What is Masocore? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]

Are you a player who prefers simple-minded games or hard games? Do you play to live a real experience or do you play just to take a break from real life? Whichever of the two categories of player you belong to, you need to thank all those people that over the years have tried to meet the requirements of the more demanding gamers out there to give them the best experience ever, regardless of the fact they were searching for an easy or a hard game to play with. Nowadays, basically almost all kind of video games available on the market have at least two difficulty levels, so that they can be played by any sort of gamer indiscriminately. However, did you know that there is a kind of videogame tailor-made for all those players who aren’t content with games which can be resolved with minimal effort? They are labelled as “masocore” and you would be really surprised to know how amazing they can be.

The term “masocore” was coined at the end of the Eighties to refer to a type of video game published between 1980 and 1990 which weren’t just difficult, they were unfairly difficult. Indeed, masocore is a word combining the terms “masochist” and “hardcore”. Masocore was specifically used to refer to a theoretical videogame sub-genre designed specifically to frustrate players by combining complex game mechanics with impossible difficulty in special “trial and error” scenarios. The term was made official and popular in 2008 by Anna Anthropy, who defined it for the first time on the Auntie Pixelante gaming blog, giving birth to a new genre which always existed but hadn’t have been properly categorized yet.

Belonging to a proper classification, masocore games have different characteristics which changed over the years due to technological progress to which games underwent. Keep on reading if you want to know more about masocore games.

One Hell of a Game.

It is no exaggeration to define masocore as games for masochistic players, and it is not by chance that the combination of the term masocore includes the word “masochist”. Indeed, when it was first born, the term was used to refer to a certain type of video games featuring some specific characteristics, such as no particular plot, simple graphics, ridiculously hard gameplay, characters’ sudden death for silly and completely unfair reasons, excessive difficulty which never lets up, and inescapable death traps. Originally, masocore games exclusively belonged to the genre “trial and error”, namely those kinds of game which forced the player to retry one section over and over in order to overcome an obstacle, and that often have confusing goals.

Features of the early masocore games are exaggerated and often hilariously difficulty, such as blocks which suddenly appear where they shouldn’t be, background elements which are actually foreground elements put there to confuse the player and make them commit a mistake, traps at the end of the stage you couldn’t imagine and that are triggered probably because you forgot to do something at the beginning of the stage, fake platforms, and so on. Basically, this is one hell of a game genre only for brave players who love that frustration which only a game like I Wanna Be the Guy: The Movie: The Game can make them feel.

I Wanna Be the Guy: The Movie: The Game

  • System/Platform: PC
  • Publisher: Independent video game development
  • Developer: Michael O'Reilly
  • Release Date: October 2007

Games like I Wanna Be the Guy: The Movie: The Game have no particular plot, since they mainly focus on the difficulty of the gameplay. Created by Michael O’Reilly for Microsoft Windows and first released in October 2007, I Wanna Be the Guy: The Movie: The Game is a 2D platformer, indie, freeware masocore video game which soon became a cult. The player controls the The Kid who is on a mission to become The Guy. He has to overcome a great quantity of obstacles to be able to do it. As many other masocore games, I Wanna Be the Guy: The Movie: The Game is a hard title to play, but if it was possible for it to become one of greatest hits of the genre, it was only thanks to its unusually difficult platforming elements, unique level design, sounds, characters and music taken from other famous videogames sagas, such as The Legend of Zelda, for example.

With very basic control system limited to left and right movement, jumping, and shooting, the very masocore element in I Wanna Be the Guy is not even the gameplay itself, but the fact that it is divided in Medium, Hard, Very Hard, and Impossible difficulty settings between which the player can choose. Actually, all difficulty levels are hard in the same way, namely with traps that suddenly pop out to kill you and so on. The only difference between the settings is the number of times you can save the game, that counts zero when it comes to the Impossible one. If there is a game which can impersonate the real meaning of masocore, it can’t be other than I Wanna Be the Guy.

I Wanna Be The Guy Trailer

Nintendo Hard

In the Eighties, masocore arcade games for coin machines became so popular that they caught the attention of the gaming company Nintendo, which – between 1980s and 1990s – released a series of video games for Nintendo Entertaiment System that were way more than difficult but brutally hardcore. The extremely difficult games released in that period were later classified under the voice “Nintendo Hard”, together with many other 2D platformers and impossibly difficult indie games such as the above mentioned I Wanna Be the Guy and Super Meat Boy. The rise of Nintendo Hard has been described by the Houston Press and other prestigious newspapers and magazines like a collection of games which made players feel hatred for playing them.

The great thing about Nintendo Hard games was the fact that they weren’t hard to play due to silly gameplay or stupid levels, but they were good games capable of really entertaining players with their great playability, although it was kind of impossible moving forward smoothly. Nintendo’s production of hard games diminished significantly after the Nineties, when the era of arcade games was about to finish, but its wave was so strong that the series of video games labelled Nintendo Hard left their mark in history with titles such as Contra, Ninja Gaiden, Battletoads. All those titles which would inspire and lay the foundation for new generation hardcore games.


