The Importance of Being Challenged

We all play games for different reasons. For some it’s an escape, for many it’s a way to unwind after a long day, and for even more it’s how they socialise and spend time with friends. However, I think that for everyone there’s one key element: a challenge. Games don’t need to be competitive or even have a win condition, but they do need to present you with some level of challenge.

Even thatgamecompany’s Flower, quite possibly the most relaxing game in the world, features a level of challenge, as does Journey. They’re hardly punishing but they do have collectibles that force you off the beaten track, encouraging you to explore the world a little more deeply and presenting you with that all important challenge.

For me I noticed the challenges from the first day, when I first played my favourite game. If you’re a regular reader you know I’m talking about the Master System version of Sonic the Hedgehog, a game that was one of the keystones of my childhood. It pushed me from the very first time I picked up the controller, and continues to do so when I go back to it now. No matter how many times I play it the gauntlet that the level design throws down is still there, the challenge just as fresh.

[drop]That’s one of the aspects of a truly great game, the ability to come back to it and for it to still feel fresh each time you do. In my opinion the ability to that with a game comes down to the challenges it presents you with.

This was the problem with Blue Toad Murder Files, the game’s puzzles didn’t hold up when you came back to it.

The game was certainly enjoyable the first time I sat down with it, the puzzles were entertaining initially and the characters were fun. However, the game was entirely focused on those puzzles and they were set in stone, repeating every time you played it.

It meant that the challenge evaporated after one play, essentially destroying the game’s replayability.

Without the challenge the gameplay evaporates and all you’re left with is an interactive world without any real purpose driving it. Sure there might still be a great story there but without that gameplay challenge, that force pulling you forwards, then it’s more of a film than a game.

Even games that seem open with no purpose have those challenges, or in many cases allow you to set your own. If you’ve played Grand Theft Auto then you’ve almost certainly seen how long you can evade the police or how many helicopters you can manage to take down. Somehow it’s more satisfying when you’re setting your own challenges and targets, although the depth of the goals in games like Burnout Paradise do a pretty good job of emulating what you might set for yourself, tasking you to find out how many barrel rolls you can do or how far you can jump.

This need to be challenged quite obviously extends to multiplayer gaming as well. We want to face off against someone who’s around our own skill level rather than an opponent who’s vastly better or worse than we are. Smashing someone in a complete mismatch isn’t that much fun, and neither is being smashed by a superior opponent. No, it’s when you go up against someone of a similar skill level that you’ve got the crucial element of challenge in the mix, and it’s then that you’re likely to have the most satisfying matchup.

As long as games continue to challenge us then there’ll always be something for us to appreciate and enjoy. All we can hope is that the type of challenge will continue to expand and evolve, presenting us with tougher bridges to cross and higher mountains to climb.



  1. I loved Sonic the Hedgehog ‘built in’ on the Master System II, it took an age to finally complete it due to its challenging nature but rest assured that after all lives lost and all continues spent I was more than happy to have another crack at it. If I remember rightly the Jungle Zone boss fight was a bit of a pig as was the the final fight which I believe featured a lot of electricity. Good times.

    • I had Alex the Kid built in to my master system, had to buy sonic separately! :-(

  2. I’m currently playing through Dark Souls using only fisticuffs, it’s proving quite challenging that’s for sure. It’s all worth it though when I killed Smough with a dragon uppercut to the ballbag.

    • I admire your patience & dedication!

  3. Couldn’t disagree more (meant nicely). I’ve played games (and loved them to bits) without anything resembling a challenge in the sense that you describe. Above all else, for me, I think everyone wants to be entertained. That can be in the form of satisfaction, humour, fun, challenges, competitive play, emotional investment, role-play, etc., or anything else I wish I could conjure in my Lemsip-induced coma. For the truly deep, immersive games, I want to be taken on a roller-coaster of story-telling or at least an entertaining and interactive journey. Little Inferno was not challenging. Journey was not challenging (except maybe trying to maintain dry eyes at the end! :-)). Sure, games can often take effort (which may appear a bit obvious) but that shouldn’t be confused with something that truly challenges us.

    I cannot remember which game I did this to recently but I popped it down to Easy (from Normal, which is my default play difficulty and has been for years) just so I didn’t feel like the game was out to get me. It’d started to remove the fun factor from it all. Sod that!

