I’d like to confess my status as a n00b in sight of the gods, lest I be lambasted and saddled with the pitiful moniker of dishonesty forever more. But as derogatory labels go, a substantial downgrade it isn’t, for publically admitting one’s shortcomings in the testosterone-laden world of video gaming is virtually tantamount to accepting one’s abjection beneath the mercurial sandals of one’s more refined superiors, or perhaps to directing one’s own erotic hand puppet productions in lieu of mustering the courage to order Rectum Raiders 3 from the local Blockbuster branch.
But, alas, sucking is what I do with an air of such proficiency that I can no longer foster a stern-faced façade. It’s a humbling revelation no doubt borne from years of unmitigated ineptitude, and one that’s inevitably found itself accentuated by the hordes of self-aggrandising jizzgimps scouring the net as part of their incessant crusades to embroider their hulking e-penises. And thus my own e-penis of bantam-like proportions was created, modest in virility and soon to be leaking mephitic fluids. All things considered, then, I’m at a crossroads of sorts. I can either quietly drift into the abyss and leave the dexterously and cognitively taxing gaming concoctions to the big boys or I can assert my self-centred advocacy for an easier interactive future for my bumbling equals. Call me a winging douche-nugget, but I think I’ll plump for the latter.
Go Easy On Me
Let it not be said that I’m a supporter of easier games for purely egotistical reasons, though. I’m a devotee to the video gaming medium and a fervent one at that, one who’ll happily defend its calibre as a legitimate source of mentally and emotionally rewarding entertainment until the cows come home and I berate them for their tardiness, the bovine bastards. I enjoy a pulsating, balls-to-the-wall audiovisual hootenanny as much as the next fellow, and I’ll be quick to shake my head in a fit of pompous disapproval at the perceived dumbing down of our most beloved genres in the corporate drive to tap into a contrived new consumer demographic.
That’s why what I’m suggesting doesn’t directly correlate with the notion of dumbing down the standards by which the industry abides. Instead, I’m a proponent of universal encompassment, or variable difficulty settings if you’d prefer an alternative, less effeminate term. In essence, I’m talking about implementing both easier and more difficult gameplay variants into any game in which the option is realistically open to its developer.
And while it’s hardly an unusual plea, it’s still far from consistently supported across the board. I’m a firm believer in the assertion that many of the very greatest games manage to master the art of both accommodating the most impish of newcomers and posing a challenge to the most seasoned of prodigious gaming virtuosos, and the dreaded “one size fits all” approach to gameplay difficulty still employed by a surprising number of studios just doesn’t cut it in my rain-soaked book. Pretentiously put, a single difficulty setting condemns many a game to the inelegant “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” sin bin, and that means that the weak falter, the strong grow frustrated and those in between generally fluctuate between a happy medium and inordinate limbo, depending on the game in question. But bugger the middle grounders.
“That’s partly why I can’t cast a loathsome eye over Super Meat Boy, Team Meat’s indie sensation that brought a whole new meaning to interactive vexation.”
It’s not as though it’s even an exclusive symptom of solitary difficulty disease either. I’ve genuinely lost count of the number of times I’ve been well and truly humbled by a game’s so-called “easy” difficulty variant, leaving me without the slightest inkling of an entry point into a product I was figuratively touching myself in anticipation over just a few hours prior.
Take Baldur’s Gate, for instance. It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotional twists, rich lore and emotional characterisation, apparently, but can I get in on the bandwagon? Can I balls. I can’t even bypass the opening few chapters without my on-screen avatar serving as some wizard’s bitch dozens of times of end. Then there’s the STALKER series, a trio of games said to breathe tangible life into the bleak harshness of a post-nuclear battlefield environment. I wouldn’t doubt that for a second, and I’m in no position to doubt the word of critics and enthusiasts alike, but I can wholeheartedly state that it’s hard to get a feel for the game’s heralded pacing and atmosphere when a Russian soldier pumps umpteen tonnes of lead into my character’s cranial membrane.
Clearly, though, a rule wouldn’t be a rule without its exceptions, and this little quandary’s counter-example comes in the guise of the platforming genre. In a domain founded on the lone premises of running and jumping in seamless tandem amidst a barrage of potentially lethal obstacles, catering for the puny can’t quite boil down to a meagre deceleration of enemy AI. For a platformer, the concept of challenge lies almost wholly in their inherent design, with developers possessing total control over the distance of a jump, the angle of a wall bounce and the trajectory of the player character movements, effectively underlining the genre’s nature as the purest expression of relationship between player and creator.
That’s partly why I can’t cast a loathsome eye over Super Meat Boy, Team Meat’s indie sensation that brought a whole new meaning to interactive vexation. Its challenge was lofty and its frustrations were vast in number, yet its controls were tighter than a menopausal nun and its levels were short enough to encourage perseverance without forcing players to endure boundless series of life-sapping load screens following their latest forlorn descent into a blade-encrusted crevasse. And while the game was bending me over its knee and administering an anal thrashing to make Conrad Bain cringe, I was oddly content in the knowledge that the story underpinning Meat Boy was one of such charming simplicity that I could take it or leave it, soothing my wounded ego and removing my narrative-obsessed inhibitions in one fell swoop.
More importantly, though, Super Meat Boy is honest in its intentions, regardless of how sadistic they may be. The game was, is, and presumably always will be, marketed with a keen emphasis on its allure as a devilishly unforgiving animal, and that’s a reputation of which anyone wishing to give it a spin is made overtly aware. I, like almost everyone else, knew what I was getting myself into, which is more than I can say about the aforementioned immersive breakthroughs in interactive storytelling-cum-exercises in my own juvenile angst. It was this level of consumer transparency on the part of Team Meat that deserves to take the plaudits on so many different levels, none of which I’ll mention here because as much of a dolt in the field of philosophy as I am in the field of sequential button-pressing.
So, what’s my point? Well, I’m not totally sure. Maybe it’s that I’m a self-loathing miser edging ever closer to that urban massacre I’ve always fantasised about when I drift to sleep at night, or maybe it’s that I’ve developed yet further sympathy for the trials and tribulations developers face in the uphill struggle to keep bawling underachievers like me happy. Who knows? Either way, it was a respectable way to squander another hour or so of my dwindling life, and perhaps yours too. Tough luck, eh?