Recently Chris Lepine, of The Artful Gamer, wrote a piece titled "The New Dark Continent of Childhood," which explores changing notions of childhood and how a gaming experience with his cousin seems to validate, in someways, the loss of "exploration and excellence" in today's gaming youth. In Chris's case, his thirteen year old cousin is morally defeated and quick to give up in his confrontation with Jack and Daxter. To many veteran gamers, this lack of tenacity is an affront to game difficulty and the classic games of yore. To some, a shift in attitude towards difficult games is a modern day tragedy, the games industry death knell.
I'm no fan of needlessly arduous games, and I'm certainly no gaming doomsday prophet. That being said, how children grow up today is markedly different than how they grew up ten, twenty and thirty years ago. I see no reason why these changes wouldn't manifest themselves within the gaming community. Shortly before reading Chris's article, I had my own "kids these days" moment with my neighbor. It is not easy games that irk me, but player apathy.
My landlord lives below me and has three kids who periodically come over and storm through the house like a tornado: brief, but loud and chaotic. The middle child fancies himself a gamer, and usually hangs out in front of the console. Most recently, right after buying Halo 3: ODST, he came over eager to play multiplayer. We hopped into a game of firefight, the game's survival mode. Within moments I was familiarizing myself with weapons, noting cover and choke points, and selecting fall back positions. I discussed strategy while my neighbor (let's call him Tom for convenience) was wandering around, itching for a fight.
The moment enemies appeared, our play styles veered in opposite directions. Hunkering down behind cover, I watched as Tom went Rambo, running head long into groups of covenant, blasting anything that moved with no regard for cover. When I wasn't covering his ass, I was ushering him back to safety. Regardless, Tom died four times in four minutes. Having some experience with his competitive nature, I flaunted my lack of deaths, encouraging him to play intelligently. Finally out of lives, Tom just sat and watched me play on my own. In his few moments with the game, Tom already hated ODST, completely regretting his purchase. "Let's play some Gears of War 2" he said, "That's the best game I've ever played."
Tom's attitude towards ODST is not the game's fault in any way. We were playing on normal difficulty, and Tom has a lot of experience with Halo 3. The game was only difficult because his impatience made it so. I can understand someone wanting instant gratification, but to lambaste ODST after a mere five minutes is ridiculous. Instant gratification is available for those who know how to find it.
Ben Abraham, of SLRC and Critical Distance, aptly responds to Chris's post in the comments, citing Clint Hocking's opinion that older gamer generations tend to idealize tenacity in the face of abusive game design. Gen-Y gamers, Hocking suggests, appreciate cooperative games more than competitive games. Easier games satisfy alternative play styles and are no better or worse because of their difficulty. I mostly agree with all of these statements.
However, Tom is an altogether different gamer. He favors competition, or cooperative games that rank players. It seems his ultimate goal is to dominate a game quickly and win. What is most upsetting, is that he has no desire to learn. Tom appears to find no interest in the system of rules that define his gaming experience. ODST holds no inherent value besides creating the sensation of success.
I don't want to suggest Tom is representative of "kids these days," or even that my few experiences with him have given me an accurate portrayal of his gaming tendencies. Yet surely my experience is not unique? Is gaming laziness a growing characteristic of modern gamers?
It is not tenacity that I value, but an interest in learning, in testing the limits of a game world, the rules that shape your gaming experience. The pursuit of in-game knowledge is valuable regardless of difficulty. Some games teach better than others, which may explain Tom's appreciation of Gears of War. But even the easiest and most intuitively controlled game has to teach. I have no sympathy for those unwilling to learn.