Tobold's Blog
Friday, April 10, 2015
Heightened suffering

Ashenglut from Epic Slant is quoting Nietzsche on people who want to heighten suffering in an article discussing why some people like brutally difficult games. I was wondering whether the love of brutally difficult games isn't a social artifact, something which would go away if we would all play in isolation.

My reasoning is this: Imagine you had a game with a million different difficulty levels and you could tune it exactly to your liking and most amount of fun. You would not want to tune it in a way that you would never win. You would also not want to tune in it a way that you always win. There is some ideal win percentage, which might not be 50% but which certainly isn't 0% or 100%, at which you have the most fun.

Now obviously your win percentage depends also on your skill. Two players with different skill would have to tune that game to different difficulties to both arrive at the same win percentage. And that is where the social aspect is coming in. If I am talking on the forum of that game and am being asked what difficulty I prefer, that indirectly becomes a question of "how skilled are you in this game?". So people who are somewhat insecure and tend to derive self-worth out of their mad video game skillz are very tempted to say that they prefer a higher difficulty, because that is indicative of their high skillz.

An additional social effect which goes in the same direction is the notion of exclusivity. The same insecure players would not only like to enjoy a game, they would like to be part of a small exclusive club enjoying that game, because that would give them higher social status. [That is a bit like quoting Nietzsche, because you pretend to be part of an intellectual elite who actually reads and understands Nietzsche.] That explains why people not only clamor for games with optional brutal difficulty. They clamor for games where brutal difficulty is the *only* option, because that excludes a lot of players who are not veterans of the genre and creates an exclusive club with high social standing.

Personally I find brutally difficult games just boring, because "difficult" basically means that you are frequently forced to repeat the same content. You jumped one pixel too early or too late? Do the whole level again, and again, and again, until you get it right. I simply don't have time for that. Being able to jump at exactly the right pixel does not add to my self-worth (I get that from real life), and doesn't add to the entertainment value of the game. There are games which are story-heavy where I prefer to play at normal or lower difficulty level, because I know that otherwise I risk to get bored of the game before I have seen the end of the story. That is why several games call their easy difficulty setting "story mode", a notion I completely agree with. I simply depends on what you are trying to get out of a game. I suspect few people derive maximum enjoyment out of the most brutal difficulty, if it wasn't for the social status they think they get out of doing so.

There is a more legitimate reason for preferring harder games: wanting the game to last longer, maybe forever (with the same actual content). An easy game is completed fast. If the only difficulty level in WoW would be Looking For Raid, then everyone would have completed it first week and would have nothing to do. By having higher difficulty levels Blizzard made the same content last for months.

Football has very little actual content. Yet you can play football as hard as you can and most likely never "complete" it (in a sense of getting a World Cup which case you can no longer have goals).

I would also add a social filter effect: fellow players who are capable of completing harder content are more likely mature, while those who "play for fun" are usually childish or even literally children. I'm sure you find the company of Chess Masters better than the company of "players" who put the chess pieces into their mouth.
That "social filter" can work just the other way around, where a particular interest in a game is a warning signal of negative behavior or attitude. I am pretty sure that I would prefer the company of people who have never played League of Legends in their life to the company of a group of typical League of Legends players. Or EVE Online for that matter.
Tobold, have you played League of Legends on platinum rating to have a sample of good League of Legends players? Or just in Bronze-Silver where the bad players are?

I fully agree that a "typical League of Legends player" is bad company. But he is bad at League of Legends, so your argument doesn't contradict mine.

Same applies for EVE Online. Of course a typical F1-drone is a jerk. But he is called "F1-drone" for a reason.
I don't know that I would tune a game to where I don't always win (let alone give me only a 50% chance). I play games for enjoyment and to relax, and I don't get much enjoyment or relaxation out of losing and having to repeat things (thus wasting my time). I think I would probably prefer a difficulty setting where there is the appearance that I might lose, yet I always manage to win. Not sure what that says about me, but I don't have any brothers so I played a lot of Monopoly and chess by myself as a kid.
Of course a typical F1-drone is a jerk.

As far as I can tell from the infamous video, The Mittani is a jerk too. And it is often at the top level of play that all the big reported stories of betrayal, scams, and lies happen. So I am not sure that I would enjoy the company of even a group of top EVE players any more than I would enjoy the company of top satanists.

About League of Legends you might be right that people are nicer at the top (I never got past silver, as I am a "bad player" myself.). But that still doesn't address the fact that there are other games where the average player is far more probable to be polite, nice and helpful. Why does a Google search for "toxic community" bring up lots of League of Legends articles on the front page?

In short, there is a bigger correlation between being a jerk with the type of game being played than there is with the level at which it is being played.
Tobold: "there is a bigger correlation between being a jerk with the type of game being played than there is with the level at which it is being played."

Definitely true, but irrelevant for the post you made. The only variable you introduced is "what difficulty level he plays or wants from games".

If gold League player is nicer than bronze League player, than I'm right, even if gold League player is still less nice than the general public.

The Mittani is indeed a jerk, but I believe it's unseparable from the fact that his playstyle is based on "get as many F1-drones as possible".
Your conclusion is wrong. For some People (me amongst them, but I'm far from alone) an "easy win" is worthless. Succeeding in something in a game is pointless if it's easy. If it's a Challenge, it's extremely satisfying to finally beat it.

Now, what a good Challenge is, exactly, will vary from person to person. Not everybody like twitch Challenges, but that's not the only Challenge.

