A "filthy casuals" thoughts on the EASY vs HARD debate in games
Last night I watched both Smokaloke and ExcessiveProfanity on Twitch discuss what I believe is this article about difficulty in games especially related, of course, to From Software games and the latest Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Then this morning over breakfast I watched MANvsGAME discuss the same topic.
Should games always have an easy mode?
Of course these are hardcore gamers and I encourage you to go straight to the source if you want to know their thoughts on the topic, but I felt that this was something I actually had some insight into as one of these “filthy casuals” mentioned in the article.
I have been playing games since I first got a Sinclair Spectrum (48K!) back in the days. I didn’t start to really love playing games until I was introduced to Final Fantasy VIII, and my first real obsession was FFX. I still play that game regularly, but I’ve always been a casual gamer. I pick up a game here and there, when there is time and as a writer I find it to be one of my resources. Games can teach you a lot about storytelling, atmosphere and character building when done right and it’s a delight when that’s the case.
I always use the “normal” difficulty setting, or if I suspect the game is hard I’ll choose easy. One of my favorite games ever was Witcher 3 - and that I played on normal, but shifted down to easy when going got tough.
And I’m not ashamed of that. I am in this for the atmosphere, for the story and for the overall experience and it made sense at the time.
So for years I’ve been staying away from the Dark Souls games simply because they are hard, despite knowing that the atmosphere and story was right up my alley. I have friends who are much better gamers than I am, dedicated gamers, who all told me that these games are not just hard, but really HARD. And so even knowing that the story and atmosphere would be just right for me I stayed away because why spend the money when I know I’m not going to be able to play it?
Then my life changed and suddenly I had a little more time on my hands. And one day (I honestly don’t know what got into me) I went to the store and I bought Dark Souls 3 on a whim. Even after having given up on Nioh (A team ninja game) because it was too hard, perhaps that wasn’t my thing either...
I hadn’t seen any playthroughs of Dark Souls 3 - never saw any trailers....
And then this:
You start the game in a cemetery. You are dead. And suddenly you are in this strange, ashen world. A nobody.
And I was sold.
(I would do anything to be a part of the writing team that conjured this game into being! They have my utmost respect, the entire team does.)
I was already in it for the long run. No matter how hard this was going to get I felt I had to experience this and during the initial anticipation the thought occurred to me: - ”an easy mode would be good” or maybe a good old-fashioned DOOM cheat?
And then I met Ludex Gundyr - the “training boss” and I realised - this IS hard. But I decided that I would, at the very least, beat that first boss. I would get through him and then decide if the experience was worth it.
And as I stood on that cliff - after more tries than I care to admit - I felt something I have never ever experienced in a video game before, and I can’t even put it into words. I won’t try. If you’ve been there - you know - if you haven’t? I truly hope you’ll get there because it is SO worth it. (It doesn’t have to be a game, but it can be which is the beauty of it). Every item, every bonfire, every progress in this game is earned through blood, sweat and tears, and you feel great when you succeed. Even if it’s something you know you won’t use, - you still feel the joy. I have never in a game been happier to receive a new weapon, or to see a new area, anything new really. Usually in games the items are just there, you find them, you shrug and move on.
In this game you feel like dancing every time you get or see something new, every new benefit is a joy. Whatever it is! And the milieu is just astounding.
And no - you cannot get that feeling if there’s an EASY mode. I’m not a fan of the “git gud” mentality - it’s essentially often said in a condescending tone and half the time we “filthy casuals” don’t have the time to GIT GUD (I could write an entire article just on this damned term!).
So do all games need an easy mode?
Let me tell you a different experience I had recently.
Me and my daughter were lazing on a Saturday morning watching MANvsGAME (my latest Twitch obsession) play TRIALS RISING. It’s a game I’d never play myself (no story), but the kid watched fascinated.
“This looks hard,” she said and then a while later, “And he just sits there and he does the same jump over and over and over again until he manages and then he’s on to the next impossible jump”. And I saw something in her eyes - a lesson (I only realised afterwards) that can’t be taught by saying the words, but has to be experienced somehow. “And he hasn’t thrown the controller ones...” she went on.
The effect wasn’t immediate. But lately we’ve been playing Hollow Knight and when going got tough she would hand me the controller and ask me to do it. I beat some bosses for her until one day, after that TRIALS morning, she was struggling with the SOUL MASTER boss and when I asked her if I should learn that boss and beat it for her she shook her head - went back into the bossroom and fought the boss until she beat him herself.
And she was so very proud. And she should be. I still haven’t taken him down. But then I’m still stuck on Aldrich, The Devourer of Gods and that bastard is my top priority.
It’s a lesson we learn. That if you stick with it and practice long enough you will succeed. I’ve tried to teach her this - “if you keep on trying to play the guitar, try to learn, then you’ll succeed in the end, but it takes practice and it takes time,” and she’d spend ten minutes doing something and then say:
“I can’t do this. It’s too hard”.
But she could. And she did. And it is hard, but that’s why it feels so good to be able to do it. And now she knows. But it's a lesson you don't learn if you have the possibility of an "easy" mode.
You don’t get that feeling of accomplishment often in life. There are a few good moments, but that’s all - but after beating Ludex Gundyr I felt that - “Hey, I can do this” sensation. Which I would never have experienced if there had been an easy mode. I wouldn’t have tried, not more than a couple of times anyway. This is the actual gaming aspect of the experience of a computer game, one I’ve usually neglected. And that’s ok. But you shouldn’t take away the possibility of this experience just because there are people who don’t have the time, or the ability, for whateve reason, to do it.
Stop trying to make everything easy and start teaching people that real skills are valuable. Computer games are a great way to teach that! And we can’t all play the guitar, but I bet that those who have stuck with it and can play FEAR OF THE DARK felt great when it finally sat.
If you’re just in it for the story then support those who are making interactive movies or buy the games that are of the correct difficulty. It’s the “beauty” of capitalism, you get to support what you like. But don’t demand something that will deprive people of this wonderful experience just because you feel it’s too hard, or that it’s not for you. You wouldn't ask James Joyce to make ULYSSES shorter, or more comprehensible, just because you don't have the time, or will, to read it so don't demand this of these aritsts.
Would I have continued to play Dark Souls 3 had the story not been so up my alley? The atmosphere so immersing and so extraordinary? Probably not - but that’s the beauty of it. It makes it all the more enjoyable and the game being hard is a big part of that.
There is an additional point in the debate of EASY vs HARD and that has to do with people with disabilities. And I do not speak with any authority on that subject, but the people I have known who have had disabilities have usually been the people who know all about overcoming difficulties. They have been people to look up to and I won’t pretend to know their view on this topic, but something tells me that many of them would frown upon the “easy” debate and ask that you provide the means for everyone to be able to play the game instead, and the means to become better at it. Make controllers especially for the disabled, make UI that works better - provide whatever tools are needed for them to be able to enjoy the experience, but to make it easier? Somehow I doubt that would be their first thought on this - please correct me if I’m wrong.
So from this “filthy casual” to FROM SOFTWARE - Please keep conjuring up these amazing worlds, keep on telling these amazing stories and please don’t go easy on us.