SIMPLIFICATION

Posted in Quick Hits on December 26th, 2012 by Ed

My 10 year-old nephew has been Nintendo Wii-crazy for the past few years. Accordingly, he received the usual passel of game cartridges from relatives (and Santa). I have never played a Wii. Video games are no longer my thing, with the exception of maybe five PC games purchased in the last ten years (mostly CoD games, rarely played). As a kid, however, I played them copiously. I spent hundreds of hours on the NES, Super NES, and N64, which was the last console I owned. The bottom line is that while I have blown a lot of hours on video gaming, it was mostly between the ages of 10-20 and thus my knowledge of the current state of the hobby is very limited.

I sat back and watched him tear into his new game – can't even recall the name, to be honest – and after about 45 minutes I noticed that he was more than halfway through the number of levels in the game. He did not appear to be particularly good at it, as his character advanced through the game largely by walking into the enemies, sustaining a huge amount of damage, and never dying. When his character did die, it re-spawned immediately in the same spot. And this is when I grasped what 25-40 people who play games probably figured out a long time ago: games appear to be a hell of a lot easier now.

Not to engage in pointless cane-shaking, but at my nephew's age I was playing games like Legend of Zelda, Kid Icarus, Contra II, the Mega Man series, and Castlevania, all of which required weeks and sometimes months to complete. When your character died, you started over at the beginning of the level (or in some cases, of the game itself). If I recall accurately, I think I spent a good part of three years trying to defeat Ninja Gaiden and Bionic Commando…and never did. That shit was hard.

Even I know enough about modern games to understand that some do require huge investments of time (World of Warcraft, for example). On the whole, however, I'd be stunned if the 20 most popular console games today could hold a candle to those from 1990 in terms of complexity, difficulty, and time to completion. What does that imply? Maybe game developers have realized that their target audience – which is expanding to include both the very young and older people – doesn't really want to be challenged. They appear to believe that today's 12 year-old just wants a game he can play without a learning curve and complete immediately so he can tell everyone how great he is at video games. I wonder how well my nephew and his 5th-grade friends would do if I handed them the original Legend of Zelda. I'm certain that they could figure out how to play it pretty quickly. I'm not so certain that they would not walk away in frustration once they realized that the game was not simple enough to master immediately.

Yes, yes, I know this is some old man shit. It also appears to be an open secret in the gaming industry that the games are not as demanding as they once were. People who waste lots of time playing video games often try and have tried to justify it by pointing to potential benefits – improved hand-eye coordination, problem solving skills, and ability to focus on something to completion. With this current generation of tweens/teens and their fruit fly attention spans, I'm not sure what they're getting out of the activity anymore except sensory overload and the idea that if things are hard they're not worth doing.