He who fights with monsters...


I'm not a fan of Dunkey's videos as they just don't appeal to me, most of the time. So upon seeing the his latest video pop up in my feed, I hesitated on clicking it when I saw his name attached, but curiosity got the better of me due to the topic of difficulty in video games being something that I'm passionate about. I believe that we are in a period of gaming where risk vs reward is at it's all time lowest. A lot of games are produced with two intentions, quick consumption to placate players until the next game in the franchise comes out, or a delivery mechanism for micro-transactions.

In Dunky's latest video he discusses how games add levels of difficulty that can change the game for better or worse, but I'm going to focus on one section that describes perfectly what I and many others do while playing games:

You want the game to push you to your absolute limit, and force you to experiment and find out what works, and what sucks is when you find out what actually works just isn't that fun. Variety and options are sucked out of the game. You have these severe difficulty spikes that feel overlooked by the developers, and what happens is the player starts pushing back.

You notice the cracks in the game's design. You abuse the AI. You learn how to stop enemies from spawning, and when you push the game to its limit, sometimes it cracks, and your enjoyment is ruined.

I'm not saying that he is wrong, but there are some of us out there that do find enjoyment from breaking games and playing them in ways that they weren't meant to be played. Just watch Pokémon Blue finished in 25 minutes and you will see what I mean. We don't pat ourselves on the back because we beat the game, but we feel a sense of accomplishment for beating the game in a way that wasn't intended by the developers.

Dunky's point on "severe difficulty spikes" is not always correct. Sure there can be points in a game where the play testers may have failed to identify the difficulty of a certain event or boss, but most of the time these spikes are actually put into the game on purpose. Think of them as a test. If you can't get past that point, you might not be of the skill level needed to get past a future critical point in the game.

There are also other times where the developers have put something into the game with little to no information just to test players. One of the most famous ones that I have taken part in was attempting to take down Absolute Virtue (AV) in Final Fantasy XI.

Absolute Virtue

This was a boss that would randomly appear after defeating another boss. AV was brutal and legitimately unbeatable for the longest time. The development team even released a video hinting on how to take AV down. This was heavily analysed by the community and criticised for the lack of details. Multiple attempts over the years were made to take AV down all using different tactics all deemed illegal and patched soon after by the developer. Some of these tactics were:

  • The Wall of Justice - This terrain exploit that allowed players to target enemies from the safety of an adjacent area. This tactic lead to threats of banning from GM's. Unless you were position hacking, terrain exploits had never been an issue, but apparently it was with AV.
  • Kraken Club Zerg - This tactic has been used for a long time to take down difficult time sensitive monsters. It involves the use of a multi-hit weapons in conjunction with the Dark Knight's Blood Weapon and Soul Eater skills, but this was unacceptable method to take down AV with developers adding a resistance to Soul Eater damage.

(Ab)using game mechanics means walking a fine line. Some may say that you are cheating, others will join in and go too far by using 3rd party apps to circumvent game limitations. In my opinion, if it's in the normal games mechanics, it's fair game. If developers want to stop people from using a certain tactic they should improve the game rather than restrict the player. For instance the Wall of Justice, they could have given AV the same Draw-in skill that King Vinegarroon had and for K.Club Zergs, they could have just added automatic Damage Spikes if more than 10% of Soul Eater damage occurred. By making changes like this, it increases the risk vs reward while still keeping the result within reach.

With every game I play these days, I'm always trying to find ways to play them that weren't intended, be it by using terrain to make enemies do what I want to do, or chaining abilities together to lock down enemies stopping them from hurting me. This is how I play, this is how I enjoy playing, and if that gets patched, I will find another thing to latch on and use that.

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.