  • System/Platform: ARC, GEN, GG, NES, AMI, CD32, GB
  • Publisher: Mindscape Inc., Electronic Arts, Electronic Arts Victor, Tradewest, Sega, Tec Toy, NCS, Playtronic
  • Developer: Rare Ltd., Arc System Works
  • Release Date: June 1991

Differently from later games like I Wanna Be the Guy and Super Meat Boy, Nintendo’s Battletoads is a real game with a proper plot – even though it is not very complex – and lacking surprise or random death traps. The story starts with Professor T. Bird and the three Battletoads, Rash, Zitz, and Pimple, who are escorting a princess, Angelica, to her home planet by using their spacecraft. Pimple and Angelica decide to take a trip on Pimple's flying car, but they are suddenly captured by the Dark Queen's ship. Pimple sends out a distress signal in order to alert his companions that himself and Angelica had been captured. Once Professor T. Bird localized them, he flies with Rash and Zitz to rescue them.

A game like Battletoads is a fair challenge against its creators, although being yet really challenging. Indeed, Battletoads wasn’t designed for being a hell of a game by hiding cheap tricks on purpose to frustrate players like, for example, using weird perspective or by making savepoints come to life just to kill the characters. Instead, it is a work which bases its difficulty on dexterity, patience, concentration, memory, and ability. The masocore element in Battletoads is exactly the incredible speed of the side-scrolling stage, which dramatically increases as the level progresses, while more and more obstacles fall or appear in front of the character moving at high speed. To finish the game, the player has no choice but to perform actions at a perfect timing trying to get it all right without flaws. No wonder Battletoads has been called one of the best addictive and challenging games ever made.

Masocore and New Generation Games

The masocore games era ended with the 2D platform games generation, making way for the more graphically complex 3D games. However, although new generation titles’ gameplay, structure, and design are completely different from the older hardcore arcade games, the wave of masocore could not be completely terminated. In fact, it was source of inspiration for later creators, who came to think of a way of integrating the masocore element with the new multi directional graphics in order to make the gaming experience not only pleasant to see due to more realistic characters and scenarios, but also as much enjoyable and entertaining as possible for high maintenance players. This resulted with many great games such as Nioh or the extremely popular Dark Soul II, with their amazing graphics and their sadistic gameplay specifically thought to make players go crazy with frustration.

Dark Soul II

  • System/Platform: PS3, X360, PC, PS4, XONE
  • Publisher: Namco Bandai Games, Bandai Namco Games, From Software
  • Developer: From Software, Namco Bandai Games
  • Release Date: March 11, 2014

Dark Souls II takes place in Drangleic, a once prosperous land under the rule of King Vendrick, fallen to ruin throughout the ages due to the raging war between humans and giants, the sudden disappearance of the King, and a newfound abysmal plague. Dark Souls II’s story begins with a human who has become an Undead due to a curse which doesn’t allow him to die. Moreover, he is doomed to eventually become a Hollow, a zombie-like being with no memories or purpose. To break the curse, the Undead will need to travel to the fallen kingdom of Drangleic to find a way to save himself from disaster.

Dark Soul II was released in March 2014 and blew up quickly. The reason for its great success was not in an epic plot or an extraordinary graphic, but especially in the high level of its playability capable to challenge also the more expert and resolute players. With its insurmountable obstacles which force you to retry a portion of the game again and again, punishing you for not understating those mechanics hidden in the game itself, but not that easy to get, Dark Souls II is a game only for cool-headed players who don’t give up easily, being extremely demanding. The fact is that, as its creator Hidetaka Miyazaki said, Dark Souls II was made that difficult intentionally, and for lack of sadistic games on nowadays gaming market. This is symptom that masocore games have not disappeared at all, but have just evolved significantly.

Dark Souls II - Launch Trailer

Final Thoughts

What is the reason for wanting to engage in extremely demanding games with no task other than trying over and over until you are lucky enough to get to the big finish? Well, we can’t answer to this question, but we can assure that if a frustrating, even masochistic, experience is what you are craving for, masocore games can satisfy, and probably exceed, all your expectations.
Do you think you will give them a try? Let us know in a comment!

Dark-Souls-II-wallpaper-700x394 What is Masocore? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]


Author: Dareka Nobody

I’m an Italian dirty little girl obsessed with Japanese language, culture, literature, anime, manga, games, but also with writing, reading, and travelling, in general. I lived in Japan and I’m about to be moving there forever. When I’m not working, I translate yaoi light novels for a hobby. I’ve recently started a partnership with the website Novelleleggere.org where I publish my works. I run a page on Facebook about my translation and I’m also a blogger who likes to write about her experiences in Japan. Akiba addicted and enthusiastic Honeyfeed’s writer!

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