It’s Okay to Play it Easy

Hoping a developer includes options and settings to make a more tailored made experience for different types of players is okay. “Gitting gud” is a two-way street. While no one is entitled to finishing a game, I favor game design which encourages different types of players to experience their art. A game that has options for easier modes, boss skips or invulnerability upgrades for less skilled players should be encouraged and not labelled as devaluing.

My Dad is in his 60s and has been playing video games since their creation. Until my mid-teenage years he beat every game before me, specifically he never lets me forget he finished Super Metroid, Halo: CE and Halo 2 before I did. At the announcement of the Commodore 64 mini he went into a long rant about how the Commodore killed the Amiga. He is constantly following video game and tech news, often sending me links before I have had the chance to read the news myself. He currently has a pre-order for the Xbox One X Scorpio Edition. My dad has played a lot of games, and he still plays games. In his older age he has had to play at a reduced difficulty to see games through to the end, and even then his reflexes aren’t quite fast enough to get through some of the areas. He often waits until I am home so he can hand off the controller for me to get him over his hurdle.

My dad is currently chipping away at Uncharted 4 and has had a lot of praise to the difficulty settings, he is playing on “Explorer” or what other Uncharted games might call “Very Easy.” This is mostly because his reaction times aren’t what they used to be, so the parts where he struggles most, aiming and avoiding damage, are alleviated with additional health and aim-assist. He has praised the changes the more recent Uncharted games have made in this regard, and commented on how it lets him focus on the things he loves about the series without getting stuck at a section he deems impossible.

He still fails on these very easy modes, and it’s actually difficult for me to watch sometimes, but the idea that someone playing and enjoying a game on a lesser difficulty, or with added assist somehow devalues or lessens my experience of a playthrough is absolutely ludicrous. Back when I was playing a lot fewer games per year, I would always start a game on the hardest difficulty. Now that I play dozens per year, I typically start with the default, recommended level and if I particularly enjoy a game and have time, I will go back to it to complete every challenge that is offered. I swear I am gonna get around to beating Dead Space 2 on hardcore one of these days… Playing on harder difficulties doesn’t mean I am having a better experience with a game, or that rising to an arbitrary challenge that was literally designed to be completed doesn’t mean I am playing the game “right” and someone who is playing on easy is playing it “wrong.”

The mentality that everyone should “git gud” if they want to be able to experience a game is toxic. If games are even to be considered tangentially as art, then there is no wrong way to experience a game. I personally don’t like using guides for games, try to avoid spoilers and didn’t look up a single solution while playing The Witness but that doesn’t make my methods any more enjoyable than someone who needs a little extra help. Some might say that asking for help when stuck is the smarter option. Instead of getting frustrated, and slamming my head into the problem for hours, maybe I would have more enjoyment looking at a hint, or reading the specific rules of how a puzzle is supposed to work. Just because someone’s skill level is different, or what they appreciate from video games is different doesn’t mean we should praise exclusivity. If anything we should condemn it. The business of game development is just that, a business. If a developer is able to spend the resources to make games more inclusive for players at different skill levels, there is the potential for more sales which can then lead to more development. If we encourage the less skilled players to just “watch a youtube video” of the game, that is potentially a lost sale. If we could instead tell our lesser skilled friends and family to just press: “→ ← ↓ ↑ A B Start” from the pause menu to unlock a boost that will help them play the game, everyone can benefit.

Let’s briefly touch on the topic of Cuphead. I don’t think it’s an insanely challenging game. Sure I die a lot, but that’s how I find the limitations. Cuphead does not feel like it is at the same level of challenge as something like a Super Meat Boy and lacks some of the smart design choices which explain mechanics through playing. Cuphead even has different weapons and abilities, some of which are designed to be used in specific encounters to make bosses easier to overcome. The fact that Studio MDHR included “simple mode” as an option in Cuphead means they had accessibility in mind during development, it’s just a shame that they gate the ending of the game behind a skill wall.

Before I wrap things up let’s get some other world examples. A friend’s dad is very sensitive to torture scenes in movies, if he is going to be watching a movie with a torture scene he first asks my friend, and then won’t watch the movie without skipping the scene. Does that devalue the experience of someone else who can stomach the scene? I enjoy eating spicy foods, I don’t always get the spicy level 10 (look I’m not always that good) but I often order a 6 or above. I might jest with friends who only order at level 1, but I don’t think that they are somehow “eating the food wrong” and shouldn’t be allowed to order lower than a 4…. I am glad they accompanied me to eat some Japanese curry rice, and rejoice in the fact that we can share a similar experience, that is tailored to our own taste.

Instead of excluding people from our preferred form of entertainment, let’s encourage and reward developers who make accessible games so we can see more people enjoying what we already know and love. Get off of your high horse, understand that not everyone has the same skill level as you (you probably aren’t one of the ones good enough to play for a living anyway), stop telling people to ‘gitgud kekeke’ and stop acting like exclusion is a good thing, it’s lazy and you might as well be jumping on a fast-food counter shouting for your meme sauce.