I’m Tom, I’m 32 and I have a confession.
I’m not that good at video games. It used to embarrass me — but over the past 18 months I’ve accepted that it’s ok to be terrible.
My final acceptance of this fact has come over my attempts to play Hollow Knight over the last week. It’s widely considered one of the best games of the last decade and every games critic ranks it a must play.
But I’d been wary of it — because it had a reputation for being brutally tough. And it has been — it’s testing my dexterity in ways I’m frankly uncomfortable with.
After a week of repeated efforts, I’ve slogged my way through a paltry three areas and two bosses — barely a fraction of the whole game.
I’m not entirely sure I’m enjoying the experience — but I can see why other people love it. I plan to give it another week to see if a bit more practice and unlocking some more powerful weaponry will spark joy or if it needs to be consigned to the scrap heap.
Games like this are a weird, gruelling test of both your mental and physical endurance and your reaction times. And people flock to them — there’s a whole genre of games known as Soul Likes which are focused on being brutally tough. They’re named after the Dark Souls series — which will go down in history as the games which made dying repeatedly a mark of pride as well as a test of endurance.
But they’ve never grabbed my interest — I’ve only tried one game of its type — Bloodborne and that was only because it was a freebie. And after a weekend of not even making it through the first area, I had enough and uninstalled it.
Other games go further — ‘roguelikes’ send you back to the start everytime you die — sometimes just with the knowledge of where you go wrong — other times with unlocked wreapons or powers to aid your next try. Again, this whole genre has a reputation for being brutally tough — but more recently this assumption has been challenged. Last year saw the launch of Hades, which turned dying repeatedly into a central story element — rewarding even terrible players like me for their attention and interest.
Part of me wants to blame the games for making themselves too tough for me to enjoy — but they’re not at fault. It’s not just that I lack the patience and dexterity to master games which are designed as a challenge — I’m just not very good at a lot of different games.
Some of these games I love with an unhealthy passion — games which have been with me since childhood like FIFA and Mario’s assorted 2D outings. I’ll never be all that good at them, but I still get joy out of playing them — so I keep buying and playing them. FIFA in particular has consumed thousands of hours of my life — which is a little embarrassing when I consider how average my skill level is.
Meanwhile, the classic 2D Mario games play to my nostalgia — even though its a rarity for me to make it out of the first world. You’d think after 20 years of playing them I’d have even a modicum of skill, but again no such luck. Whether it’s my reaction times or general hand-eye coordination that’s to blame I can’t tell — but I know that no matter how much I grind I’m never going to be a genius at platform games.
Sometimes, my lack of skill doesn’t matter. If I’m enjoying the games story or its world, I can find ways to overcome challenges — dropping the difficulty level or looking for guides on the internet to hold my hand as I play. I’m not remotely ashamed of doing this anymore — it’s my limited entertainment time and I plan on enjoying it. It’s why I know I’ll never replay a game on hard mode or up the challenge beyond “normal” — it’s a waste of my time and will leave me resenting the game.
It’s this feeling of wasted time which also means that random unexpected difficulty spikes within games infuriate me so much. If a games combat is always a solid 5/10 difficulty — it’s not just unfair, it’s spiteful to ramp up boss fights to a 9 or a 10 Yes, bosses should be a challenge, but making them twice as difficult as the rest of the game doesn’t do anyone any favours.
Fenyx: Immortals Rising is the latest game I’ve played to do this and it infuriated me so much that after multiple failed attempts to defeat the big bad I ditched the game and watched the ending on YouTube. Was it as satisfying as beating the boss myself? No. Did it bother me? Not in the slightest.
What does this all mean for my enjoyment of games in the future? Well it means less stressing every time a new must-play tough game is released — if the story looks great I’ll give it a try, if not, I’ll happily steer clear.
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