    • For years I started all my games on hard level because I liked a challenge, but, after getting stuck on the last 5 or 6 games (and nearly smashing my pads out of frustration), decided to lower the level to normal. Life’s too short to be constantly pissed-off about pixels. The irony is, I’m currently stuck on Deus Ex on normal, so bugger the lot of it! ;p
      End of level bosses, I’ve shat em!

      • Go look the buggers up online, fella. No point in them getting in the way of the story progressing. Too good a game for that*.

        *Not implying you’re about to remove Deus Ex from your machine and starting hunting down the devs. :-)

      • just a DX tip, theres not alot of problems a fully upgraded shotgun won’t solve.

    • Just had a good chat with Hannypoppie about this and came to the conclusion that we’re starting to dive into the interpretation of what a video “game” is which is something I know TSA has brought up a few times. It’s a digital-interactive experience and games like Flower (and the like) often feel far outside the normal realms of games with challenges, a start, a clearly defined end, etc.

      Dear Esther would be very tricky to call a game but the industry has a name and changing that will probably never happen and everything will continue to fall under the single, well-known banner of “video game”.

    • After dying umpteen times before my previous post, decided to have another go couple of hours later, and, lo & behold, did it piece o piss! Chucked a few EMP grenades, shot him with the rocket launcher, Bob’s your uncle! Don’t know why I struggled so much earlier?!?

  4. i am challenged both mentally and physically..
    that’s why I’m called wonkey-willy you know?lolololo
    I’m with blast71 sometimes hard can be too hard.
    best challenges i have ever tried is call of duty 2 and world at war on veteran .
    the final push on world at war when you are going for the flag…never did do it! even in co-op.

  5. I play games for about every reason there is, fun, story, socializing, entertainment, challenge… and sometimes simply because society tells me not too. For me every game has a different reason to play it. Heavy Rain is great for a story and entertainment but its a bad choice to play when you got friends over for socializing. On the other hand CoD BlOps2 is a bad story game but its great for socializing. I expect different things from the games I play, and although a challenge is sometimes welcomed, it’s not always required.

  6. Well you all know me with insane Platinums. I love playing a game on the hardest difficulty because it’ll last longer. I mean if you play Black Ops 2 on Easy and you will probably complete it in 7hrs by gunning it. But playing on Veteran you take your time find some cover and ammo to replenish etc…… it’ll feel a long battle but it is worth it. I always love a challenge, sure at times it can get very, very frustrating, but it doesn’t beat a great feeling or satisfaction of knowing you have just completed the game on Veteran is just simply awesome feel good factor.
    The only thing I hate in most games are collectibles. There are 2 different things about collecting intel, cards, reel or any kind on all games. Some will have to use either a guide or youtube. Other actually appear on map which is what I prefer as it is easier that way. Another thing I love about collectibles is that it either has info on characters or the story from the game, or a figurines in the cabinet in your disposal (Take Hitman when collecting all guns and they all show up in the shed) And of course my favourite is actually Mafia II – Playboy covers =P
    Of course enjoying the gameplay or even a story is more important aswell.
    Multiplayer…… well that’s a different story. I think I have said enough for today haha.

  7. I’m with Kris on this one, its not a constant need but all of us at some point want to be able to take on something difficult and get the satisfaction of succeeding. I like a good challenge, I had a wee moan in the forums about Most Wanted not generally being tough enough, I find finishing a game isn’t satisfying if I haven’t learned something new or struggled over a puzzle. A physically painful microwave corridor followed by an exhausting fist fight with a demented old cowboy, there’s a great example of a challenge!

    • Still disagree. Life is full of challenges at times. I don’t need my games to be the same.

      • Yeah very true. Life’s challenges require patience and I could definitely learn to have more, does that make instant gratification through games a bad thing?

  8. I start nearly every game on normal I mainly play for the fun and enjoyment factor in the words of Garth “I like to play”. Game on!

  9. I only tend to play games on hard if I’m going to try platinum it. If not I’ll play on normal or easy & just enjoy the story.

    • Yeah don’t get me wrong i do enjoy the feeling of accomplishment after completing a part of a game I find challenging but I’d much rather play on normal enjoy and finnish the game then if I feel like it up the difficulty. Not really a fan of starting it on hard putting hours into it getting really far and stuck and controller crushingly frustrated on a virtually impossible section and having to start from scratch on a lower setting. :D

      • I’m okay with action adventure games on hard but its fps’ that I don’t even try on hard anymore. Too many 1 hit & your nearly dead scenarios!

      • Oh yes I know what you mean.

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