For the challenges in games to be interesting to players, they need to have the Right Level of Difficulty. If the challenges are too easy, players may be bored while if they are too difficult, players may give up playing the game.
Example: Go can be played on boards of different sizes; 9x9, 13x13, and 19x19 are the most common. Players can choose the difficulty of a game by choosing the size of the board, as the difficulty (and length) of a game grows with the size of the board.
Example: Zelda: The Ocarina of Time starts with easy quests that require mastery of very few actions and pose few threats. As players complete the quests, they move on to more challenging quests, and the game can thereby increase the level of difficulty as players show that they have mastered the current level of difficulty.
Example: Adventures that can be bought for many types of tabletop roleplaying games are categorized after which levels the players' characters should have. Although a Game Master may use any adventure for any group of characters, the Right Level of Difficulty will most probably only occur if the players have the right levels.
Although the difficulty of a game is individual to each player, games can be designed so that players can progress according to their own learning curve. Setting the Right Level of Difficulty in games can either be done by making challenges easier, by making challenges more difficult, or by controlling which challenges players have to meet.
Challenges can be made easier, either by providing information about how to solve the challenge or by making the actions of overcoming the challenge easier to perform, for example, by the presence of Achilles' Heels. Information can be given by Clues, Traces, Extra-Game Information, or by letting players discover it themselves through Experimenting. Making challenges easier usually requires some form of Tradeoff for players and can be done through Selectable Sets of Goals or Supporting Goals. Having to choose one goal from a Selectable Set of Goals where the different goals have Varied Gameplay allows the player to choose the goal with the perceived Right Level of Difficulty but makes the other goals impossible to complete. The Right Level of Difficulty in a game can also be created by Varied Gameplay to require players to use different competences. Supporting Goals, for example trying to find Easter Eggs, do not have to make other goals impossible but take extra time to perform and may deplete Resources for the player.
Making challenges more difficult can be done by introducing opposition or by making the required player actions more difficult to perform. Opposition can take the form of Enemies or Preventing Goals of Agents or other players in Multiplayer Games. General ways of making challenges more difficult are by making the game have the Right Level of Complexity to have a certain difficulty and give players Limited Planning Abilities, introducing Time Limits for the challenges, distracting the players through Disruption of Focused Attention events, or forcing players to choose how to perform Attention Swapping. Temporary Ability Losses or Decreased Abilities (for example lowering Skills) can be used to make an otherwise easy challenge have the Right Level of Difficulty. A more specific way to make challenges more difficult in games requiring Maneuvering is through the introduction of more Obstacles or simply increasing the speed in Rhythm-Based Actions.
Control of what challenges players meet depends on whether games are Single-Player Games or Multiplayer Games. Levels are the most common way of controlling difficulty in Single-Player Games, simply by having the Levels vary in difficulty and letting players gain access to them when they show that they have mastered the previous Levels. Games that are played alone can have their overall difficulty easily modified by the player through difficulty levels. In games with strong Narrative Structures, having the Right Level of Difficulty not only means adjusting to player skills but also the development of the plot, for example, allowing Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses.
In Multiplayer Games, the Right Level of Difficulty must be designed with consideration to Player Balance. This can be done through Handicaps before gameplay begins to make all players have equal possibilities in the game or through Balancing Effects during gameplay, for example, Player-Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties. Having one of the players take the role of a Game Master allows the Right Level of Difficulty to be granted at all times, as long as the Game Master can gauge the merit players' plans and adjust the difficulty accordingly.
As Reconfigurable Game Worlds and Ephemeral Goals are constructed during, or immediately before, gameplay their use can make pre-designed ways of achieving the Right Level of Difficulty less effective. Game Masters can be used to mitigate this problem, as they can adjust the difficulty level on the fly.
Providing the Right Level of Difficulty in games allows players to feel Tension as there is a risk that they may fail, while giving the Empowerment, since they have a Perceived Chance to Succeed and Illusion of Influence. If the Right Level of Difficulty is continuously provided for players, it gives them a Smooth Learning Curve and increases the likelihood that players progress to having Game Mastery. If this Right Level of Difficulty is due to Competition, the learning is enforced by a Red Queen Dilemma.
Modulated by: Attention Swapping, Reconfigurable Game World, Decreased Abilities, Supporting Goals, Enemies, Tradeoffs, Levels, Ability Losses, Easter Eggs, Narrative Structures, Disruption of Focused Attention, Clues, Extra-Game Information, Obstacles, Skills, Limited Planning Ability, Traces, Experimenting
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