“Video Games shouldn’t be Work”

I hate that saying. Hate hate hate hate. Right up there with the very similar “Video Games should be FUN”. Not because I think games should be work or should be unfun. But because it makes some big assumption about leisure time.

There are people in this world, who work full time jobs, go home, go into their work room and build furniture -for fun-. They are being carpenters. Often amazing, meticulous carpenters doing something that is someone else’s full time job. This is their leisure time.

When I hear about people grinding in MMOs or in pokemon or whatever, I’ll be honest. That sounds like work to me. But for other people, it’s their chance to shut off and just relax. When I tell people getting into Fighting Games that they need to go into training mode, they complain that they don’t want a second job. They’re not wrong to feel like that, but for a lot of us, that IS fun. That’s super fun. It’s almost like the skill building version of grinding. Low stress repetition.  Some people want hobbies, some people want their media to be consumable. Some get off on being in that ‘flow’ state and enjoy intense, skill building activities, some want relaxation. And some of these might sound more virtuous than others, but that’s a silly way to look at it too. Different people might need different things in their life. Someone working a rote, boring 9-5 might desperately want challenge and excitement in their life and a brain surgeon might just want to relax playing Candy Crush. They have enough stress in their life.

When you say “games shouldn’t be work” or “games should be fun”, what you’re actually doing is chastising people for how they choose to enjoy themselves. “Oh I don’t get it, so it’s wrong”. And it’s fine to joke about that with friends (“Oh yeah Kayin hates fun”), but often people say this stuff very seriously! I’ve been seeing this a ton with people arguing about difficulty in Dark Souls and whether an easy  mode is appropriate. I don’t have an opinion on that, but it often feels like both sides don’t understand each other. The people who don’t play because of the difficulty assume other players want all the fun locked away behind arbitrary barriers and the people who are into Dark Souls assume, because of their preferences, that the challenge is essential to the fun and without it, everything else crumbles.  Regardless of the truth (probably somewhere in between — something will be lost without the challenge but less than a lot of DS players assume), the clear gap in understanding is rather staggering and sadly a disservice to the different ways people choose to spend their free time.

4 thoughts on ““Video Games shouldn’t be Work”

  1. The people who play fighting games but don’t want to go into training mode might have a better time with games like the Dynasty Warriors franchise. I find those games scratch the ‘I just want to beat some people up.(in a video game)’ itch better than fighting games. Before I can tell if someone is ‘doing it wrong’ I have to know what they are trying to do. People might not be playing a game the wrong way, but they might be getting their kind of fun the hard way if they don’t know a certain kind of game exists.

  2. I disagree on the “play fighting games but don’t want to go into training mode might have a better time with games like the Dynasty Warriors franchise.” Anecdotlely, myself and friends are part of that catagory of liking fighting games, but not wanting to commit training mode time.

    Mind you, we’re not in the mindset that we’ll ever be high level pro gaming level, but we sort of prefer trying to learn by playing against each other (it also roughly keeps everyone similiar level, and the least learned person isn’t so far behind in muscle memory skill as the more practiced player), rather than rigorous solitary training (which for me, ends up discouraging me cause timings of combos don’t really click in my brain and fingers.)

    Anyway, to the main point, that every person gets their fun differently, is why I try to keep an open mind, and yeah, there’s people who get fun from speedrunning, grinding/farming, or sitting in an MMO playing the auction house.

  3. As someone who likes hard games like Dark Souls, and pretty much gets my fun through video-game masochism… I feel like there’s a core element of the Dark Souls argument that’s missing. Namely that there are easily 100 not-difficult games out there for every 1 really-difficult skill-intensive soul-destroying game.

    While arguments frequently devolve into “fucking casuals” (which is a term I really hate, casual-vs-hardcore to me seems more about time investment than difficulty, and that you can have a lot of difficult casual games [Nuclear Throne?] and easy hardcore games [any shut-off-your-brain and grind for hours MMO]), I think that’s mostly because the average person isn’t that good with words when it comes to expressing why they are upset, and just defaults to insults.

    They are just lashing out in an overprotective nature to the very few 1 in 100 games we have that cater to our relatively niche player-base. To masochistic gamers, the demands for difficult game to be made easier feels every bit as much of a genre change as if you had some players demanding Legend of Zelda be a first-person-shooter.

    And that is what seems to be going on in the head of masochistic gamers.


    Now for what’s in the head of gamers who want the games to be easier.

    When I hear people complain about something like wanting to play a game like Dark Souls but they find it too difficult, I usually ask them something along the lines of “Why not play one of the dozen other easier hack-and-slash games out there? There are lots to choose from.”

    And usually they say something like “But I wanna play Dark Souls.” Which isn’t much of an answer, so I usually wind up pressuring them to give me something more specific, at which point they usually say something like “But there aren’t any other medieval post-apocalyptic dark-fantasy hack-and-slash games where you get to play as a zombie! That’s really super cool!”

