I’m adding my voice to the growing debate about difficulty and accessibility within games that was spurred by Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
I was hesitant to add to the sea of opinions here—somewhat like peeing in the ocean for someone of my online presence—but I felt like the majority of this conversation is taking place in some of the worst possible places to do so. On social media what you tend to have around issues of this sort are two camps that seem to be completely opposed to one another and happen to be the loudest, most stalwart defenders of their viewpoint. From my experience the main camp of people–a silent majority that has a viewpoint somewhere in the middle—remain quiet and let the two sides duke it out. This leads to a lack of any sort of nuance to the conversation and lets each side further villainize the other for their extremist views.
This happens everywhere, it is the reason my country was splintered in the most recent election, and it is a tiring thing.
So for that reason I’m going to give my two cents on this whole debate. To start let me recap, to the best of my ability, the current conversation as I understand it.
The initial issue was one of having options of different difficulties or concessions to players perhaps not as skilled as the more hardcore among us. For some reason the flashpoint of this was Sekiro—a notoriously difficult game from the developers From Software who have grown in stature specifically because of this kind of game. Considering Dark Souls has predated Sekiro and hasn’t blown up like this before it is a little odd, but maybe not so much when you consider the ways in which Sekiro is more difficult than those games. players that wanted to be included in these game’s world found the game too difficult and wished there was a way for them to experience it alongside these other players.
That leads directly into the other side of things who felt that From Software, or any developer for that matter, shouldn’t have to cater to the whims of a populace. The entire point of games of the genre of the ilk of Dark Souls is the difficulty that they champion–the idea that only those who persevere through terribly difficult challenges will ever complete the experience. The problem comes from the fact that though the more toxic among these voices are, I believe, a minority, they are extraordinarily vocal making them seem more like a majority. These voices espouse an idea that frankly I have grown to detest over the years, this circle of “git gud” gamers who feel the need to gatekeep on a franchise that they claim to love.
So you basically have these two sides duking it out at ever greater fervor, with developers voicing their varied opinions as well—mostly in favor of the more accessible category with selectable difficulties.
Then a new wrinkle was introduced to the debate, one far less nuanced that I imagine most anybody can get on board with—accessibility to play these sorts of games for disabled gamers. Frequently this sort of blends in to the difficulty selection bit, but since so many of us don’t deal with it we tend not to approach the issue with this very important viewpoint in mind.
With the breakdown of the issue out of the way let me explain my opinion on the matter, one that takes both sides into account and allows each some points while ultimately landing on the side that more accessibility is always a good thing. I’m not vane enough to imagine that my opinion matters to anyone a great deal, but I do believe that it is worth addressing for people that may find themselves not entirely grasping a point of either of the screaming sides of the debate.
First off let me say that I completely stand behind a developer’s right to choose how to make their games, and do not feel that they should feel bulled into capitulating to the whims of the public. If From Software wants to make these types of games for this particular niche demographic than it is within their right as artists to do so. The flip side of that then is that the decision to do so will forever block a large populace from accessing their games, which in turn makes them less money. Both of these things must be considered by every developer and weighed against the experience they want to make.
That being said this idea that somehow adding in difficulty levels or customizable sliders somehow waters down the experience is, frankly, nonsense. I’ve gone over this in my head and among peers in as many ways as I can fathom, and I cannot come up with a way that having an easier mode for players in anyway affects the overall experience for someone who desires that ultra-difficult gameplay. In fact I’ve yet to hear a single defense of this from those on the side of the “git gud” camp that makes any sense. Let us break down the most common complaints among them.
By allowing anyone who wants to be able to complete the game it takes away from my achievement.
To this I ask simply how? How does someone playing through on an easy difficulty in any way affect your enjoyment of the experience, or make lesser your achievement in beating the game on the most difficult level you can? In a world of achievements or trophies it is already common practice to lock the full points for those things–or the platinums in Sony’s case—to the most ardent of players that are willing to do whatever it takes. These people are already set apart by those achievements, regardless of the value of them (which ultimately changes from person to person). Even if there were no trophies how does that change, in any way, your accomplishment? Look at the original Contra games—if you made it through that without losing a life, or without using a cheat code you were a legend amongst gamers. The people who played the game with the cheat code in order to make it to the last boss still experienced the game you did, but not at the level you can play. So how does that in any way take away from your experience or accomplishment?
The easy answer? It doesn’t.
It takes away from the developer’s original artistic intent.
Perhaps this is a little more valid of a point than the last, but again I think it is a grasping excuse for people who want to gatekeep their side of things away. Personally I typically play games on normal when there is an option as I feel that is probably the most well balanced mode that the developers spent the most time on. How does someone playing on easy or super hard change my time with the game though? It doesn’t it is just their way to engage with a product, regardless of the intent of the developer.
So would those same people argue that you should only ever see movies in a theater, as that is how many people who make movies intend their movies to be seen? Of course they wouldn’t, not if they are a reasonable individual. I have a family of four, making it to the movies is difficult to coordinate and outrageously expensive. I can afford to go to very few of them, but by renting the movie in my home (which is likely stop and go as it is paused for bathroom breaks or many other interruptions) I can still experience the movie. I can still see the big parts of the latest Marvel movie and talk about it with my friends, without having to go through prohibitive hoops in order to do so.
Imagine if Disney said the next Star Wars film will only be in theaters, it’ll never come to Blu-Ray or DVD. Well then a huge swatch of people who were excited to experience it simply won’t be able to, including myself, because we simply can’t make it to the theater. The outrage here would be the same as if there was outrage in those people asking for a Blu-Ray release of the title.
