Four Letter Nerd

Nintendo, Sega, and the Demoralization of a Generation

Sega Genesis is the system that got me into gaming.  I was given one for Christmas when I was around 5 or 6 and it absolutely blew me away.  I still remember sitting on my Power Rangers beanbag, with my Power Rangers pajamas, playing Power Rangers on the Sega on Christmas morning at my grandparent’s house.


Astute observers will notice a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 sitting next to me, but the rest of the picture still suggests I was playing Power Rangers.

Last week, whilst partaking in some craft beer, Cody and I hooked the Sega up and played through several of our favorite games.  On about the third or fourth game we began to notice a trend in almost every single one of them – they were soul crushingly difficult.

There were no save games and no checkpoints, which we have grown accustomed to over the years.  You could play all day long trying to stop Dr. Robotnik (side note: I wonder what his doctorate is in… I imagine he has a PhD in art with an emphasis in mechanical engineering), pause the game when you had to go to school or run errands with the fam, only to return and die almost immediately. When you died you see Game Over then its right back to the title screen with a snarky hedgehog smirking at you.   There was no consolation prize for getting to the final level, there was no partial credit for coming so close, you either won the game or you started at the beginning with nothing to show for it.

Over the course of the last few generations of gaming consoles the games have gotten more complex (see photo below), yet they have also gotten easier and more accessible.


Throw in at least 8 more buttons, an analog stick, and a D-Pad just to be sure.

Gameplay for systems like the Sega, Nintendo, and SNES were all based on arcade systems.  If arcade games were easy or allowed you to have checkpoints or saved games, you would spend less coinage, which cuts into the profit.  So they make their games frustratingly difficult so that you will continue to grind it out until you can finally win and, with any luck, you could input your three initials in the high score list (or just put ASS in the high score list, which was way more prevalent).


Working together to crush the spirit of 7 year olds since 1991.

Modern gaming has transitioned from that big, euphoric, payoff, which requires the player to persevere through gaming adversity to a series of smaller payouts that keep the player hooked using a reward-based system.  When you die now you either respawn if you are playing online, or you simply revert to your last saved game.  So instead of having to start back at the beginning you just have to go back a few minutes.

A clear evolution from this older arcade-based system to the modern achievement-based system can be seen with one of the forefathers of video-gaming: Mario.  The first Mario was extraordinarily difficult.  I am sure most of those who played it got really good at the first few levels, because that’s all we ever got to play.  Mario 2 was so difficult it didn’t even get released in the United States at first and Mario 3 was no walk in the park.  In Super Mario World the checkpoint system began to be implemented and instead of going all the way back to the beginning when you died, you would just have to go back to the beginning of that particular world (or wherever your last saved game was).  All of the levels were playable in Mario 64, you just had to find the right mirror to get to it, and if you died you just went back to the main area to pick another world to play without losing much progress.  The current generation is so easy that Lycan, the resident video game expert, dominates it easily at 6 years old.

It’s much easier to win now than it was then.  Instead of the enormous feeling of relief and pride you get beating Bowser for the final time and rescuing the princess, you get achievements for smaller actions, or you unlock certain abilities or additional options that weren’t available before so you still get that feeling of accomplishment without having to sacrifice your self-esteem on Mario’s altar.

Modern gaming and those old systems both have their advantages. There is something incredibly nostalgic about hooking up the Sega, pressing the power button, seeing a blank screen, turning it off and blowing the dust off the cartridge, then seeing that blue Sega logo (Seeeeeggaaaaa).  It is almost impossible to have a bad time playing those old games with friends, and if you haven’t done so recently you should go find your old system and play it (or find some friends, that would be advantageous too).

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Cam Clark

Cam is a husband, father, and a fan of many things. In college, he wrote his senior thesis on Mythological, Philosophical, and Theological Themes in Star Wars, and now spends his days causally specializing in Star Wars, Tolkien, and cubical work. No relation to Bill Clark.

28 CommentsLeave a comment

  • These games were made for Japanese gamers, which is why Americans thought, and still believe, them to be overly difficult.

    Current Japanese releases are also comparably more difficult than their American counterparts.

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