When Does a Game Become ‘Unfair’?

If you’ve been playing games for a long time, you’ve almost certainly had a “BS” moment. You know the one; it’s that moment where things go wrong, and you’re absolutely convinced that the game robbed you somehow. Maybe it glitched and your shot didn’t register, or maybe Mario bounced off of the side of a ledge instead of grabbing onto it.

These moments are frequent and annoying, but what about when a game seems to be out to get you? Say you’re playing well and making correct decisions based on the information at hand, only to get totally blindsided and subsequently destroyed. Is that just another “BS” moment, or is it straight-up unfair? That’s my question when it comes to games like XCOM 2 which seem to absolutely live for those moments.

First off, I’ll straight-up admit that I’m not good at XCOM. When it comes to difficulty, I never leave the kiddie pool that is normal difficulty with my units only getting severely injured rather than killed. I’ve learned a lot of the tricks over the years of course, but I still can’t seem to make a good “classic” difficulty run without massive amounts of save-scumming. And that’s in XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within, the one that’s waaay easier of the two relatively recent XCOM games.

Despite having plenty of BS moments in this one, I still feel like it’s more or less fair. You can move your troops carefully, and can generally account for where the enemy could be on the map. You don’t know until you make contact of course, but you can still make a good educated guess. Sometimes you’ll end up with units overextended or out of position against an unexpectedly tough unit, but that’s still more or less on you. You made a mistake and you’re now being punished for it. It sucks, especially when you don’t land the “sure-thing” shot that would save your soldier, but I’d say it’s more or less fair.

Video from YouTube channel: WildeCard

XCOM 2 on the other hand is, in my opinion, absolutely not fair and absolutely delights in being so. Again, I admit that I’m not good, but wow does this game love to absolutely throw every decision in my face. It seems like EVERY important, “surely it’ll hit” shot misses, every “there’s absolutely no way”, crazy longshot from the enemy both hits AND crits, and there are ALWAYS reinforcements ready to drop in on your flank.

There’s a kind of meme among XCOM players that came about in direct response to this: “That’s XCOM, baby!” Why though? Why does XCOM (XCOM 2 in particular) have to be so punishingly nasty? How am I supposed to account for the crazy longshot when it seems to hit despite my having taken literally every precaution? How am I supposed to confront the enemy before me when doing so will almost certainly earn me even more enemies in the rear? Like, I get it. XCOM 2 is supposed to be about fighting a vastly superior foe against incredible odds, so it’s realistic for more enemy to show up and for their soldiers to have better training and the like. However, this is supposed to be a video game, isn’t it? Shouldn’t I be able to at least get a hang of the lower difficulties??

So, going back to the original question, I think games cross the line into “unfair” when they start punishing you for losing to things you couldn’t have known about. Like, missing a jump with Mario is one thing, and probably my own fault. Having my squad wiped by surprise reinforcements after 30 minutes of clean, calculated and very cautious moves against the previous groups is not. It may be that XCOM 2 is supposed to be unfair, but man is it still absolutely infuriating. I don’t know how one has fun when they’re constantly getting the rug pulled out from under them.

Anyway, that’s just me. What games do you find unfair and how do you deal with them? What makes them unfair to you?

Image captured by Hatmonster