A couple of weeks ago, Bhagpuss had a thought-provoking post on the subject of MMO difficulty and how there’s a movement among some developers to return us to an era of more challenge and difficulty. He wasn’t having any of it, although he had to admit that there was something about frustrating and difficult games that forged strong memories:
“It’s the argument that says it has to hurt a little if you’re going to care…. The reason those experiences live with me still is because they were painful and in being so the memories associated with them were laid down in accordance with the mechanisms associated with strong emotional reactions.”
This quote and the post in general has been kicking around in my head since then, because I quite agree with all of its points. I’m not really clamoring for a return to brutal MMOs with unnecessary timesinks and annoying mechanics and an anti-casual tone. And yet I can’t deny that difficulty and challenge can indeed generate lasting memories and moments of exhilarating highs when overcome.
I don’t remember getting most of my mounts in World of Warcraft after 2006, but my quest to get my Warlock’s steed in vanilla remains one of my most treasured memories. Fallen Earth’s appeal came from its sometimes slower pace and decision to eschew nonsensical gamey elements for more realism (such as non-disappearing mounts).
But the biggest example of all — the example that I thought of when I read Bhagpuss’ post — was The Secret World.
Hands-down, there never has been an MMO that I’ve hated as deeply and loved as strongly at the same time as this one. There have been so many times while playing that game that I wanted to drop-kick it across the room and scream in its face because it was being way, way too difficult or obtuse. I have crashed hard into walls in this game, raged against design decisions that were needlessly cruel and petty, and consistently been annoyed at how not-fun the combat’s been.
And yet it’s one of the top MMOs that I’ll consistently praise in public and hold up as an example of a title that is endlessly creative and memorable. Usually for completely different reasons than what drives me batty in the game.
But I’m now wondering if TSW’s higher difficulty/frustration level also, weirdly, lends strength to those good memories and testimonies. That maybe I’ve liked the game because I felt that I earned my progress and wasn’t handed it on a platter. That the bruises I’ve earned have made the victories and accomplishments that much sweeter. For every “this isn’t FAIR” and “the devs are idiots!” I’ll come away with an experience that genuinely meant something.
I don’t know. I don’t have a conclusion on this. But it’s food for thought.