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Why Difficult Video Games Appeal To Us

We play video games for fun, don’t we? They are for our entertainment. They also allow us to pass the time while trying to beat our friends at something. Games like Mario Party, Castle Crashers, and Super Smash Bros. exist to prove that you are better than someone because beating people is fun to us for some dark reason, especially when we know these people. Why would we want to remove that fun competitive factor and instead play soul-crushing and rage-inducing games like Dark Souls, Ninja Gaiden or Shovel Knight? Pissing ourselves off isn’t fun. Losing over and over again isn’t fun. Why do we buy these games then?

Well, saying video games are just there for fun and to pass the time would be greatly discrediting them as well as the developers who put effort into making them an experience. Time and time again they have been proven to be much more. Video games have been known to invoke sadness or anger. Think of another time where you felt a connection with a squadmate the way you do Garrus in Mass Effect. Tell me a time where your mind has been challenged in the way that The Talos Principle challenges it. There is no question that we play these games for more reasons than just to “have fun”.

The Talos Principle has all sorts of puzzle mechanics and is one of the most challenging puzzle games I have played.

Still, just because we enjoy building virtual relationships and challenging our minds in unique ways, that doesn’t explain the reason we will sit at one part in a game over and over again until we finally complete it in the late hours of the night. We do so because playing video games is the hobby that we feel stimulates our brain the most. They are what works best with who we are and how we perceive our surroundings. We chose to sit down and challenge our brain with whatever game we started up. No one ever forces you to play a video game. Studies have shown time and time again that choosing to do something for ourselves, something we enjoy doing and want to improve at, is when we are going to put the most focused effort towards it.

If you have taken a psychology class before, you learned all about this sort of phenomenon called ‘intrinsic motivation’. In basic terms, that means that you will pursue a goal (here being the end of a level in a difficult game) whether or not you will receive an external reward. You set this goal because it feels good to you. Who cares if someone else doesn’t agree with it? Video games stimulate my brain so damn it I’m going to keep challenging it with more and more difficult games!

Intrinsic Motivation is one of the most powerful reasons to achieve something.

Now this isn’t to say that we will just play any freaking video game that has an “Impossible” difficulty just because it’s A.I. becomes godlike and performs unbeatable moves that will constantly smash our faces in. No, that will make us quit just like any other sane person. The difficult games we play have to challenge our skills, they have to provide us with the potential to improve as improving at something is a feeling that humans crave. A polished and reactive control scheme is my biggest early indicator on if I’ll enjoy a game or not, as I know that is something I can master.

Not only do we like our brains to be challenged, we find it fun! It’s a different kind of fun than what may come to mind initially, but improvement is the kind of fun that you can see and benefit from. As long as developers focus on keeping players in control, making sure that they know the way to success is always in their hands, are already on their way to creating a game that will hold players attention. As we come to a time where independent gaming is bigger than ever, developers can afford to try out all sorts of different ways to challenge us and keep revitalizing our gaming interests.

Do difficult video games appeal to any of you? Please feel free to let us know in the comments section below.

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