Dark Souls has become one of this decade's most popular titles. The latest game, Dark Souls III, is the fastest selling game in developer Bandai Namco's history. What's most interesting about this is that the Dark Souls franchise is known for some of the toughest games out on modern consoles, throwing you into a world of unrelenting boss fights and unflinching difficulty. In other words, the game not only doesn't hold your hand, it takes that hand and pushes you into a world you don't know and expects you to succeed, quick.
It's not the only game out there that's known for not being a walk in the park. The recent Doom reboot, for example, has also been known for its tenaciousness. I was shown a thread over at Reddit that thanked games like Doom and Dark Souls for not holding their hand when it came to difficulty. Are gamers like these, who love a challenge, a new trend? And why do they love a challenge? I talked to Ian Bogost, a video game designer and professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He states that hard games of many varieties have been around for ages. "If you go back centuries (or even millennia), you get folk games like Go and Chess, which are both difficult to learn and very hard to play well, requiring substantial investments of time" he told Motherboard.
Unrelenting video games aren't really new either. I've heard the term "NES hard," for example, when talking about that system's library of difficult games. Bogost also brought this up when talking about early video games in general. "This is, I think, kind of the early default for video games. Particularly arcade games, which were designed to maximize 'coin drop' by creating conditions in which the player is likely to be removed from the game after 3 minutes. Donkey-Kong, Pac-Man, Space Invaders—these games were all pretty tough," he said.
But what about today's gamers? I asked two of the commenters in that thread for their thoughts. What compels them to keep playing?
"I love when games don't hold my hand, it's more fun to explore and forge my own path. And as far as dying, they're hardships, would you stop at every little inconvenience in your normal life?" Raoh522 noted.
Another user, pointerbunny, told me the same thing. "Instead of giving me a minimap with an arrow pointing at my objective, Dark Souls just gives me a world and forces me to internalize my surroundings and to use my brain and senses and intuition."
In all, there's always been eras of video game history where the games aren't that easy to beat. People just love a challenge, and enjoy being put in a world where trial and error are key.
"What compels me to keep playing a hard game is simply the joy of playing a good game, and the joy of achievement and reward when i finally do it," pointerbunny added.