I've previously mentioned that I am very excited to return to NYU for this year's edition of PRACTICE: Game Design in Detail. I recently discovered that one of the speakers will be none other than Jonathan Blow, poster child of the indie game scene thanks to his critically acclaimed, watershed game Braid. I should probably admit that, despite being released in 2008, I didn't hear about the game until about two years ago. In preparation for PRACTICE, I've decided to do my homework and play the speakers' games; I've been playing Braid for the past two days. My thoughts so far can be distilled into two brief sentences:
This game is brilliant.
This game is hard.
So hard, in fact, that I'm not sure I'll finish.
I've never been very good at puzzles, and those in Braid have made me want to rip my hair out. I've had to look at more Let's Plays than I'm comfortable with. And I'm not entirely sure that the sense of accomplishment engendered upon completing a given puzzle on my own outweighs the overall frustration involved in getting to that point. Here is an analysis that carefully dissects the design elements that made some of the puzzles so maddening.
It's been a while since I've played a game that made me feel this way, and it's left me wondering about just how much difficulty—honest-to-goodness challenge, not "cheap" and artificial barriers/constraints—can inhibit appreciation of the artistry and creativity of a generally well-made game. Perhaps this will always be a curse of gaming, unlike passively consumed media whose appreciation does not demand audience input or agency.
I remember scoffing at Polygon's review of my favorite game of 2013, The Last of Us, given its seemingly undue unction at the supposed difficulty of combat. But now that I'm banging my head against the wall due to puzzle difficulty, I'm not laughing.