@night-dreamers I wonder if you missed the point of my article. I agree completely that Ninja Gaiden is tough but not cheap. If it were cheap, it wouldn't be ONE OF MY FAVORITE GAMES OF ALL TIME! :P
A week ago, the Wall Street Journal posted an excerpt from author and Yale law professor Amy Chua's new book about her experiences as a parent. Her description of her approach to parenting raised quite a stir, provoking all kinds of discussions and reactions. The article is well worth reading in its entirety, and I urge you to keep an open mind and not jump to conclusions about Chua; this excerpt paints a quite rigid picture but Chua has said that the full book reveals things to be more complex, so I'm in no way judging her. I just found the excerpt a fascinating glimpse at an approach to parenting that differs tremendously from the approach my own parents took. I can't imagine how different my life would be today, for instance, if my parents had forbidden me, as Chua forbade her daughters, from playing video games.
But here's the concept from the excerpt that I want to focus on. At one point, Chua says: "What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it." I think there's a lot of truth to this.
One segment deals with Chua trying to get her daughter Lulu to master a very difficult piece of music for a piano recital.
Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.
I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.
Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.
Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.
"Mommy, look—it's easy!" After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn't leave the piano.
I think I understand to some degree the joy that Chua's daughter Lulu was experiencing in those moments when she finally mastered that piece of music, when what previously seemed impossible suddenly became as easy as second nature. And perhaps the most common source of that feeling in my experience has been video games.
I remember reading Greg Kasavin's review of the 2004 action classic Ninja Gaiden. It informs you that this is one tough game, but it rightfully made the game sound so exceptional that I felt I had to play it.
And I hated it. Playing it was painful for me because I just kept getting killed over and over again. The skills necessary to handle the game's fighting system eluded me completely; I knew there was an incredible game buried in Ninja Gaiden, but I just wasn't nearly good enough to enjoy it. I tried and tried and tried to get better, but it was no use, and eventually it seemed hopeless. I just didn't have what it takes, I thought, and I gave up in frustration.
My Ryu often found himself in situations like this one.
Then, a year and a half later, Ninja Gaiden Black--an enhanced version of the previous year's game--came out, and I again read about what an extraordinary game Ninja Gaiden was, which again filled me with the urge to play it.
Again, I spent hours with the game, and again, poor Ryu suffered countless deaths at the hands of his enemies. My heart sank in despair. I just didn't have what it took to be a great ninja, and my experience of the game remained a painful one.
Then, suddenly, something clicked. Without even consciously being aware of how I got better, I got better. Much, much better. I got a handle on the game's timing. My hands suddenly knew how to perform powerful combos, how to guard and evade enemy attacks, and from then on, while the game remained a satisfying challenge, I felt unstoppable. And it was incredible. I couldn't stop playing. Discovering skills in myself that I previously thought nonexistent, mastering something that previously felt absolutely impossible, was tremendously rewarding, and I was finally able to understand what an extraordinary game Ninja Gaiden is. It's now one of my favorite games of all time. And if it hadn't been as complex as challenging as it was, if I hadn't needed to work very hard to master it, I know that my ultimate success wouldn't have been nearly so enjoyable. It was a good thing, in the end, that the game had been so hard on me, that it had demanded so much of me.
Now, of course, I want to clearly state that I'm not saying that the experience of confronting and ultimately mastering a game that is at first extremely diffiicult for you is the same as a parent relentlessly challenging you and forcing you to master something incredibly difficult. I just think that the rewarding feeling that comes with finally getting better at a game that initially seems impossible is perhaps comparable to the feeling that comes with mastering any other initially incredibly challenging process, and that when you're good at it, something that previously was painful can suddenly become very enjoyable. I think it's very rare for game designers to find just that right degree of challenge that can ultimately lead to this incredible feeling, and when they do, it's something special.
Have you had any similar experiences with games that initially struck you as way too difficult, but that eventually became much easier for you? Or on the flipside of that, are there games that other people really seem to love that perhaps you don't enjoy as much because you're not very good at them? (I do. The skills necessary to be really good at real-time strategy games have always eluded me, and I've long hoped to get better at them so that I can enjoy and appreciate that genre more.)
I don't know if "nothing is fun until you're good at it," but I do believe that being good at something can make it a lot more fun.
Greg Kasavin's video review of Ninja Gaiden:
Okay girl it seems you're not into certain genres so keep yourself away from them, NG was hard but never cheep, if the difficultly isn't for you than just lose in the first stage a few times then you'll unlock easy mode.
Wonderful article! Being a pianist myself and an avid fan of Ryu Hayabusa, I found your article engrossing. You're a beautiful writer. I find far more satisfaction in harder games, and a greater since of accomplishment. I've always preferred games like Gunstar Heroes and Revenge of Shinobi over games like ActRaiser or even the Halo trilogy. I'm a huge fan of Ikaruga and Sin and Punishment, which are both brutally hard games. I'm trying to form a union based on those kinds of games so (anyone) let me know if you're interested in joining my union for Treasure Video Games. P.S. Greg Kasavin has always been my favorite game critic, and this Ninja Gaiden video is by far my favorite. I laugh and laugh every time I watch the ending. He's such a dork, but he's so lovable!
