A few weeks ago the newest installment in the Smash Bros. franchise was released on the Nintendo 3DS. It’s been praised by fans and critics and is actually a pretty good game, however there’s a strange mechanic within its story mode. It’s a system that was featured within Kid Icarus: Uprising, which was also on the 3DS and developed by Masahiuro Sakurai. The system essentially gives the player the ability to increase a level’s difficulty before embarking on that level. By increasing the difficulty, players gamble the game’s currency for the chance of greater rewards at the end.
But if you die, you lose a portion of the gamble. Now, by itself this is a pretty good system, a fair balance of frustration versus reward (a bigger reward for increased aggravation due to difficulty). The problem both games have is upon your character dying the game automatically knocks the difficulty down a notch, essentially barring you from ever improving.
This kind of system is extremely reductive and helps perpetuate the ideas proposed in Atlanta-based freelance writer Mickey Goodman’s 2012 article, “Are we raising a generation of helpless kids?” Goodman argues that kids born from 1984 to 2002 were born in an age of instant satisfaction, and these game systems bolster that argument.
It’s no secret that when things are harder, you’re naturally going to mess up on them. You need the time and experience that allows you to become better. But these systems eliminate that; they don’t have enough faith in the player so they guide them through, saying, “It’s okay, baby, we know you gave it your all, but it’s just a little too tough for you. Let’s just turn the heat down so you can actually get through it this time.”
It’s insulting, and it works against the principle in teaching kids that they’re going to get knocked down facing tougher challenges, but they need to get back up and keep trying. Not giving the message that something will come around and make things easier for them. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in, but it seems to be the world we’re teaching kids to believe we’re in.