Why do we play games? Is it for escapism? Stress relief? Or is it for the challenges completing a certain video game may present? There is no better feeling than finally besting a difficult challenge you’ve been working on for a while – it feels like you’ve achieved something worthwhile. But for some people, the challenges presented within a game are just not enough to satisfy them. There seems to be a sub group of gamers who create harder challenges for certain games, altering the way they play to make it more difficult for themselves.
One of the biggest (and probably most well known) examples would be the Nuzlocke challenge for the Pokémon games. This involves treating fainted Pokémon as if they were dead, and those Pokémon must then be released. There are also other rules in this challenge – only getting one chance to catch a certain creature for example. If it is not caught the first time, then you can never own a Pokémon of that type. This can make the game fiendishly difficult, particularly if you are facing a powerful enemy with the potential to ‘kill’ all of the monsters in your team in which case you would have to go and get an entirely new set.
Difficulty can also be increased by the use of mods. One such mod could be seen for Fallout 3 – adding a similar ‘hardcore’ mode to the one present in Fallout New Vegas. This adds things like making your character suffer fatigue and have to rest, gives weapons more damage, gives ammunition weight and generally makes finding items in the wasteland that bit harder. If you like your games more realistic you’ll love this, making you feel every inch the apocalypse grizzled wanderer that you always wanted to be. (If you want to grab it, you can find it here)
The other way I have seen the difficulty increased in a game is by combining achievement goals. An example I can give of this would be in Bioshock 2 when, if you’re an achievement hunter like me, you can go after the “Big Brass Balls” achievement of not dying through an entire playthrough. I also combined that with the “Against All Odds” achievement which involves playing through the game on hard mode. It took me 6 months, but the sense of achievement I felt after completion was worth it.
So why do people actively seek out harder difficulties? It might be in the case of the Fallout mod they want to experience the game world as it is, harsh and inhospitable, maintaining a sense of survival in lasting day to day in those conditions. In the case of the Nuzlocke run, it may be adding a new dimension to a game that, let’s be honest, doesn’t change much from edition to edition. (Although I am relieved to see the new direction GameFreak took the series in for Black and White.) Or it could be that you want to test your skills by combining achievements. In any case, it does make me glad to see people using their creativity to improve a game for themselves, and the creativity of the modding community never ceases to amaze me. Just so long as people are enjoying the game, it doesn’t have to be played as intended. That’s where the fun lies.