Ah, Ninja Gaiden Black. I still remember that sometimes sinking, most times angry feeling at seeing that "GAME OVER" screen over and over again.
@carolynmichelle: Thanks, that one was really hard... But I had plenty of spare time to play--I was 11 when it was released... :P No way I could do it again now. :lol:
That article was interesting and infuriating but I'll hand it to her, she sure knows how to sell a book. I'll only work really hard at a game if I really want to play it/beat it. Nowadays, I don't think I really have the time or desire to sit there and be "good" at a video game whereas when I was younger, I only had a few games to play with so I had nothing better to do :P There are certain things that I can think of that's still fun even if you suck, like certain sports for example, but dying over and over again or getting stuck in a video game just isn't fun period.
@starduke Well, you're not alone in having a strong negative reaction to the article. Some commenters I've seen have described it as borderline child abuse. But I understand that in the full book Chua actually comes to understand at some point that her methods are too rigid and she loosens up considerably by the end. @JustPlainLucas @tinoshke Indeed! Demon's Souls is a great example of a game that fits this analogy! @SandPiper121PP Thanks for sharing some of your experiences as a musician. I'm glad that you enjoyed the blog and were able to see parallels with your own experiences! @julianozuca I agree completely. There is no one-size-fits-all approach; different people excel under different conditions. I used to teach as well (high school English) and that was true in my experiences too. And holy cow, I am in awe of you for beating Battletoads! I loved that game but was never able to complete it. Kudos! I am currently playing a fair amount of Super Street Fighter IV in the hopes of getting better. I've never had the skills to be very competitive at fighting games but those are definitely games that are more enjoyable when you're skilled enough to appreciate the depth that they offer. I'm excited about Marvel vs. Capcom 3 so I'm hoping to get good enough to at least not embarrass myself too much when fighting online. :)
Well, my two cents... there are people who grow under pressure while others fall apart--I say that from my experience as a music teacher. We must always find the right approach to each person. A game which gave me that victory feeling was Battletoads on the NES. It took me like 5 hours a day for two weeks (the game didn't have any password/save system) at the time to finish it, and in the end it felt like a blast. That and Capcom's fighting games.
I simply loved this blog! Being I am a musician and I used to spend hours upon hours practicing my guitar to learn what seemed to be the impossible score to play... with patience and perseverance we can overcome obsticles that we once thought were impossible! I have learned to apply this to my everyday gaming so I can become a better player, not so I can have bragging rights by any means or the top position on some leaderboard on the internet, simply because I learned in my musician days that being the best carries with it a huge responsiblility and also there is always someone out there whom is far better than you. No... I now, unlike my ealier days of playing video games don't use the easy mode very much anymore because playing on a higher skill level will only help you to become a better player. I now have games in my collection that I thought I never would even remotely try to play. Demon's Soul's,is one and Ninja Gaiden is the other and I look forward to the challenges they bring. Fantastic article and I really enjoyed the film as well!!! :)
It's funny that I should read this while playing what is proving to be one of the hardest, if not the hardest, RPGs in my life, and that is Demon's Souls. I nearly gave up only a couple of levels into the game, but I was urged by a friend of mine to keep playing. He consoled me, saying he was in the same boat I was. He hated the game at first, swearing at it, saying he'd never get through it, but somehow he became addicted and kept playing and... he got better. He was killing enemies he couldn't kill before, beating bosses he couldn't finish before. And he's beaten the game three times over. I'm on my way to beating Demon's Souls for the first time, never EVER thinking I would have made it this far when I first started it. So yeah, Demon's Souls is one of those piano practices. Now that I'm good at it, I'm really enjoying it. Great analogy!
I have to say this, reading that article made me sick to my stomach. Their children never get to decide anything, they are forced to do everything, so when they grow up they can be good little cogs in the commie machine, and that makes them "Superior" parents...Bah Humbug! Anyway, that game that I practiced because I wanted to get good at it was Megaman Zero. I knew going in, from reading reviews, that it would be a hard game. At first I didn't like it, but I sensed that it had the potential to be an amazing game once I got good at it. So I kept at it, and now it's one of my favorite games. I want to get the Megaman Zero Collection on the DS, because it would be cheaper then getting all the games individually.
To be honest, I don't think I would have the patience to keep trying playing a tough game, I tried it in the past and with the same game as you : Ninja Gaiden. In real life I have a lot of patience with most things but when we're talking about video games, it's something totally different, I get very easily frustrated. But I'm not giving up, I still have to play Demon's Souls and one day I will.... and I'm not giving up this time ;)
I remember playing Jet Moto 2. That game was a masochist's dream house. The great thing about it was that all the character's racing paths were predetermined. It was bad because if I got behind, I'd never be able to catch up. It was good, because I eventually learned the paths, and exploited the system. After I beat the game, I cried tears of joy... then ten years later (after typing this down), I realized that I wasted an entire summer. :lol:
there was a song on the piano and one on the violin that took monthns of practice to master. The really tough video games were back in the SNES days - the games we have now are not as hard as they were in the day