I need to be perfectly blunt here. Video games have gotten way easier in the last 30-odd years.
As an avid, 20-something gamer, I wasn't quite at the forefront. I was aware of the classics: Pong, Asteroid, Pac Man... but my first console was a good old NES. I had Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man, and I spent what then felt like years clocking them - of course, this was back when games were way more expensive and took more than six hours. But they didn't take longer because they were longer games, or because we took our time playing them - just look at the breakneck speeds of the original Sonic the Hedgehog - but I'm absolutely convinced that the popular, now million-selling blockbuster games out in the late 80s and early 90s were simply rock hard back then. Only, nobody noticed - because they only had other, similarly rock hard games to compare them to.
Consider if you will the fact that Nintendo released two different versions of Super Mario Bros. 2. The Japanese version, titled, Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels in its out-of-Japan guise on Super Mario All-Stars, and the North American and European version, titled Super Mario USA in Japan. The former has been called out for its considerable difficulty time and time again by video game critics, not the least of whom being Rus McLaughlin and Marty Silva of IGN. The latter? Well, I think the fact that it's possible to complete the entire game in 8 minutes and 52 seconds speaks for itself.
What's brought this realisation on is the emergence of a sort of "party piece" by retro gaming company, Liberty Games: a tool that compares the first video game in a popular franchise to its latest incarnation entitled Old Vs. New. It almost tells the story for you - compare the 40-hour grindathon of Final Fantasy with its XV counterpart, and you could say that all the fancy visuals, grand orchestral scores and movie-esque voice acting actually hide what's probably going to be a considerably easier game.
There are many reasons for this, but the main one is simple. Video gaming has blown up from the nerdy, "get the lads round to sit in the darkness of your mum's house eating Wotsits and playing GoldenEye" pastime of the 90s into the multimillion industry of movie-like proportions it is today. Because of this, more and more people are finding it justifiably okay - no, somewhat enjoyable - to play video games, and gaming companies have to cater to this. Gone are the £50 N64 cartridges that took you months to complete, and in their place sits EA's yearly slew of FIFAs, NHLs, NBAs, UFCs and various other licensed tat that's only slightly updated from the previous year. Gone are the You're Wasting Your Life speeches by parents and teachers, making way for the sheer amount of children younger than you making serious bank on YouTube with "Let's Play" videos peppered with advertising.
The fact that Call of Duty: Black Ops II's main campaign mode is only 7 hours long, yet sold 7.5 million copies in the two weeks following its release paints a picture: casual gamers spend more money than the shunned "gaming nerds" of yesteryear, and they wouldn't get through nearly as many if the games were Ikaruga levels of difficult.
The lax difficulty of today's games is only further emphasised when, very rarely, a rough-and-ready, take-no-prisoners old skool bastard of a game graces the market in all its nightmare levels of difficulty. I wonder how many casual gamers gave up on the likes of Dark Souls, Viewtiful Joe, Ninja Gaiden or Mega Man ZX; having a few feeble stabs before throwing their controllers at the wall in frustration. There's a reason it's much easier to level up in the PSP remake of Final Fantasy, or the latest World of Warcraft expansion Warlords of Draenor.
High-speed internet combined with the world's content on demand has bred a generation of short attention spans. We want our movies short and flashy, we want our underground trains in less than three minutes, and God help the poor sod whose Oyster isn't topped up at the ticket barriers. We like to be rewarded for spending £40 on the latest E3 blockbuster. That's why we'll buy an incomplete, yet easy game, smash it in a couple of days, then drop even more money on its several expansion packs.
I'm not about to say that games haven't gotten better, that would be ridiculous - I myself can't wait for the constantly-delayed Tom Clancy's The Division. But while this throwaway culture is definitely good for games companies and the business at large, it's turning gaming into a more commodity-driven industry that's just not quite as soulful or special as it used to be - which is a shame.
But hey, at least the games are slightly cheaper, right?