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Difficulty as Sign of Quality – Gamer Elitism

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Gamers take into account many aspects of a video game to judge it. Graphics, story, mechanics, characters and music are the most common features by which quality is measured. However, its difficulty is something one particular section of the community takes into consideration as well. The more close to impossible the game is to beat, the more highly appreciated.

Fanmade material is also prone to being much harder than the original games. Doom map sets like Hell Revealed and its sequel are famous for their extreme difficulty even in the easiest modes. Skyrim mods will summon new, customized dragons that make the final boss pale in comparison. While they’re not necessary to fully enjoy the game, it’s clear there’s a large enough section in any gaming community that enjoys the added challenge and find enjoyment in it. And there’s nothing wrong with that as long as it isn’t rubbed all over less hardcore players.

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Dark Souls and its sequel have become the paragon of this mentality. They spawned the “git gud” meme, which focused on mocking the players who weren’t skilled enough to beat the game. In the end, it was a pretentious merit badge to feel superior to other gamers. This already existed years ago in other games and genres, from FPS to every online game that had PvP available. People are willing to embrace anything that can make them better than others. Even if that something is being better at a video game.

When games allow you to skip a level or help you beat it, some gamers will also complain about it. There is a feeling of elitism, as if these tools allowed “casuals”, as they’re called, to reach as far as “pro” gamers. A quite popular example is Mike Matei from CineMassacre’s video about Super Mario 3D World’s white Tanooki suit. In the video he rants about how gamers are being rewarded for failing. This doesn’t take into account gamers that, for medical conditions or for being too young, can’t reach the required hand-eye coordination to move on. It gives a sensation of “back in my day”, as if everything was better when games were for the social outcasts they were portrayed for in movies. The main issue is that games were much more merciless and unfair in those days. It almost screamed “I went through hell to beat the games I played. I demand these fake gamers go through the same!” Another thing people bash the most recent generation for is save states. Thanks to emulators and source ports, you can play old games you wouldn’t be able to play otherwise. These programs allow you to save any time you want and go back with the click of a button. Because of that, many old gamers consider it cheating, for to them the only option was going back to stage 1 if they failed.

When looking from a veteran gamer’s point of view, you can feel the resent and disapproval coming from them for many reasons. The main one deals with the fact that back in the 80s and 90s games were absurdly difficult and in-game help wasn’t common. If you couldn’t beat the level, you couldn’t see the rest of the game. Another important factor is that some titles forced you to play the game in the hardest difficulties in order to see the whole game. Playing on Normal or lower would give you a bad ending or just end on a stage that wasn’t the last one. Double Dragon II for the NES was guilty of this: you couldn’t get to fight the final boss and see the ending unless you played on Hard. A less common feature that also taunted players were the names given to difficulty levels. ID software had plenty of these. Wolfenstein 3D had the easiest mode labeled “Can I play, daddy?” For Doom, it was “I’m too young to die!”, with the PSX and Saturn ports replacing it with “I am a wimp.”

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Hard games aren’t something new; they can be traced back to the arcades. Those titles were preposterously difficult if only to make sure a persistent gamer would keep coughing up money to finally win. Every genre had this, from fighting games to beat ‘em ups and shooters to name the most common ones. While some of these games had the difficulty toned down when ported to home consoles, many titles carried this feature as part of their identity. Well-known examples from that time include Ninja Gaiden, King of Fighters and many other SNK series.

Video games are popular now instead of something you are shunned for enjoying. It has now been embraced by the mainstream. They have much more complex and long storylines. With a much broader market many games, especially family friendly ones, have alternate options so you can enjoy the whole experience. Now that society is slowly accepting video games, the last thing gamers should do is bash others for the “shame” of not beating games at their hardest difficulties.

With this talk, a question comes to mind. What makes a game actually difficult? And what skill is required to actually beat it? Is it trial and error? Memorization, perhaps? Dark Souls has earned a reputation of being extremely difficult, but after careful examination, many players pointed out that the game wasn’t as infamously hard to beat as many proclaimed. All monsters have specific patterns that leave them vulnerable at some point. Trying to charge face-first without a strategy hoping that button mashing will do the trick will have you killed before you notice. Patience and observation are key.

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Going for another infamously hard game there’s I Wanna Be The Guy. This one has many elements from the previously mentioned. The easiest difficulty available will put a ridiculous pink bow on your head, and the additional save points will have WUSS instead of SAVE written on them. This title is absurdly difficult but many people have beaten it even at the Impossible difficulty, which removes all save points. This seems like an inexplicable feat until you sit down and think that the players have memorized every single trap the game can throw at you. Enemies’ attack patterns and health aren’t affected by the difficulty you choose. The game’s still hard even with that, for the bosses are tricky. However, by removing the hidden danger of the traps a large chunk of the battle is won.

Normal factors altered when it comes to increasing a game’s difficulty are the number of enemies, the damage they can endure before dying and how much easier the player is to kill. Outside of these ones, some people will play the game imposing further restrictions to themselves. They will beat the game without using anything but their main attacks or use only one character, among many others. While a large group of the gaming community will praise them and try to up the ante, the rest of the world will look at them and ask “why would you do that?” When there’s an achievement or reward for it, this behavior is understandable, especially among completionists. However, when done for the sake of it or to brag, it’s more like being unfaithful to your partner. Sure, you can find pleasure in your success, but it’s not something you should boast about openly.

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A very famous example of a self-imposed challenge is Nuzlocke, which started with Pokémon games. This has two rules to follow. The first one says you can only capture the first Pokémon found on any route or cave. If you defeat it by accident, you can’t capture any other in that area. The second rule is that a fainted Pokémon is considered dead, so you can’t use it ever again. Despite starting in the Pokémon series, other games that follow a similar premise can be played using this challenge. As previously mentioned, many gamers embrace this and share their stories. Others, on the other hand, don’t see the point because it’s the exact opposite of what the game is about, which is catching all the different Pokémon.

There are many ways video games can be enjoyed. Some simply delight themselves on the main storyline, then put it away to find another one. Others prefer searching for every secret and getting every achievement until there’s nothing left to do. There are also the ones that enjoy fighting the toughest enemies and defeating them against all odds. One way or another, they are all gamers. Hating on each other for not playing the same way or being eager to push through a nigh-unbeatable game is not what should be happening. But there’s always competition, people willing to prove they’re the best at what they do. With video game tournaments and online play, this becomes more intense, and mocking the defeated rival is insultingly common. There’s a lot the gaming community can do to fix this, but apparently the high achieved from being better than others overcomes many.

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