I quit playing Fallout 3 last year for a few reasons, including the pace of the game and the long and pointless accumulation of stuff to buy, sell and turn into other stuff. Some people are into that; I don't personally have time.
But I also quit because it was too easy. It wasn't a big deal to die and it wasn't all that hard to kill your enemies - they even included an assisted targetting system where you could pause the action and aim a free shot at a bad guy. The most stressful part of the game really was trying to pick that lock that protects a bobblehead power-up without breaking your hairpin and sealing the door forever.
I also quit on Red Dead Redemption, a fantastic and cinematic game where I found myself spending too much time collecting animal skins and feathers to trade for money, which really could only buy you things that you could find for yourself. Plus, it was too easy. In about 20 hours of gameplay I don't think I died more than once or twice.
A lot of hardcore gamers have noticed this phenomenon, and the consensus is that video games are getting to be too easy. Type "video games too easy" into Google and you'll come up with dozens of articles and blog posts on the subject, as well as some suggestions as to why gamers are being spoon-fed games. Type in "hardest video games" and you'll be treated to dozens of lists, few of which include any games made after 2000.
Some commentators think that game companies are afraid of losing their audience, that people will get frustrated and turn off the game - and so they make the single player campaign easy, then let the hardcore battle it out in multiplayer if they choose.
Others think it has to do with the overall experience; modern games are immersive narratives and the flow of that carefully crafted experience is interrupted when you're killed a dozen times in a row trying to get past the same level.
Other games are a little bit hard, but auto-save so often that there's no real consequences to getting killed - you pop up where you left off and try something different.
And then there's the difficulty of designing games for mass appeal. The average gamer is over 30 years old now and a third are female - older players want more story than the average 13-year-old hepped up on Mountain Dew that wants to watch things blow up.
And so game design has also been labelled a suspect by hardcore gamers, with more emphasis on looks and story than actual gameplay. These days it seems like game designers want you to win, instead of thinking up devious ways to defeat you. So they tweak the auto-aim a little here, add cover systems, weaken enemies or give enemies obvious weak spots, and create a level-up system that can make you close to invincible early on in the game if you do a few side-missions to gain experience and/or loot.
Some game designers have found ways to please everybody, from casual gamers to the hardcore, by offering different levels of difficulty. Sometimes they're meaningless, but in other cases - like Halo games on the Legendary setting - they do create a genuine challenge.
I do like hard games, and when I get stuck I can usually find the answer online somewhere. It's cheating a bit, but if I don't have time to collect weapons blueprints in Fallout 3 then it stands to reason that I don't have time to replay the same level over and over until I get it right. I want hard games, not impossible ones.
Luckily, there are some game companies that are continuing to make games difficult.
For example, the Dead Rising series is hard. The clock is ticking, the missions are challenging, the zombies are everywhere and, if you get killed, you have to go a long way back to your last save point.
Another example that I haven't played yet is Demon Souls on the PS3, apparently the hardest game to come along in the last few years (until the sequel comes out later this year). The enemies are tough, bosses are unique with no obvious weaknesses, combat is complicated, there are traps everywhere and every time you die you have to replay the whole level.
Personally, I'm also excited about the announcement of a Serious Sam 3, a series that is all about running and gunning - no cover systems, no auto-aim, just waves and waves of enemies running at you, screaming and bellowing, while you fire away with whatever weapons you've collected. Go to YouTube.com to see the trailer.
Ninja Gaiden is one of the hardest series of all time, although their last few games have gotten easier. For the next sequel, however, developers are promising to bring back the hard.
What are the hardest games you've played lately (2005 and newer)? I'll create a top-10 list in a future column based on your feedback. Send your personal list to firstname.lastname@example.org.