I'm really feeling it!
I'm really feeling it!

The first image you get when you type ‘Difficult video game’ on google image. Ninja Gaiden, but not sure which one (II or 3).
The first image you get when you type ‘Difficult video game’ on google image. Ninja Gaiden, but not sure which one (II or 3).
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Video games, my love.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about difficulty and the relation you and I have with it. It being difficulty, of course. The difficulty, you see, is seen as difficult. This is why we call it difficulty. If it was easy, we would maybe call it easyty, but I’m sure you can agree it does not pack the same punch.

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Difficulty, especially in video games, is not real. It is not something tangible. Not something that has value. More often than not, at least in modern games, you can modify it on a whim. Challenge on another hand is different. Everybody loves a good challenge regarding the difficulty you are playing games at.

But in that case, why not calling this article “Love letter to challenge in games”?

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Well, I’m the one who names my articles, shut up.

Difficulty vs Challenge

This has nothing to do with the article, I just love Terrence Hill and wanted to share that with y’all
This has nothing to do with the article, I just love Terrence Hill and wanted to share that with y’all
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Merriam-Webster defines Difficulty as “the quality or state of being hard to do, deal with, or understand: the quality or state of being difficult” while it defines Challenge as “a stimulating task or problem”. While a challenging task is often difficult, not all challenging tasks are inherently difficult, some just take time or minutia.

And definitely not all difficult tasks are challenging. Sometimes difficult tasks are just plain impossible, or frustrating, either because they are poorly designed or just because you lack the motor skills to do them. While you can sometimes ‘Git Gud’, sometimes you just physically can’t.

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Here lays the subtle distinction between the two and exactly what I want to talk about. While a challenging task is great to overcome. There is nothing better than to defeat a challenging task that is also considered difficult, the most important part here is what YOU consider difficult but challenging.

Gather around, it’s story time.

Difficult and challenging. There’s something about this game.
Difficult and challenging. There’s something about this game.
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You’ve all heard this story. It’s a story about a dude who suddenly works. So while he loves difficult games (And this time I truly mean difficult games, games who need TruSkilz™) he can no longer spend an almost limitless time on a single video game, and since there are more and more games he wants to experience, he has a choice to make. Either he plays fewer games, or he starts playing them at a lower difficulty he’s used to in order to be able to beat them faster. Most of the time it will end up being a mix of both because that dude still wants his games to be challenging.

And suddenly he almost forgot what difficult games were, he’s okay with the amount of challenge he gets from those games. Sure, he doesn’t get as much dopamine from beating those games, since a part of his brain always making sure he knows he took the easy way, but at least he gets to enjoy his time and still be able to finish most of the games he plays.

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But once in a while, a game arrives and it reminds him how he loved that sweet sweet incredible challenge. How great this felt. This time that game is Doom Eternal, a demon-fueled crazy gun ballet that feels like the game calls you out directly if you fail.

And goddamn, what a feeling.

The rush, the intensity, the power in your brain when you overcome a battle.

This game kicks my ass and I love it
This game kicks my ass and I love it
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Playing the game gave me a peculiar idea.

It has been a while since I wanted to do a special run of Fallout 3, after watching the “You only live once run” by ManyATrueNerd, a gentleman and a scholar.

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So I did.

I started a new run of Fallout 3.

And I did so by giving me a great challenge, at least for me. Something I knew was going to be almost a lost cause. And I could do that, because I’ve beaten up that game so many times that it was okay if I failed. I would not miss on anything.

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So here I went. A special run where I only allow myself to use armor, items, and weapons that only an old west cowboy could have used in the 1880's.

It’s already completely stupid, but on top of that I’ve decided to play it at the maximum difficulty and only allow myself to die once.

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A permadeath of some sort.


For those who may be interested in seeing this run, still ongoing at the time of writing, you can find it there :

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What’s the point of this self-imposed challenge?

