Nothing haunts me more than thinking back to the first video game I ever completed. I’d spent days – weeks even – finishing each level, with hopes that I’d beaten the game soon, only to find myself having to backtrack and repeat the level with a different character. And then I’d have to do it again. And again. Just to collect all those damn bananas.
In all fairness, despite it’s annoying repetition, Donkey Kong 64 was an enjoyable game. The sound track, including the “DK Rap”, might be drilled into my brain forever, and I still see the poorly animated 3D bananas in my dreams; but having completed a game that at times felt impossible to finish still gives me a sense of accomplishment to this day. And this feeling of relief and pride after having finished a difficult journey is often what a lot of players long for, and what keeps them lured into wanting to finish a game. Even if that means replaying the same level you just completed as Diddy Kong, and then doing it again as Tiny Kong.
However, what if I hadn’t been able to stick it out? What if the difficulty of the game and the frustration it caused meant I was never able to finish it? As a consumer, am I entitled to see the ending of a game simply because I paid for it?
In my opinion… not really.
Let me explain why.
This discussion follows the controversy surrounding the recently released action-adventure game Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, with many claiming that the game is too hard, making it almost impossible to beat. This uproar has resulted in a heated debate amongst the gaming community, with many calling for not only this title, but for most or all future releases to include some form of “easy mode”.
The issue with this, is that some games are designed to be difficult. Skilled-based games such as Sekiro tend to attract players that pride themselves on their ability to beat games that are hard. This pride stems from results garnered through numerous failed attempts, followed by the ability to eventually beat the game through persistence and determination. Like most, these types of games have the player encounter some type of difficult situation. If the player fails, they will have to try again, each time gaining more knowledge and skill until they are better at the game, and can overcome it. Which is pretty much the point in playing video games in the first place, right?
So far, the President and Director of FromSoftware, Hidetaka Miyazaki, has stood his ground on the company’s decision to not introduce an easy mode to Sekiro.
“We don’t want to include a difficulty selection because we want to bring everyone to the same level of discussion and the same level of enjoyment. So we want everyone to first face that challenge and overcome it in some way that suits them as a player”.
What many don’t realise is that even games without a typical difficulty selection slider might still have varying degrees of difficulty – meaning it may not actually be as difficult as you think. In fact, you may have been playing on an “easy mode” without even realising it.
Okay, maybe not “easy mode”, but “easier mode”.
Many games implement some form of difficulty adjustment that considers how a player is performing and makes slight changes to the game in their favour. Changes such as slowing down obstacles or making enemies slightly less aggressive are the game developers way of throwing you a bone to ensure you can eventually progress to the next level or chapter of the story. The adjustments occur in ways that are almost unnoticeable, and are designed to assist weaker players without changing the game for better ones.
This adjustment system can be exemplified through a wide variety games – in Bioshock, the first shot from an enemy is designed to always miss you. In Crash Bandicoot, they’d slow down the boulder if that was causing your demise. In Silent Hill, enemy numbers would be lessened depending on your ability to defeat them. In each case, the system is in place in order to ensure that each player is able to succeed, regardless of their level of skill. The game itself – as in, the storyline or the enemies versed – doesn’t change, but the game can now be enjoyed by more people.
While it can be argued that using an easy mode also doesn’t inherently change the game, to me, it changes the purpose of playing the game; it may change what developers were attempting to create when making the game. And it can be used to cheat by those who don’t really need an easy mode.
Is this enough to warrant that not all games have to include an easy mode?
I think so.
Regardless, even games without some form of easy mode tend to offer accessibility options within the settings, which can be used by anyone at any time. Options such as adding infinite lives or the ability to cloak while sneaking are in place to ensure anyone can finish the game, regardless of level of skill, on top of an already built-in difficulty adjustment system.
Either way, video games are created to be fun. So whether you play on hard, normal, or easy, don’t forget to have fun while doing it.