In Praise of Easy Videogames

The other day someone talked about someone else complaining about a videogame being “dumbed down”. I immediately replied that I would love to see some “dumbed down” videogames. In an effort to play something other than Borderlands and Fallout, I will often browse the offerings available and more often than not there are two ideas at work: 1) master over 1000 intricate combat moves and/or 2) this game will slam your hand in a car door!!! (The third idea, which I’ve just come to accept, is “EPIC BOSS BATTLES”, which is actually a combination of the other two.)

Somewhere along the way it was decided that videogames need to not just be hard, they need to be punishingly so. If you aren’t dying every four seconds, something has gone horribly wrong. It shouldn’t be surprising, as they’re built to appeal to the same crowd that defines “flavor” as “add hot sauce until only a homeopathic amount of the original food remains”.

It’s actually worse with indie games than it is with big-company releases. An indie company can’t just make a simple platform game or shoot-em-up. They have to both add layers of complexity to the controls and make it near-impossible to survive. Everything has to attempt to re-define the genre instead of just providing a fun experience in the genre.

I tried Transistor, which started out okay, but soon I had to program moves and harvest abilities which combine with other abilities and all this other stuff that was just getting in the way of what I wanted to do: kill stuff. Super Time Force Ultra is free this month and I’m just not interested because it’s a side-scrolling platform game in which you have to send dudes through time and piggyback on what they do to accomplish other things and no. Not for me.

I’m old and I play videogames because I want to relax. I don’t want to memorize arcane statistics and slightly tweak builds and discover intricate combinations or whatever. I want to run around, shoot stuff, and jump. I love jumping. I’m not going to attempt hundreds of times to defeat the same boss. I will just quit instead, because I don’t care. I don’t want to beat a game, I want to play a game. It doesn’t have to make me re-evaluate everything I thought I knew about up, down, left, right, fire, it just has to be fun. It doesn’t need to be wrapped in elaborate gimmickry. Just be fun to play.

Two games I’ve enjoyed lately, which satisfied this criteria for me, are incredibly different from one another.

Submerged is an exploration game. You are a woman looking for items to help her injured little brother. You are in a submerged city, and looking for items you can find atop the buildings that rise out of the water. You climb these structures, look around for items or “treasures” that give you backstory, and discover landmarks and creatures along the way. There’s no combat. There’s no death. Although you are scaling the exteriors of skyscrapers, you can’t fall. The challenge isn’t “oh, can I make that jump?” it’s “can I find my way around this building to the treasure on the west side of it?” It’s a lovely game, it’s not hard (though I never found all the damn boat parts!) and I didn’t want to throw my controller across the room. It’s not perfect, but it was a pleasant time.

Limbo is almost the exact opposite. There is death in this game, early and often. You will die many, many times. This dark and shadowy world hates you and wants you to suffer. But the death isn’t there to make you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth, it’s there to guide you to the correct way to get past each obstacle. When you die, the go right back to where you were a moment ago and are free to just plain try again. The game isn’t trying to punish you or break you, it’s trying to guide you. Limbo in fact seems like it’s going to be very perfect-timing-twtichy, and there are a few moments like that, but usually it’s just a matter at looking at the environment and figuring out how to use it. One puzzle at a time.

I realize that by complaining about things like Dark Souls, which prides itself on how challenging it is and how you’ll have to really work to defeat it, I set myself up for “just play Candy Crush Saga, lol”. I don’t think I’m a dreaded “casual” who can’t handle “real games”, just a guy who wants more out there that isn’t aimed at 14 year olds who have all weekend to master the Typhoon Kick.

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