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The Difficulty discussion: Debunking 5 arguments against hard games

Double Dragon art by Pablo Romero
Ever since Demon Souls burst on to the video game landscape, the idea that video games are too hard started to surface. In fact, whenever a game is perceived as being hard it is often compared to the sequel to Demon Souls, Dark Souls. The X game is the Dark Souls of Y genre is heard so often from mainstream video game journalist that people tune out as soon as that phrase is uttered.

Now, mainstream journalist have said a lot of nonsense in trying to justify their opinions as to why games need to be made easier but it usually boils down to 5 main arguments. I will present the arguments as they have been made then I will go ahead and let you all know why they are completely wrong. In order to write this I had to suffer through several articles on the topic. If you feel up to the task of reading the same garbage I did, or if you are just a masochist, I left the links to them at the end of this article for your perusal. That said, let's jump right into it...

You are entitled to everything a game has to offer
According to many in the mainstream gaming media, the mere act of purchasing a video game entitles you to experiencing everything that video game has to offer. These people even advocate you being able to get a refund if the game is too hard for you to complete. Often times they will pepper their arguments with analogies to buying books or movies. They argue that other forms of media do not have the same barriers to the ending that a video game has and that is "not okay."

In an echo chamber where only positive feedback is allowed this idea has gained a lot of traction. Taken at face value it makes a lot of sense and there seems to be no flaws in the logic. Upon closer examination by someone who doesn't repeat Kotaku talking points, the argument is complete bullshit. Right off the bat the idea that you're buying an experience and not a product is nothing short of pants on your head retarded. Video games are products and the only thing you are guaranteed when buying a video game is a complete, working, video game. In some cases, I'm looking at you Bethesda, you might not even get that. You buy a game, you get a game. Nothing more and nothing less.

Moving on to their analogies, these make absolutely no sense if you take a minute to think about them. Buying a book doesn't put that information into your brain on its own. You still need to read and understand the book. If you buy book on quantum mechanics there is no promise that you have the ability to understand it and as such you might be unable to actually read much of it. The same can be said of movies. Films in foreign languages, sequels, or Adam Sandler comedies are not going to magically beam understanding into your brain. All media has some form of difficulty in regards to your ability to enjoy it and yet only video games are being demanded to be made easier.

Adding an easy mode won't ruin a game
Another often trotted out justification for making games easier or adding in an easy mode is that doing so won't ruin a game. The people who say this are under the delusion that altering code to make an easy mode is only like a half hour of extra work. To these people, playing a video game and watching a video game play itself are identical experiences.

While this argument actually holds some validity, it is built on a flawed premise. That premise being the mainstream games media are the arbiters of what constitutes a "ruined game." You see, extra difficulty modes won't make a game unplayable but they can severely alter the intended experience. Unlike a piece of music that asks you to passively enjoy the experience being played to you, the interactivity between you and the game is the experience in a lot of video games. The purpose of a video game is not to tell a story, like a book or movie would do, but to have you create the story within the confines of the game space provided. Shigeru Miyamoto may have written the key beats in Super Mario Bros. but it is you who, through gameplay, fill in the spaces in between those key beats. Everyone experiences the same movie but video games are unique in that this isn't the case. Each time someone plays Super Mario Bros. they are creating a unique experience through their gameplay. An easy mode could completely ruin this and remove the one truly unique thing about the medium.

Furthermore, adding in an easy mode could have a huge impact on the budget. Obviously the staff would have to sit down and discuss what to alter, remove, or add to a game to make it easier. Then these changes would have to be implemented and tested. Additional bug checking would have to be performed as changing a enemy AI or lowering boss HP could lead to some unexpected errors. This is to say nothing of trying to keep the game balanced and fun. If all this is done while also working on the core game then additional staff may have to be hired.

With some smaller games having a small staff or budgets calculated to the penny, adding an extra mode could be enough to cause them to run over budget and see the game canceled. That is to say nothing of them trying to not miss the release window previously set. Adding an extra mode isn't as simple as flicking on a light switch, no matter what mainstream games media seems to believe. If you believe I am exaggerating, then I implore you to download an RPG Maker demo and create a simple game then go back and add in an easy mode and see how much work it is.

