The Tip.It Times

Issue 21199gp

Does Difficulty Matter?

Written by and edited by Hamtaro

Before my Runescape heyday, the time in 2007-2009 where I played almost every day, I used to be ashamed to admit to my other gamer friends that I played RuneScape. Granted, I was still ashamed to admit it later, but that was because I was playing too much. Anyway, one of the echoing criticisms I received when people gave me grief for playing RuneScape is the same criticism that is seen frequently when RuneScape is discussed by players and non-players alike. That criticism is that RuneScape is too easy or that it requires no skill. As a gamer who regularly gets thumb cramps from excessively playing difficult games (currently I’m on a Mega Man and Contra streak), playing such an easy game was a mark of shame on my street cred.

But what does it matter if RuneScape is easy? The various arguments for what makes RuneScape easy or hard have been made ad nauseam.

  • All you do is click and wait in battle.
  • But you need to click your consumables strategically.
  • Everything you do is based on arbitrary numbers in your skills or gear.
  • All the PvP gameplay, combat or minigame, means you and your opponent are limited in the actions you can take (i.e. clicking) but you can still beat stronger opponents with smarts.
  • Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...

I do not particularly care if RuneScape is hard or not. The game is designed with specific mechanics in mind and the relative difficulty people experience from playing is impossible to view objectively. For example, I believe we can all agree that RunesScape’s gameplay is primarily based on clicking things at the right time (you can make the argument that every PC game utilizing a mouse does this, but that is neither here nor there). You raise skills by clicking the same things (or sequence of things) over and over again (read: grinding). That might be difficult for people who do not enjoy repetition or difficulty in the sense that it takes time and dedication to reach high levels. But grinding to unlock new content (often for more grinding) is the essence of gameplay in RuneScape. Sure, players might only care about increasing levels for specific goals, i.e. quests and PKing, but to be able to do those things first a player has to face the grindstone. Here is where we can start talking about Skinner boxes and how the psychology that drives people to play MMORPGs works, but you can look into that yourself (or maybe I’ll use that as an article idea for the future).

When it comes down how RuneScape was designed, it all goes back to the grinding; difficulty is not a concern in the design of a game like RuneScape. We look at the Evolution of Combat and see that Jagex is not trying to make combat easier or harder, they are trying to make it more engaging. We look at high level content and bosses and see that being able to stand against those challenges is a question of numbers (skills, gear, team mates) and taking advantage of strengths and weaknesses. I am not saying these things as a way of trivializing difficulty people might find in these tasks, but I am trying to illustrate that difficulty is not what fuels design in RuneScape. RuneScape, like many other MMORPGs, is designed to be engaging, to get people playing, to get players to spend more time in-game, and ultimately to get players to spend more money on subscriptions and micro-transactions. That is not inherently good or bad, nor is it inherently difficult or easy. It is just an observation of how these games work and many people enjoy these games just as much as people who get that euphoric pride from beating the next boss in I Wanna Be The Guy.

So next time someone is mocking RuneScape (or any similar game) for being too easy in real life or the Tip.It Forums, just tell them, “It doesn’t matter, because the game was not designed for inherent difficulty” and then go on to say how much you love or hate the game for reasons based off its actual design.

Do you have any thoughts or comments about this week's articles? Want to discuss these articles with your fellow RuneScapers? We invite you to discuss them in this forum topic.

Tags: Game Mechanics Metagame

Will you use Menaphos to train your skills?

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