I think I'm reaching a point where my primary relationship with the game is a battle of wills. Crusader Kings II does everything in its power to discomfit you, undermining your victories and ensuring that you never feel comfortable with your power. There's always a risk.
At least, ideally. In practice, you can outflank the computer by thinking long-term and picking your battles carefully. I've instituted elective monarchy in my kingdom and then spent centuries ensuring that all of the electors and candidates were members of my house, so that as long as I vote for the most popular candidate, I'm guaranteed to remain in control through the generations. . .
Most of the time. It worked for more than a hundred years, and then suddenly one of my lower-tier vassals usurped a title from a top-tier vassal and then one of my ungrateful relatives decided to vote for the bastard! Needless to say, my democratic principles were immediately tossed out the window as I schemed to strip the usurper of his title and ensure that my house had no serious rivals for the throne.
In retrospect, it was pretty easy to secure my holdings, but I remember the moment of panic I felt when I saw that my kingdom would be ripped away from me by this newcomer. I'd been playing the game for nearly 40 hours now, and I still didn't feel safe.
Which is kind of a weird thing for me to even want from a video game, now that I think about it.
Isn't the idea that I'm entering a fabulous world of danger, where my daring carries the day and my victory is all the sweeter for facing down incredible risks? Wouldn't "safety" defeat the point?
Of course, this is all complicated by the fact that I'm not in any actual danger. So feeling "unsafe" inside a video game is only a relative thing. But I do think this is orthogonal to difficulty. There are games where you can die a lot, but which don't put me quite so on edge. Super Meat Boy, for instance, will kill you nine times out of ten, but it doesn't feel quite so nerve racking (except for those times when your focus is ramped up to maximum) because when you die, you just start over, a few seconds behind.
So it might just be a matter of investment. The scenario, the kingdom, is virtual, but your time is real. And it is impossible to spend time with something, nurturing it, growing it, watching it, without feeling some attachment to it (Sakura Spirit may be the exception, though even then, there was a period, after I hated it, but before I hated it again, where I was starting to grow fond of my modded version of the game). I think there are certain games which take advantage of this to attack your attachment.
And that feels like a threat. Do your memories and emotions count as part of your physical body? Our culture tends to dismiss hurt feelings as a lesser kind of injury, but if a feeling can be understood to be a configuration of chemicals in the brain, then what is the difference between an unkind word and a punch to the face? It's all just the reconfiguring of atoms. I wouldn't play a game that punched me in the face, so why should I play one that makes me jealous and afraid?
Does that mean I never want to lose? Obviously. Yes. Yes.
Does that mean I think games should never try and defeat the player? No. If people never played a game that punched them in the face, boxing wouldn't exist. The risk of being defeated, of losing a thing to which you've formed an attachment, adds a thrill to the experience that can't be easily replicated. I understand that.
It's just that some people are built for thrills and some people aren't. I could never ride a roller-coaster either.
The result is that I wind up having to pit my will against the game. Grit my teeth and just focus on the passage of time. It's a strategy that's taken me through 184 hours of this game. In the end, I like it more than I don't, probably because I win more than I lose. That does take a bit of the sting out of things. It's just a shame I'm committed to this game until the year 1453. So many bad things could happen before then.