Games should be accessible to those with disabilities
Hard video games are obviously going to be even harder to those with some sort of disability. This is why the mainstream games press implores developers to add in an easy mode. They say it isn't fair that people who want to enjoy a game are unable to do so because of a disability. An easy mode isn't being suggested for the people writing these articles, no it is for all the disabled gamers and if you disagree you are an ableist!

First off, disabled people are not some sort of magical shield from criticism. Putting disabled people into your arguments doesn't suddenly make it right or even intelligent. Disabled people are just people and they want to be treated like people. They do not want to beat Sekiro without actually playing the game as intended they simply want the ability to play the game. Disabled people want accessibility not a participation trophy. Creating new controllers, allowing button mapping, or the ability to alter the UI is all they really want. Disabled gamers are still gamers and they still want to feel like they accomplished something when they beat a game. Trying to use them as an excuse to make games easier is disingenuous and pathetic.

Just allow us to tailor the game to our tastes
This is the stupidest argument the games media has been making lately. You see, they don't want an easy mode, just allow them to alter enemy AI patterns, HP, and puzzle difficulty. In fact, just give players total control over a game's parameters. They say that everyone should have the ability to tailor a game to their unique definition of "easy."

The unmitigated narcissism and arrogance from such a belief is almost too much to not be satirical. However, these people are 100% serious. They want game developers to completely give up control of their game and allow consumers the ability to decide how it should be played. No longer would game developers be able to tell a story through challenging gameplay or puzzles because consumers could erase all of the challenge with the shift of a slider.

This is to say nothing of the cost increase game development would accrue. Everything from my previous point about adding an easy mode would apply and then some. What they are proposing would also increase the workload exponentially. That said, gameplay balance would be completely out the window and no game would ever offer a challenge if such a system became the norm. Now, I know Celeste has done a system like this. However, the gameplay in Celeste felt uneven and incomplete due to this system of tailor made experience.

Companies are losing money by not including an easy mode
The mainstream games media would like video game companies to know they are leaving so much money on the table by not including an easy mode. It is their belief that a huge chunk of the gaming populace would suddenly buy these games if they were easier. That's really all there is to this argument.

This is the hardest thing to debunk because nothing I could say would dissuade this belief. I provide sales numbers for games like Dark Souls and Sekiro and they would argue that those numbers could always be better. Karen playing Candy Crush on her phone desperately wanted to play Bloodborne but the game was just too darn hard!

The only real argument against this that I can give is as follows. Video game companies hire people far more qualified than I to determine how to maximize their profits. If these people felt that the amount of sales would increase in such a dramatic fashion we wouldn't even be having this discussion as easy modes would be in everything. At the end of the day, the suits in charge looking to line their pockets with fat stacks probably have a better handle on what would and wouldn't increase sales. Unless they are the Battlefield V marketing team. Those guys were way off on that one.

The real reason why people want an easy mode
If you made it this far you probably have an idea why mainstream games media has been calling for an easy mode. No, it isn't because games journalist suck at video games. Whoa, put the pitchforks down and put out your torches. I mean, yeah they suck at video games but that isn't the reason they want an easy mode. You see, they want an easy mode to be cool. Most, if not all, articles on the subject of an easy will include phrases like "gate keeping" and "special club of people who beat X game." That's their tell, the mask slipping off just a little bit.

Mainstream games media want to be part of the exclusive cool kids club without having to put in the work. They want the ass pats you receive for beating Dark Souls without having to "git gud." No matter how many E3s they attend, review codes they receive, or famous developers they hob knob with they can't stand that you can do something they can't. Gamers are part of a special group they will never be a part of and it kills them.

These people are the little brothers forced upon older siblings, the weird cousin you had to invite to your party, and the kid you were forced to partner up with in school because no one else wanted to all wrapped into one entitled package. They demand an easy mode because it is far easier to drag you down to their level then for them to learn how to rise to yours.

Articles I suffered through so you don't have to!

Why all games should have an easy mode

An Easy Mode Has Never Ruined A Game

It’s not about easy mode: FromSoftware and the question of video game difficulty

Talking Point: Should All Games Have an Easy Mode?

Every game should copy Death Stranding’s “Very Easy Mode”

Forget easy mode. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice needs an equal mode