Wearing a power armor, here’s something I’ll never be able to do in that run.
Wearing a power armor, here’s something I’ll never be able to do in that run.
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The point of it, is to just challenge me to do something I know is difficult for me. Normally, when I play fallout, I do not really care what I do, where I walk, what I walk into. I kill people recklessly using mostly broken guns that are way too powerful with a butt-load of ammo and then it’s just rinse and repeat.

By all definitions, even in the most difficult setting (for me), Fallout 3 isn’t a challenging game. But by giving myself this old self-imposed challenge, I ended up discovering something incredible. Something that made me appreciate Fallout 3 a lot more.

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Fallout 3 is crazy scary, y’all.

I really hate those guys now, like you were supposed to from the start.
I really hate those guys now, like you were supposed to from the start.
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Like I couldn’t believe it. Every noise is making me jump. I see people on the horizon and I couldn’t say if they are powerful or not. I have to think, I have to weigh in if any action is worth my time and energy.

While I’m sure at some point I’ll end up again way too powerful for this game, it’s insane to see all the little things I never bothered looking at because I was just cruising into the game. And sometimes it’s just pushing yourself that gives you a completely new perspective on something you thought you knew by heart.

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Just by challenging yourself to do something you consider difficult.

Not just some challenge you could easily do, or a challenge that is just something that takes time.

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By doing something you know is difficult for you, you are allowing yourself to be pleasantly surprised when you beat all or just part of it.

Because you thought you couldn’t.

I believe it is even more rewarding than to just do what the most difficult setting tells you to do.

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Games are never meant to just take you for a ride

Roller Coaster Tycoon is not a difficult game by any means, but I needed an image of a game where you can self-challenge yourself and who’s linked to rides.
Roller Coaster Tycoon is not a difficult game by any means, but I needed an image of a game where you can self-challenge yourself and who’s linked to rides.
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That is not the first purpose of a game. You may not agree with what I’m going to say, but while I enjoy pure fun, goofy weird games, they are often not as fun as games after a little while.

Yes, they may work well as an outlet to let your frustration go (Such as playing a GTA game with the cheat codes and just lay down the chaos), but as games, they are nothing great. That’s why you don’t see people, or maybe only a few, play GTA : San Andreas just with the cheat codes for hours and hours.

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Games are meant to test you, to actually challenge you. And when the game itself can’t (this may be a lack in design or just a true testament to your own GamingSkilz™) maybe it’s time for you to find a way, any way to do it by yourself.

And in some cases, you may even discover that the game has been waiting for you to do that from the start.

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What does that mean for the future?

Difficulty settings for Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Difficulty settings for Shadow of the Tomb Raider
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As more and more games are giving you the means to fine-tune the difficulty to your liking, it might be a good idea to just put one area where you are less than stellar a nudge in the difficult section, while keeping the rest as something you feel comfortable with.

Just to see, just to keep pushing yourself.

But the best is still to give you crazy or just plain stupid challenges that can make your day better.

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Self-imposed restrictions, in general, are great. They allow you to show your creativity and ingenuity.

If you look back to all the games we had when the hardware wasn’t there to render graphics or physics, you will see a lot more creativity than now, for the most part. Because cutting corners to make sure your game can run while doing so creatively is the ultimate challenge.

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Hell, that how we got the fog in Silent Hill, because they couldn’t render a full city on a measly Playstation One, and where would we be without the fog?

And if they are too challenging, since it’s not the game forcing you to play that way, there’s no harm done to back down a bit.

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So do it. If only to remind yourself of something you used to love when you were younger and that you can’t really do now anymore.

Just keep pushing a bit, not too much, not too far, just enough.

I think it helps to keep things fresh.

So. Video games. I love you, but sometimes you don’t give me the challenge I crave, the challenge I need, so I will keep trying to find it myself.

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Keep being you.

Don’t worry. I can deal with it on my own.

Love you. Please stay at home.


Alexis Duclaux is a Game Jam veteran creating weirdly strange shitty games and had the chance to see one of these game he worked on, win the 2015 Best Game Design Award at the MIGF - Proximity.

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He also writes strange tales when he’s not trying to tell the fake real story of a French king (in French), and has a youtube channel under the name BivMavch.

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