I find this to be more of the exception than the rule; Halo 3, Gears of War, Shadow of the Colossus, Ico - these are some of the big names of the last few years, and I finished all of them in less than 6 hours.
The thing about Shadow of the Colossus and Ico is that they were more created for people with Lit majors (like the friend that introduced me to them) than anyone else, who may or may not be into gaming. As such, the challenge was low and the game lasted just long enough to tell the story. Anways, these are more the exception than the rule.
However, I'm getting a bit ahead of myself in my zealous fanboy rush to defend SotC and Ico. The way I see it is that there are multiple types of 'hardcore' gamers, who all have different opinions of difficulty, 'good' gameplay, and storytelling. Different breeds require different blends of each, and while ZehDon and I tend to agree in our preferences, there are plenty of people out there who decide quite differently, as Legacy was quick to point out. As an example, I feel that changing an enemy's health and damage to make the fight difficult is an example of "artificial" difficulty increases. Clever AI, challenging puzzles, and ammo conservation, on the other hand, are more interesting, a source of a real challenge that doesn't feel frustrating, or, quite frankly, stupid. However, the flip side of that coin is that there are many people who feel that this is a perfectly reasonable way to increase a game's challenge, and indeed gimping the AI or removing some puzzles in easier difficulties would serve only to limit the depth of the game for the less-capable crowd. There are also those who find very little place for a puzzle in an action game, and indeed in many games (Gears of War) a difficult puzzle would feel out of place.
[A brief history of the Evolution of Videogames follows, be warned that it slowly devolves into a rant. Please use multiple sources when researching gaming history ]
Back in the olden days of the arcade, a game was designed to be difficult in absolutely any way possible (pleasing the second type of person I described in the previous paragraph), because as soon as you died you had to put in another quarter if you wished to continue playing, hence the term "quarter eater" for a remarkably difficult game. As time moved on, games appeared less and less on arcade machines. Difficulty became less of a necessity, but remained in games because AI was easy to code, games could hold very little information (lasted maybe a few hours), etc.
However, as time went along its merry and irreversable course, games became more complex. AI programming took a sharp difficulty increase with the introduction of 3D and FPS game types. Games became able to hold longer campaigns, multiplayer slowly poked its head into the doorway, and more and more 'casual' gamers entered the mix. However, during the time of the SNES-PS1, gaming was still relatively small compared to other industries, and so difficulty remained moderate.
However, with the advent of the Diablo and Diablo II, we saw a change in the way difficulty could be produced. A game could be stretched into a "super RPG" through the use of long "grind" sessions. Now mind you, Diablo was an amazingly difficult game on the higher difficulty levels (to anyone who's played Hardcore mode, R.I.P. R.I.P. R.I.P. R.I.P. R.I.P. R.I.P. R.I.P. R.I.P. R.I.P.) Many MMO's took the grinding aspect of Diablo and similar games, and used it to replace the actual challenge of combat and weaponization. About this time, the first generation of Hardcore Gamers began to find less and less time for gaming. Enter the next console generation, epitomized by the XBox.
It was with this generation that we found the major cases of what I would like to dub "EA syndrome". That is, large numbers of easy, bad games designed for mass consumption. Part of this was the advent of the casual gamer, part of this was games taking the same difficulty curve as the standard MMO (remember that recent and popular MMO's remained fairly simple until one hit max level and started doing "epic" quests), and part of this was the simply the fact that many games were produced unfinished or badly done, with half baked AI and outrageously bad level design. As these games became more and more normative, particularly for liscensed games or those designed for children, companies that did not care about the quality of their games began to not only limit the amount of skill required to complete the single player campaign (with the added excuse of online multiplayer for many FPS, strategy, etc type games). Sadly, we come to the current console generation with many games that are half baked ripoffs and sequels.
I'm sorry if this sounds a bit bleak, but perhaps that's because the majority of the gaming industry, like the majority of the publishing and film industry, simply doesn't care about quality. If you produce enough, some well-meaning grandparent will buy it. So where does that leave us, the hardcore gamers?
Fortunately, just like blockbuster film crews and good authors, there are good game developers and publishers. Stardock is clearly one of them. Provided we choose games we enjoy, which we feel do not epitomize the threat of the decline of the industry, and shun those which clearly do, we will always have a few good and difficult games which we can lean on. [/end rant]