Probably one of the worst titles I've used for a thread, or in this case 'blog', since I've started contributing to the internet nearly 2 decades ago, but it'll have to make do.

I've been thinking about this for a couple of days now, my train of thought having been put into motion by a comment over at Eurogamer.  The article was about some strategy game in which, after each victory, you had to chose one perk to 'level down'.  The comment said that this was a great idea, as it would keep the game challenging as you 'got better' at the game.  But do we really get better at a game durig the time we  play it, or is it just an illusion created by the developers?  Sure, there is progression to be made, but more often than not, the trail of progression has little to do with player agency, and more with a drip feeding of incremental upgrades and unlocks, as laid out by the developer.  It's all very similar to how all the free to play shovelware on mobile works: a steady stream of small 'achievements' to keep us hooked.  Were you able to take on that one boss because you had gotten better at the game, or because your time spent in the game had bestowed you with enough stat multipliers that you were capable of taking him down without having to resort to being actually more skilled?

Giving it some more thought, you realize that mostly any FPS or third person action game is all about an artificial balance between how strong enemies are and how good your gear/how high your HP is.  Skill isn't a requisite to beat a game, and most games don't care if you get better at playing it or not.  This rings also true for RPG's and strategy games.  Your squad levels up and unlocks better gear to take on tougher enemies.  They're not tougher because they're harder to battle, they just take more damage before succumbing.  The only genre's that don't seem to adhere to this are competitive online multiplayer games, shmups and puzzlers.  A good puzzle game gives you a set of rules and expands upon them, requiring you to learn its language and its finer details.  The same can be said for competitive online multiplayer games, although the satisfaction here does not come from wallowing in the unique language of a good puzzle game, but from forming a better understanding of a blander, more common set of systems than your peers.  Shmups on the other hand have little love for upgrades, their language rae the patterns of bullet hell.

Which then begs the question: why do games care so little for skill and personal progression in a game?  Is it because devs want as many people as possible to be able to beat their games?  Is it a way of artificially padding out a game, where you can't reach certain areas unless you have spent enough time with the game for your in game avatar to have become stronger or acquire the right gear?  Is it a meansof levelling the field for all gamers, regardless of their prior level of skill, because devs have to develop both for those new to gaming as veterans who have been playing the same types of games for 2 or 3 decades?  After all, how can you expect gamers to improve while playing your game, when you can't control who it is that will be playing and how well versed they are in the gameplay you're offering?

So, as to reach any kind of conclusion (not that I promised I would), I think you could say that the only games at which you get better, are those that are ahead of the curve in terms of their difficulty.  And those games will always be more of a niche proposition as they willfully exclude a large part of the market: those that aren't capable, or willing to invest the time needed to improve.  Thinking back over recent years, the only game I played that I can come up with that required you to really improve in order to progress, is Fast Racing NEO, a game with brutal AI that is so fast that you need time to even just adjust yourself to the speed at which it chugs you along.  Perhaps people will say the Souls games are a good example as well, but improvement is a fickle thing.  If you've played one such game, you will have learned the language of the franchise and each consecutive entry you play will have become easier to you, requiring less of you.

So yeah, not much of a conclusion.  But I didn't promise one either.

Posted by SupremeAC Wed, 19 Oct 2016 13:50:19 (comments: 12)
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