Difficulty in Games: Too Hard, Too Easy, or Just Right?

Whether or not adventure games are dead, they can sometimes be about as challenging as driving with your eyes closed. After just a couple of hours of Grim Fandango, I found myself stuck and bewildered. Early in the game, Manny finds himself in the Petrified Forest. I knew exactly what to do to get out, but I had no idea how to advance. I needed to figure out a maze, unbalance a pumping station to get hydraulics for my car, and eliminate some demon beavers near the exit. I'm not going to lie, I resorted to searching for hints online to help solve two of the three puzzles. And the last one was solved by my girlfriend. Petrified Forest - 3, Me - 0. I've since moved on, and am having greater success in the second section.

The larger issue here is that of game difficulty and time commitments. Have games become easier over time? I'm not sure if I know. Game design has changed drastically since the arcade or NES days, where you were expected to not only die, but die repeatedly. One of the biggest changes recently has been increasing the frequency of save points, and/or allowing you to restart shortly before your character died rather than at the beginning of a level. We see fewer and fewer games that increase difficulty by limiting where you can save. Will we ever see another game like Final Fantasy III for the DS, where you can never save in dungeons or buy revival items? Probably not. Even Fire Emblem, that bastion of permanent character death and denier of mid-mission saving, allowed players to save mid-battle in the newest release, thereby somewhat changing your strategy.

Is a decrease in difficulty in games in general partly responsible for the decline of adventure games? I remember being confounded by Myst for weeks on end. I got stuck on Grim Fandango after about 2 hours, and it's supposed to be comparatively easier. Granted, adventure games may just require a different state of mind than what I'm used to. Nonetheless, I still love playing adventure games and thinking about their mysteries. I especially love that I can get stuck in an adventure game, and then think about it constantly, trying to think of possible solutions until I begin playing again.

The reason I sneaked a peek online for Grim Fandango tips is that I felt I was wasting my time. My gaming time has decreased greatly over the years. Repeatedly trying to solve a puzzle and making no headway is too frustrating, when I could be making progress in other games. So I got a little nudge in the right direction, and am grateful for it. Similarly, if I find myself restarting a Fire Emblem mission several times, I give up and switch to another game temporarily because it feels like lost time.

I wonder if as other gamers of my generation grow older and have more responsibilities, their game time becomes more valuable to them. Personally, I don't want to play too many really difficult games because the time investment it takes to become proficient is too high for me. Of course, I don't want a cakewalk either, but I'd like to be able to make steady progress. I know that there's a place for challenging games like Devil May Cry 3 and Ninja Gaiden, and I'd like to see even more of a resurgence of adventure games. But I don't want to have to attempt the same scenario a dozen times with no results. I just don't have the time anymore.

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