My Fear of Immortality

January 9, 2012Written by Sebastian Moss

Oh my god, I’m hurt, there’s no way out, and they’re closing in… I think I’m going to die. Oh well, I’ll just hit restart.

That’s how I feel when I play Uncharted, when I play Call of Duty, or Assassin’s Creed or almost every major game released this generation. Games are easy — even most “hard” games are easy. Sure, you might have to restart a few times if there’s a particularly tough baddie, but eventually you’ll win. There’s no emotional attachment to your life, and your death has no meaning, as a restart is just one click away. The only real hassle is that you have to replay a small section of the game.

Perhaps I’m being old fashioned, but I miss the days where your death actually meant something; it meant inserting another coin or “oh damn, only one life left before the whole game is over.” You took your steps carefully, you turned corners slowly, you cared. Limited lives meant that your life had a worth, each one was precious gift from the developer who set you a challenge that only a few mere mortals could overcome. I was proud to tell people I completed those games, that I had done what was actually an accomplishment, rather than simply replaying tough levels until an inevitable victory.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.

― Frederick Douglass, American abolitionist, editor, orator, author, statesman and reformer.

Sure, there are some games that still have a limited life policy, and the Souls ‘series’ has provided gamers with some truly difficult titles, but overall games have become easier as the years have progressed. I expected more of a challenge as I got older, like how I play with harder games of trivial pursuit, how I play chess at a higher level. Instead, as video games have become increasingly mainstream, they have become increasingly easy, little more than on-the-rail experiences where you just have to press X at the necessary point.

But this genre has also been home to the next evolutionary step in the value of game life, with titles like Heavy Rain weaving complicated stories where death isn’t the end, but simply a key point in an ongoing narrative. It’s a bit much to ask this for all games due to the sheer scale and complications of a branching narrative, but it is sad to see the decline of harder games with a limited life system. It’s understandable that publishers don’t want to fund extra-hard games which are inaccessible to the majority of players, but is it isn’t too demanding to want some real difficulty with the ‘hard mode’ on games, rather than less health and weaker bullets?

The success of the Souls games showed that some gamers do actually look for titles that test your true limits, but do you agree that games are getting easier, that the value of game-life is just too meaningless? Share your thoughts in the comments below.