    Which just confuses the hell outta me, because if what you like most in games is them being challenging, you don’t typically get all that many options or choices when it comes to aesthetics. For crying out-loud, the game I’ve played the most over the past couple years is a game about a naked baby crying on poop. Not exactly my first choice for a protagonist and genre.


    Now that I’ve gone through what’s in players’ heads, let look at why this is problematic, and how catering to a desired player-base affects major publishers’ game design demands in such a way that different difficulty levels typically isn’t a good solution.

    Typically any high-quality game identifies a specific target audience and then attempts to cater to them. This is simply one part of having a focused design goal. While you may have some secondary target audiences, there is always one in particular you focused on, even if you try to cater to everyone. A particularly good case study in this is World of Warcraft, which has every 1-2 years, changed their mind about whether they wanted to focus on Hardcore Raiders, Hardcore PVP, Small-Group Raiders, Casual PVP, Casual Questers, Hardcore PVP, Casual Raiders, and Hardcore Raiders once again, in roughly that order. And every time they chose to focus very hard on one area of the game, to make the play experience best for that specific target audience, the other audiences felt neglected, and that they weren’t getting as enjoyable of an experience as they previously had.

    So as mentioned before, masochistic gamers are in a minority, and games which cater to and create the best game they can for masochistic gamers, are far and few in-between; you can usually count on one hand the total number of masochistic games released per year. So the first thing you might as is, if you can cater to one target audience in particular, and can also have secondary target audiences, why not just put a secondary token effort towards an easier difficulty level?

    Here’s where this becomes a problem. While in the short term this is a viable strategy, masochistic gamers are a relatively small minority. Dark Souls is an unusual example in that it’s managed around 2.5 Million sales which makes it one of, if not the single best selling masochistic single-player game of all time. Dark Souls probably the highest saturation rate any games has ever had among the masochistic target audience, probably 60+%. But even if it’s only 10% of all masochistic gamers, that is chump change compared to the 1.8 Billion total gamers in the world.

    For any difficult game series that became easier, I am not aware of a single one without fail that didn’t get at least 2-3 times the total sales of their previous games once they added easier difficulty levels. This inevitably makes the publisher scurry as fast as they can to make sure their next sequel caters to their new more profitable audience, as opposed to their previous smaller audience, and now the hard difficulty is the one that is secondary and less focused on. And in more extreme cases, is actively broken and heavily imbalanced with wildly fluctuating difficulty from moment to moment (I’m looking at you Tales of the Abyss unknown difficulty)

    AND THIS is the grand crux of the problem. For any major publisher, their primary goal is to make money. This means that there is absolutely zero incentive what-so-ever for the publisher to cater to a masochistic target audience. Players who want their masochistic desires catered to, are in direct opposition to what is in the best interests of the publisher, who could make far more money by catering to a different less-masochistic audience.

    And I think that’s why it becomes so incredibly cut-throat and angry when discussions about making games like Dark Souls easier comes up. Because too many masochistic gamers have watched series that used to cater to just them, forget about them, in favor of chasing the bigger dollars among more typical gamers. And the worst part is, if the publisher changes their target audience away from masochistic players, they almost always made the correct decision. Talk about a frustrating and distressing conflict of interests.

    So whenever I see someone talking about Dark Souls say something like “But if you love the game, don’t you want as many people as possible to enjoy it? If the publisher sells more copies, they will make more money, which means more game development,” the horrible part about it is; they are absolutely correct that it’s better for the developer/publisher, but also worse for the masochistic gamer in the end.

    And ultimately I think most of us more than anything, just desperately don’t want the very few games that cater to us to stop catering to us. And I don’t think that’s an unreasonable thing to desire.


    My apologies for being long-winded. I hope that I did not come across as contentious, and that my argument is in fact rational. Thanks for reading.

  4. I agree with statement “Video Games should not be Work”, but maybe because I understand this differently. I see work as forced part of everyday life. Caring, contemplating, analyzing, or just enjoying someting no matter how much effort is required – its more of a hobby – is someting you do for yourself and you gain someting from this, even if this is just pleasure or perhaps catharsis. I see this quote more like: “You mustn’t force yourself to play video games and enjoy them. This part of entertainment is all about YOU interacting with that media. If you can not take advantage of this, then you shouldnt play them”. Forced Gamers – is something is see when girls on twitch/youtube want to make some money by playing games and flashing boobs, but not caring about the game at all. Or other people from twitch / youtube who played video games as a hobby, and then they made it an obligation of some sort, and you can see how that ruined it for them. I clearly see that you enjoy video games as a form of recreation, as well as a material for analysis and further communication with others – in form of your own creation (this website). So yes, you do it correctly.
    You spend time working with/on games and have something good from them. But video games aren’t your work (or NOT JUST ONLY a work).
    (for rectification: this all is about playing video games, not making them.)

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