While this scenario isn’t one to one due to the unique nature of gaming, it is still a valid point. Maybe the developer doesn’t intend their games to be played on the lowest difficulty setting, but someone else doing so doesn’t affect you in the slightest. Let people engage with a game in a way they choose. That isn’t mentioning the fact that people who sometimes play through a game on easy and fall in love often go through on harder difficulties to continue engaging with the game.
To that I respond with my own two words: “Fuck Off.”
Ok, so that was a little bit of a hot take designed to make you gasp a little, an upfront extreme version of the way I feel. I don’t actually feel that all people who land here need to follow those instructions, but there is certainly a subset I ask to feel free to. There is a large version of people who use it as a joke, tongue in cheek. I’m not talking to you in this case, but an entirely other version of gamer.
Let me extrapolate.
Out of the gate I hate that phrase because while some use it as a silly joke, others use it as a pedantic, elitist way to talk down to others. Often you can’t really tell which is which, and the most hardcore on that side of the gate actually mean it in the shittiest way.
I’m not a huge fan of Dark Souls games. I love fantasy settings, even dark ones, and the setting seemed like a slam dunk with me. Before I knew anything about it I was extremely excited to dial in and see what it was about and I started the original Dark Souls with much gusto.
I very quickly lost that after I was handed my ass again and again with often times cheap deaths that were meant to be memorized so they can be passed. In my opinion that isn’t a way to design a game, you should be able to apply skills you’ve earned over a natural sloping difficulty progression to avoid even obstacles you are seeing for the first time. Being skilled or good at a game has very little to do with bashing your head against the same section over and over again until you’ve memorized your way through it. This is typically the gist of what little I’ve experienced of these types of games. Granted, I don’t have much experience with Dark Souls, but I certainly have played a ton of Sekiro and this holds true.
I’m a relatively skilled gamer that plays everything from Celeste to Uncharted 4 and all of the various games within. I’ve never been the best competitive gamer, and I’ll never be the most skilled at a game I play. Like I said, I typically play normal and usually find very few games I can’t finish if I put my mind to it. Occasionally I’ll drop the difficulty to easy if I’m miserable playing the game–typically when the developers have made bullet sponges that can kill you in one hit, but take 17 to kill themselves. I’ve also raised the difficulty to a harder one when I felt like I just wasn’t getting enough pushback and was just walking through the game.
Sekiro has absolutely murdered me at every turn.
A lot of it has to do more with the fact that random named enemies are far more powerful than your character than anything, and replaying a section doesn’t just mean the last 5 minutes, but likely the last 30 minutes to an hour depending on how you play. It becomes more about how much time you have available to bash your head against the game rather than any significant skill. Just because you can put in 100 more hours into a game than another person can does that make you somehow better at a game? I would say no, and allowing someone to beat a game at an easier pace again doesn’t belittle your accomplishment.
Let us imagine that in real life they installed a comfortable elevator to the top of Everest, or that you could fly up there. People start coming the world over so they could experience the wonder and majesty of something like that—strictly policed so that pollution or population wouldn’t ruin the general experience.
Now let us say that you could still push yourself to the limits and challenge yourself to climb the mountain like they did before the elevator. Does that suddenly make anybody who climbed the mountain’s achievement invalid? Does it make you as a person climb up onto the top of the mountain and look at the elevator goers and sneer and say “Git good”? If it does then congratulations, you might be an asshole. See the thing is all of those people might not be like you. Perhaps they always wanted to see the top of the mountain, but they were born with a crippling deformity. Maybe they are older, younger, or a family of people who don’t have the time or money to devote their lives to it. So should they not be able to experience it because you worry it might somehow make you less of a person?
That is obviously a drastically ill proportioned challenge to what we are talking about, but no less of a valid comparison. Why would you want to gate keep a franchise? What good does it take you to stay in your walled garden sneering at the people who can’t play the game, and patting yourselves on the back calling yourself the biggest fans? Real fans want everyone to experience the things they love, they want to share that with others. More people experiencing it means more money for the developers, which means better experiences, which means better gaming for everyone.
That doesn’t even start to touch on disabled gamers where sliders like Celeste, or difficulty choices and concessions for them, allows them to play games they couldn’t hope to otherwise. They might never otherwise get to see beyond Madame Butterfly, and of no fault of their own. They can only “git good” to a certain place before limitations allow them to go no further.
Yes, you can look at a game and say this game isn’t for me and move on. If From Software leans in to their previous approach and doesn’t want to make games with options than that isn’t wrong of them—it is entirely their choice. As it is there are so many games that surely you can find one that resonates with you, and if the grueling difficulty of these games doesn’t appeal to you than there is so much more to play. That is an entirely valid option, and frankly the only one you have if the developer doesn’t want to change it. However, putting people down for asking for options or gatekeeping a franchise because you feel it makes them somehow lesser than you is a very sad existence.
Nobody loses when we make a game more accessible for everyone, be that from parents who don’t have the time to bash their head against a game for hours on end, but still want to see the ending (cough, me with Sekiro, cough) or someone who physically just doesn’t have the motor skills to get through a section of a game. Gaming is a community where a lot of us used to be outcasts, we were made fun of and bullied for the hobby we were so passionate about. That made us back up into a super tight knit group in order to find a community safe from the jeers of the people outside our circle.
Now everyone is realizing the joy of play, and instead of sitting up in our walled gardens and sneering down at them calling them “not real gamers” we should be throwing wide the gates and telling them come look at this cool stuff, you won’t believe how great it is.
So that is my two cents. Let me know if you agree or disagree in the comment below, and if you read this far I truly thank you. If we had some kind of trophy or achievement system you would get an unlock right now. So just imagine that sweet sound effect of your favored system right now, and that warm sense of satisfaction.
And if you didn’t make it to the end? Well then that is ok also. Just for you the TLDR is instead of telling people to “git gud” we should instead be helping them see how wonderful gaming can be by making it easier to experience.