You ever have those days where you’re just in a bad mood for no real reason? I’m hitting that right now. I’m generally pretty good-natured, because I am awesome at life so crappy things don’t come up that often. But, even if there’s nothing out there that can beat my shine, I guess the human psyche just needs to get in a funk every once in a while, because that’s where I’m at now. So, apropos of nothing, I’m just going to gripe for a bit here about some things that video games sometimes do that consistently ticks me off.
Automatic Difficulty Adjustments
You know what’s a feature I’ve really come to love? Getting to change your difficulty at the start menu. Or even if a game just offers you the option to lower the difficulty a bit when you’re consistently getting your pleasantly shaped rear end handed to you. I don’t generally take it, but I both love challenging myself and hate getting stuck in a game and unable to advance, and this seems like a great solution to that. I’ve noticed I will more often plunge into the deep end of difficulty when I know I have the option to scale it back when things get too hot to handle. I always have to swallow my pride a bit to take it, but that’s generally a small price to pay to keep doing something I enjoy at an appropriate difficulty level for me.
But I hate when games just decide to do it for me.
I’ve been playing a fair bit of fighting games recently, where this feature seems common. You’re on a campaign, and you lose, and it just pulls the challenge back when you try again. Rinse and repeat until you get past it. Or, you select a difficulty level, but it actually starts you below that, and makes you earn your way up there. Which I find frustrating. Smash Bros aside, I am officially not good at fighting games. When I go up against the standard difficulty, I tend to lose a lot. Which is good. If I’m not losing at times, I’m not challenging myself, and that would mean I’m not getting better at the things I’m wanting to get better at. What I would like to be doing, when I hit a challenge that is too much for me, is to ram myself into it again and again until I get good enough to overcome it. But recent fighting games say no. You want to fight against a level that will test you, in the arcade/story/mission/campaign modes? You have to earn your way up there against the foes you know you can beat first, and then you only get one shot before we pull that away.
Now, sure, I could just go into the one off fights, where I get to chose the difficulty straight out, but that’s not as engaging to the way I want to play as the arcade modes. And I understand a bit of the motivation behind it. Fighting games are notoriously inaccessible, so having the mode the beginning players most gravitate towards have this on-the-fly performance-based difficulty so they’re sure to reach the ending with persistence makes sense. But I want to be able to turn it off. And I never seem to be able to.
I’ve griped about this a couple of times before. So, probably nothing new here. But I’m ranting, so I’m going to rant.
I think I’ve figured out why I don’t mind the grinding in Disgaea as much as I do in pretty much anything else. In most games, when its grinding time, you just end up mindlessly milling through combat over and over, fighting the same enemies in the same areas with nothing really stimulating occuring. Disgaea on the other hand, puts you into a new challenge area. It requires mental engagement, although you might be doing it to grind you have a goal beyond the grinding itself, and you get a sense of progress beyond just watching numbers go up. You might be stepping into grinding in Disgaea, but it’s not just grinding. You have things to do beyond that, and the grinding just happens incidentally.
More games need to do that. I find myself suffering through the end game of Xenoblade Chronicles, in which the enemies of the final area are of a much, much higher level than anything you ran across before, coupled with a mechanic that if an enemy is five levels above you, you just don’t get to hit them anymore. So bam. Hit the final area, you have to spend several hours grinding your levels up so you can actually defend yourself against the enemies your stats say you should do just fine against. So just hours I’ve spent, running in circles, fighting the same enemies over and over again, barely paying attention to what had formerly been an incredible game for the first two thirds of it. I despise it when games waste my time, and especially so when they seem deliberately designed to do so. The only reason I stuck it out was because I’d already invested 60 hours into it, but even so, it killed all the good will I had left for the rest of the game.
So. Forced grinding. Don’t do it.
Player Controlled Suicide
I loathe when this comes up. Superhot does it. Superhot VR does it so much worse. Yandere Simulator does it. Distraint does it. Spec Ops: The Line does it, albeit only in a route choice there. Situations where a player character is going to suicide, and you have to press the buttons to do it to advance.
It disgusts me. And I admit that’s because it hits my personal triggers. It bothers me in a way that controlling other video game violence does not. Not because I think it’s especially harmful; much like garden variety video game violence isn’t going to lead to real world violence where that tendency isn’t already there, simulated suicide isn’t going to lead to suicidal ideation away from those who are already in deep. But it does rub against my personal values so hard to be in control of an avatar’s suicide that I find it sickening.
So, look. Video games often involve simulated violence. And generally, if I’m not up for the particular violence a game has to offer, that particular implementation of simulated violence is made apparent before I make a purchasing decision. So I can choose the content I expose myself to. There’s never any warning about being put behind a suicide. That’s always just thrown at you. And that’s not how it should be.
