling of bliss due to "not the pleasure in retrospect for an achievement, but a feeling of harmony for having ventured and proved up to a task."

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Arrow Ultimately, in big games the distinctions between different types of difficulty tend to blend together. For Alex Ocias, a designer who uses video games to explore themes like domination and obedience, the concept of difficulty is essentially meaningless: it's too broad, he explains. Ocias prefers to think of games as those tools that in gyms offer resistance to those who perform an exercise, as they are artifacts designed to resist our will; our interaction with these games would be a form of masochism, he adds.

Inside this machine, Ocias continues, all games inevitably involve a loss. The way the creators play with this loss, and design worlds to resist the player's will, is the fundamental language of the medium, he adds. If a game doesn't resist, it becomes "a machine that delivers content". Resistance is the "ghost in the machine" that gives life to the vehicle, he says. It is a form of intimacy: the player has to work hard to take care of something. "Difficulty in a game creates intimacy. Through suffering and repeated attempts you reach a deeper and deeper understanding of smaller and smaller things - says Ocias -. It allows you to look small; it offers a sense of intimacy with the things you do. they are facing each other in that space. And it is a really difficult thing to do if you do not believe in difficulty and resistance ".

It is understandable that a game on the civilian experience of war, for example, could appeal to mechanical difficulty. In this way he manages to really make the player feel how hard life can be. Ocias says he is currently playing Wizardry. "It is a difficult game, which captures the value of loss and suffering - he says -. It is very human. It must make you feel bad, but also good". In other words, a metaphor for life itself.

This article originally appeared on sportsgaming.win Uk.

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