When I was a kid, games were tough. There was little grey area. Digital meant black or white – you missed the pixel or you didn’t. The concept of “ledge grabbing” was unknown and you could die for a ton of reasons, many of which made you want to destroy your controller. Battletoads, I’m looking at you!
SNES back on topic. There were quite a few “twitch” games, where precise movement was required to complete a task. Super Mario World and the star road is a prime example. Few people saw this section of the game but having to fly for 2 minutes with a cape and avoid all sorts of stuff flying at you was a massive drain on your fingers. Recently, I was playing Donkey Kong Country and after the first zone I was standing at 25 lives. I was thinking “I’m set for the rest of the game!” Then I entered the second world and in particular, the mine carts.
Now, if you’ve never played DKC, then I get why this doesn’t mean much to you. For those of you who did, this is likely a part of your memories you pushed in a dark corner. These mine cart zones are an exercise in “press jump”, which you would think is a simple affair. Back to the digital comment from above, where either you have it or you don’t. There are a ton of obstacles you need to avoid and the hitboxes for these things are larger than the actual objects. Jumps are measured in pixels, not inches. In one particular level, I blew through 20 lives.
I compare this to today’s games, like Assassin’s Creed 4 of recent memory. It’s platform based (mostly) but there’s so much room for error. I think I died 5 times total (outside of naval warfare) for the entire game. You mess up? That’s ok, go hide. There’s just so much padding on skill today that you need a real outlier, a Rogue-like or Demon Souls to remind you of challenge. Plug back 15 years though and the cream of the crop is likely considered too difficult for today’s players.
I’m certain that has a large impact on MMOs as well, given that players who have been at it a while are used to a certain level of challenge and have a certain skill set. New players don’t have that, there really aren’t any games that teach them about challenge, other than pulling that slot machine arm another time. It certainly makes for a culture gap between the “older” and “newer” players.