Haven't you written about twitch not being the only Challenge before?
I think people would enjoy difficult games even with out boasting rights. Achieving mastery of difficult tasks is often listed as one of he keys to human happiness and fulfilment.

As to the point where a game crosses the line between satisfyingly challenging and pointlessly difficult - don't forget that that line is different for everyone. This was brought home very clearly to me last week when my 11 year old nephew managed to sail through twenty levels of Super Meatboy on his very first attempt at the game. I consider Super Meatboy brutally difficult and have never gotten beyond a handful of levels.
I don't like the idea of an ideal win percentage, I enjoy when games are hard so that I can get better at them.

In MMO terms, for many people it's more fun to start out in bad gear and slowly collect better and better upgrades, than it is to start out in great gear and then have nothing to do. Not everyone, but certainly some.

I've been playing Bloodborne lately and on my first playthrough I spent a good 3-4 hours just in the first area (central yharnam), dying over and over until I learned all the telegraphs, learned when I can get away with attacking and when I have to fallback. When I start a new character now, with the same stats and equipment, I can clear the area and both bosses in under a half hour. I got better! That's what's fun for me.

Perhaps I simply find myself wishing the feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome. ;-)
"There is some ideal win percentage, which might not be 50% but which certainly isn't 0% or 100%, at which you have the most fun"

I don't think this is true, or at least that there is one number you are in search of that is true of all games in all situations for that particular player.

Part of it is what constitutes "success." Take, for example, the old school game Mike Tyson's Punchout. I never beat Mike Tyson, most people didn't. But that was a fun game anyway, because finishing the game wasn't your only goal. You wanted to see how you did, how far you got.

There are other games that work the other way. You could argue you have a near 100% chance of "winning" a lot of sim-type building games, or the "tycoon" style games. The fact that it is never in doubt that you will reach the end of the game, having grown your empire and never going bankrupt, is not the point. The point of the game is how you perform while doing that.
Did I get social status from beating hard games on the NES and SNES as a kid? No. Definitely not. But I still had fun playing them, and I definitely preferred the harder games to the easier ones.
I just want to agree with Joe Ursic's comment: I have played multiple JRPGs, for example, where I never got a game over once and yet had plenty of fun. That certainly seems to be a genre that is fine with a dual system: the main story is usually easy, as long as you are prepared, and the post-game is much more challenging but completely optional. I don't think you can rule out people wanting to play games where there is no chance of them losing.

Although...I'm sure people COULD have, and even have, lost in those same games. It's not like it is impossible to lose, just depends on how much you are prepared. haven't though about how that comes in to play.
Wait, people quoting Nietzsche in a discussion about difficult games?

What is this, A Fish Called Wanda or something?
@Gevlon you could also make the content good. I have certain games I have finished not just once but sometimes multiple times because the visceral enjoyment of the game comes from the outstanding experience it provides (and not the difficulty). A personal example of mine (YMMV heavily) is Halo 3, which every time I play it feels like I'm enjoying a good scifi movie once more...but it is a relatively short game and also not fun to play on hard mode.

This really has nothing to do with longevity. It has to do with the fact that some gamers value different types of play experiences over others, and a specific niche of gamers really love hard, repetitious experiences. They are not a majority, but they are vocal and there's enough of them to support franchises like Dark Souls and keep Blizzard adding obnoxious, grindy endgame content to WoW.

Although its not conclusive, I suspect that in a body of games the majority who do not like harder games are also more likely to be older gamers with family and life commitments. I know that the top killer for my attempts to get into Dark Souls and Bloodborne is the simple fact that I can play either game for long before realizing I'd much rather spend time with my son and wife, or hell, do my nails....pretty much all of that before spend another soul-withering minute with either of those games. I always felt that way about the hardcore endgame content in WoW and other MMOs too. When time becomes precious, it tends to change one's perspective on gaming, often dramatically.
@Nick Page but as a kid you had lots of time, the future looked ever so impossibly distant, and (especially when Nintendo was the be all and end all of consoles) it was the only thing around. Back then we didn't play for prestige, we played because unless you had a PC (where the games we complex and hard) that was it.

Today we have a gamer culture that has grown up in internet realtime, in a world dominated by achievements and bragging rights and "no true gamer" mentalities. Also, lots of people who are now adults at least physiologically and still have lots of free time apparently.
There does seem to be a disconnect between gamers who like an experience and gamers who like a challenge. It gets muddied by the fact that games often work to appeal to both sides. It's why I love Halo and Destiny (for example) but dislike Unreal Tournament and often get really pissed at what feels like artificially difficult game moments (which feel to me like deliberate bottlenecks but to a fan of difficult games may be necessary for them to feel rewarded in play).
There are different kinds of games, and my response is different in different types.

I like puzzles and in those I always set the difficulty level to be very challenging.

In strategy games like Civ, I pick a medium tough level that allows me to RP a bit and not have to go crazy optimising. In CRPGs it is similar in cases where different levels exist (though often there is little choice in these).

In shooters, I would generally go on normal mode, and would probably usually enjoy them more on easy mode, but something in me rebels against that.

Of course in SP games you are competing with yourself. I have never found that bragging about my achievements in such games carries any social cachet! Stars of physical sports can get the girls - computer gamers, not so much!

In MMOs, there's a problem, because as in a game you are competing with yourself, but you are also competing with others. To win at the latter, you have to hurt yourself at the former. I don't know any good solution other than the disintegration of the landscape of current MMOs into a lot of smaller ones with different rules.
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