You spend enough time playing games, you develop a set of instincts around them. One of those instincts is if you get given a quest arrow pointing you someplace, you check out absolutely everywhere else you have access to before you follow the quest arrow. That’s just how these things work. When there’s somewhere you’re clearly supposed to go, you actually want to go everywhere else first. Because that’s where all the cool treasure is.
That’s all well and good. But apparently, some developers thought it’d be a good idea to make their games bug you about that quest arrow. Like, some people’s jobs were to program the game’s AIs to get impatient with you. That’s a thing they did with their lives. So you get persistent in your face reminder text of what your supposed goal is when you’re rifling through side rooms looking for cool loot. NPCs start bugging you about how you’re having fun slaying random jobbers instead of pressing a button to do something you’re not ready to do yet. The game itself will give you grief for trying to explore the setting fully rather than seeking the next event flag directly. As if you don’t know what you’re doing.
You know what? They can all just take a chill pill. I’m being thorough. Because you find some sweet item in one out of the way place, that’s going to spur you to check them all. Progress is often the enemy of sweet loot.
Not Being Mr. Shifty
This is something I didn’t notice games did, until I tried out the game Mr. Shifty, but it really opened my eyes. You know how, every once in a great while, a game comes out that does something unique, creative, and interesting that ends up moving the genre or the whole medium forward? Super Mario Bros. did it with the scrolling screen. Mario 64 did it with effective 3D game play. Final Fantasy VII did it with the cinematic storytelling abilities with games. Mr. Shifty does it with being Mr. Shifty.
Since I played Mr. Shifty, I really started noticing how much most games are not Mr. Shifty. I’ll pick up a random game, play it for a while, and I might have a good time with it, but I’ll be realizing just how much Mr. Shiftiness it lacks. I’ll be like, “Man, this plot is deep, and this gameplay is solid, but I’d like to be able to Mr. Shifty it up right now.” But I can’t. Because even though Mr. Shifty offers an excellent example of how to incorporate being Mr. Shifty into your game, so far, developers don’t seem to be picking it up adequately, sticking with the tried-and-true, traditional but inferior ways of not being Mr. Shifty. We can only hope the medium picks it up with time.
While I don’t have any triggers that get emotional reactions out of me, I will concede controlled suicide of your character in games is weird. It’s one thing hurling yourself off a cliff in a sports car playing GTA for a bit of fun, but when narrative driven games pressure you into the necessity of having to off yourself in an often bleak way, it does feel bizarre.
I think The Static Speaks My Name is really the only game I’ve experienced that made controlled suicide – in the sense that you write about it – seem suitable, given the short narrative and subject matter of the game are all pretty messed up and dour as is.
I forgot about The Static Speaks my Name. Yeah, I feel it’s a lot more suitable there, as frankly, the whole game is set around it. It’s obvious that it’s leading there at the outset, and it’s really the centerpiece of the story. Like, it’s not one that I ever went back to, but that one didn’t bother me like all the others I’ve come across did.
I don’t really like the automatic difficulty levels either; if I choose to suffer through the Impossible difficulty, that’s my prerogative. For that matter, I’m not really a fan of games that force you to unlock difficulty modes; they should be something that’s available from the outset.
And I’m glad that grinding isn’t really a thing you have to do in games anymore. It really brings the pacing to a screeching halt, which is especially frustrating if, as you say, it’s right before the endgame. Funnily enough, I thought I was in that situation when I played through Grandia, but then I ended up grinding too much and inadvertently made the final boss a complete joke.
Considering how difficult it is to handle suicide in non-interactive fiction, I kind of wonder if a player-controlled version is just simply something that wasn’t meant to be. As we’ve talked about in the past, video games aren’t always the best medium to tell certain stories, and that may be something that will ultimately be deemed an unworkable idea.
Yeah, unlockable difficulty levels are kind of a weird sell for me. I love unlocking things, so in theory it’d be a fit, but with unlocking difficulty levels, it’s either a nothing deal to me, because I wasn’t going to try that difficulty for quite some time if ever at all, or it’s something I really wish I had at the beginning. I remember in particular playing Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, the DS interquel for the series that is A: famously hard and B: has a habit of straight out making fun of the player if they choose an easier difficulty on the rare occasions they’re offered. Dragon Sword only has the absolute easiest difficulty level unlocked at the outset, and it’s not much of a challenge. You have to beat the game once to actually get something approaching the difficulty of the other games in the series. Was a rather strange bit of cognitive dissonance.
The automatic suicide in Superhot VR is horrible – sent a shiver down my spine.