Hard video games: Why some players choose the unthinkable

Does this image make you feel anything?

The Lion King game – Sega Genesis

How about this?

Battle Toads – Sega Genesis

Oof… Feeling old-school agitated? Let’s move up the timeline a bit…

Ninja Gaiden 2 – Xbox 360

Have you reached your boiling point? Let’s try a current state of frustration…

Dark Souls 3
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Have you played any of these infuriating video games? You have? Great!

Perhaps, a better question is: Have you beaten any of these infuriating video games?

The mentally-questionable few who enjoy playing difficult video games possibly just view life through a different lens than those who enjoy a more casual romp.

Psychology behind instant vs delayed gratification

According to Courtney Ackerman’s article on instant gratification, the difference between instant and delayed gratification are:

  • Instant – the temptation, and resulting tendency, to forego a future benefit in order to obtain a less rewarding but more immediate benefit.
  • Delayed – the decision to put off satisfying your desire in order to gain an even better reward or benefit in the future.

Basically, humans are hardwired to crave pleasure. We seek out the things we know make us feel good. Some of us prefer to choose something that brings a quicker but less satisfying pleasure, while others would rather hold out for something more tantalizing.

This is what separates those who, when sitting at the main menu, select the “normal” difficulty instead of the “evil” setting. The former wanting little-to-moderate hardship and the latter wanting to piss off their doctor with absurdly-high blood pressure.

Players who choose harder video games prefer delayed gratification over instant. They enjoy taking longer and working towards something that will give them a greater sense of achievement.

Why some choose instant gratification over delayed

It’s hard to turn down short-term pleasure. Life is filled with its fair share of negativity. To combat this, we all have things we know will give us immediate pleasure. Psychologist Shahram Heshmat lists 10 reasons why we rush instant gratification (I will only list a few):

  • A desire to avoid delay. Simply put: people want things now, not later. Humans evolved from their ability to satisfy immediate needs for food and shelter. Fast-forward to now and we see a general desire to satisfy instant gratification.
  • Cognitive Capacity. Heshmat believes higher intelligence is associated with a more forward-thinking perspective. The more intelligent you are, the better you are at envisioning a more-valuable future reward.
  • Impulsiveness. Individuals who display impulsive behavior are more prone to act in the now and be less interested in delayed gratification.

When it comes to video games, players often choose what they know will satisfy that urge for pleasure. It’s what we’re biologically designed to do. Why waste time and energy smashing your controller over Super Meat Boy when you could breeze through Spyro instead? Besides, this probably isn’t your cup of tea:

Super Mario Maker

Why some choose delayed gratification over instant

Some players prefer maddening games for a variety of reasons. In his article, Why We Love the Games That Enrage Us Most, John Pavlus describes some of the reasons players opt for the rage-quitting games:

  • Sword in the Stone Effect. Essentially, if there exists a notion that a game is unbeatable, then players will line up to prove that notion false. It’s an ego-challenge. However, a well-designed game will eventually let you pull Excalibur out. But, not after you get super-sweaty in the process.
  • Constraint Satisfaction. A theory that states some people prefer a constrained set of rules which requires a certain level of mastery to achieve a solution. In this situation, the player may have to repeat the same level numerous times while trying different approaches. The path towards finding a solution is pleasurable (as is the solution itself), even if it involves discomfort in the process.

These types of players have the addiction for pain. They enjoy being dragged in the dirt for the glory to come.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

– Theodore Roosevelt (someone who never played Ninja Gaiden)

Which is more important: instant or delayed?

While both are good for you, neither are more important.

Easy games for great for relaxing and having fun. You can get your game time in while still having plenty of time for other priorities, like family or work. Not a ton of commitment.

Hard games are great for pushing yourself and and building character. These can teach you a great deal about patience and the beauty of earning something.

In life, there’s always a balance. It’s the same with video games (at least I think so). If you’re prone to playing easy games, try something a little more challenging. If you typically smash your head against the wall playing the hardest of the hard, then consider taking a breather (you could probably use it).

What are your thoughts on hard video games? Drop a comment below and let’s chat!

2 thoughts on “Hard video games: Why some players choose the unthinkable

  1. For me, it depends on how enjoyable that core gameplay loop is. I adore Doom Eternal’s, which is why I stick with it no matter what.
    If the gameplay is not my cup of tea, you can bet I’ll ditch the game for one with instant gratification.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that’s exactly what it boils down to. iD/Bethesda are solid at knowing what their players want and how to guide them through.

      Gamers are a tough lot to please. We know what we like and are quick to be back at the online store to find something else. C’est la vie, though.

      Liked by 1 person

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