A couple months ago I had a life or death experience. My sons and I were outside playing when we were attacked by an adolescent male deer. (Fortunately, it was an adolescent and not a full grown buck!) I was able to grab it by the antlers and wrestle it to the ground long enough for my kids to run away to safety. I won't bore you with the details, but after a minute (or so) of desperate fighting the deer escaped back into the woods.
So, here's my problem (and my question.) This experience has changed the way I see challenge in games. I now realize how safe most of the challenges in games are. I may be saving the world from a zombie apocalypse, but I'm still just sitting on my couch holding a plastic controller. Now I'm not wanting my Xbox to jump up and try to gore me, I’m just missing that sense of accomplishment that comes from overcoming a real obstacle. Portal 2 came close because I felt SO SMART when I figured things out. It seems like the obstacle in Portal 2 was ME (how I see the test chamber, how I try to use the tools at my disposal.) In most other games the obstacle seems to just be if I'm willing to endure until the end so I can watch the credits roll.
Am I just out of luck, or should I just quit video games and join the rodeo? Is there anything game designers can do? What do you guys think about challenge in games?