Back in My Day, Games were Hard

Gregg Collins recently posted about How Games Drive Learning. He also linked to “Does Easy Do It? Children, Games, and Learning,” an article by Seymour Papert. Both are great reads, and both emphasize that part of what makes video games so engaging is that they’re challenging.

Papert’s piece in particular got me thinking about the first video games I played. Some of them weren’t just hard—they were swear-at-your-TV-smash-your-controller-against-the floor-and-quit impossible. To this day, it still kills me that I couldn’t beat Battletoads on my old-school Nintendo. (Coincidentally, it took top honors on this list of all-time frustrators.)


I imagine some of this was because the original model for video games was arcade-based: when the goal is to get players to keep inserting quarters, you’re only going to give them a few chances before they have to start over. This mind-set probably carried over into the early days of console-game design. But as the technology became more sophisticated, finishing a game got easier. (Being able to save your progress helped.) My guess is developers wanted to entice broader audiences, allow them to experience each product in its entirety, and leave them with a sense of accomplishment…so that they’d go buy another title.

Now some people are complaining that video games have become too easy. But even the simplest ones require you to fail repeatedly before you win. And, after you take a break, the hard ones reel you back in—I’d love another shot at Battletoads.

Too bad my Nintendo died 10 years ago.

2 thoughts on “Back in My Day, Games were Hard

  1. Is that screenshot from the first level of Battletoads? That may be the only level I ever saw. (Unless this vague picture I have of some kind of side-scrolling racer-level–a surfboard? a dirtbike? a jet ski?–is a memory, and the haze surrounding it is trauma.)

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