Does Easy Mode Make You Not a Real Gamer?

In: Articles by Leah "WhiteGodiva" Haydu

27 Feb 2011

I finished Dead Space 2 a few days ago, but I had to turn the difficulty down to easy to do it.

Now, reading this sentence has likely elicited one of two reactions from you: Either you have gasped in horror at my stunning lack of skill and are currently composing a response featuring gratuitous use of the caps lock key and/or the “word” “suxx0rz,” or you admire my forthrightness in raising the issue of stigma attached to difficulty levels in games, which continues to plague gamer society.

Well, perhaps those reactions would be a bit extreme, but I think you get the general idea. I’m hardly the first person to address this situation, and I won’t be the last, but I think it’s really important to recognize that, whether a game gives you a choice in difficulty or not — and what level of challenge you choose to undertake if it does — shouldn’t have any bearing on who can be considered a “true” gamer, nor on what games we choose to play.

This is supposed to be a fun activity, remember? It’s something we do to relax, or to interact with friends, or simply to entertain ourselves — even those lucky enough to make gaming their living presumably got into it in the first place because of a love of the medium. Sometimes we tend to lose sight of that, though, and a bizarre sort of peer pressure starts to take hold, absorbing society’s need to take everything to the extreme and manifesting it as mockery for those who might not be “the best of the best.”

The whole reason I started thinking about this was a conversation I had with a friend last night about what games we’d been playing recently. I mentioned my difficulty swap at the end of Dead Space 2, and he responded with an incredulous stare and a somewhat condescending, “Really?”

It’s not just the players who trivialize the efforts of anyone who dares to choose Easy Mode — game developers share plenty of the blame. The name itself has some pretty negative connotations to start with. It’s almost as if we’re being told, “Listen, this is as low as we can go. If you can’t make it through with all these handicaps we’re throwing you, then you should probably just go live in a cave and play games with sticks and rocks, because you probably shouldn’t be handling electronics. You could hurt yourself.”

It’s even worse when the next level up has a name such as “Normal” or “Regular,” because that implies that anything else is not normal. If you play up a level, then you’re better than normal, certainly, but if you play a level down? There must be something wrong with you.

I’m really just nitpicking about the names, but the descriptions that occasionally accompany them can be even worse. In Halo 3, for instance: “Laugh as helpless victims flee in terror from their inevitable slaughter. The game basically plays itself.” If that’s not mockery, I don’t know what is.

In addition, some games (such as the aforementioned Halo 3) don’t allow you to unlock achievements or trophies if you play on the easiest difficulty. I was only just starting to get into shooters when I played Halo 3, so my Easy Mode playthrough, though still pretty challenging for me at that level, left absolutely no mark on my profile, which is kind of sad.

With peers and developers alike seemingly stacked against those who choose Easy Mode, it hardly seems surprising that we frequently even put pressure on ourselves not to resort to it. I spent at least an hour trying and retrying the fight in Dead Space 2 that had me stuck before giving up and knocking down the difficulty because I just felt like I should be able to do it (it also probably didn’t help that I didn’t know you could change difficulty mid-game, but it took that long before I would even check). When I had the aforementioned discussion with my friend, I immediately tried to justify my decision to lessen his disapproval, explaining that I got there without any ammo or health packs, and that the positioning of the checkpoints made it impossible for me to go back and get more, and so on.

I felt it necessary to do this, even though I didn’t really need to explain myself at all.

An interesting side effect of this conversation, by the way, was that it led to me starting Demon’s Souls last night — a game that has been sitting on my shelf, unplayed, since I bought it because the tales I’ve heard of its brutality have scared me off. (I’m not doing so well, but that’s a story for another time.)

I don’t expect that people are magically going to accept that Easy Mode is just as valid as anything else, and that all of these problems will be fixed. All I want is for gamers to remember why they do this in the first place. If you get your kicks from giving yourself a challenge, then challenge away!  If you just want to chill out and enjoy the ride, though, don’t be afraid to crank it down a notch. As for me, I’ll be dying in Boletaria for a while.

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12 Responses to Does Easy Mode Make You Not a Real Gamer?

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kaliel2000

February 27th, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Great story! Well Said.

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Miguel "DaddyGamer" Gonzaga

February 27th, 2011 at 1:20 pm

You got to do the easy mode the first time you jump into the game to get your bearings. This is a must-do on a game like Demon Souls, one of the favorite games. D-Souls is set up to kick your ass and laugh at your while your quiver in fear. Now… if you finish the game in Easy Mode… that’s kinda lame.

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Eric Kellor

February 27th, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Not at all, but its definitely the way someone chooses easy that I feel would affect their so-called ‘gamer’ title. I’m fine with someone changing difficulty if they genuinely feel the difficulty is ruining their experience; that I’m fine with it. What I’m not is however is a.) starting out with easy without at least first trying normal first and b.) switching to easy to overcome ‘one’ part/section. a.) shows a complete disinterest for any sort of challenge and b.) feels basically like a cheat code.

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Tom Ato

February 27th, 2011 at 1:59 pm

I can usually finish games on either the Normal or Hard difficulty settings. The only time I had to bump a game down to Easy mode was God Of War, for some reason I found those games impossibly hard.

There’s nothing wrong with knocking down the difficulty if you genuinely get stuck during the game. However if you’re one of those people that plays every game on easy mode just so you can quickly run through and say “Finished” then no, you’re not a real gamer.

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D

February 27th, 2011 at 2:36 pm

I beat everything on the hardest setting, everything. But I don’t think playing games on the easiest setting makes anyone less of a gamer, as long as they are honest about it.

Easy-moders tend to announce how easy games were for them, without mentioning that they only play them on easy.

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Jake

February 27th, 2011 at 2:40 pm

I’ve completed many games on the hardest difficulties, and i consider myself to be a fairly accomplished gamer, but i always start on easy to get my bearings and enjoy the story, and thats why i think mass effect 2′s difficulty setting is a brilliant example of how a game should be, it has the brutally difficult insane difficulty for the challenge and the casual mode for people ‘who want to enjoy the story’.

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Codebeard

February 27th, 2011 at 3:42 pm

I play my games on Normal first time through, and if I like the game enough, I’ll play it on a harder difficulty. Dead Space 2 happens to be one of those games. Did Zealot on New Game+ and am going to attempt to do a Hard core run. But that’s just how I play, as long as you enjoy the game, that’s all that should matter.

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Sean

February 27th, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Your mention of the Normal setting implying that what Goalie calls “Puss-mode” is abnormal made me wonder if the other extreme, i.e. the “OMMFG Impossible Death Orgy” mode in many games were ALSO abnormal in their own right.

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Jazz

February 27th, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Amazed there’s no mention of Ninja Gaiden (and its Ninja Dog Mode) anywhere on this page. Or the Devil May Cry 3 debacle, come to that.

I’d also like to second Jake’s comment about Mass Effect 2. Which is also the only time I’ve ever ‘cheevo-whored to get the “hardest difficulty” achievement. The only frustration was the planet Horizon; the rest was very hard, certainly, but also fair and doable. I’ve played it through on Casual as well, and it was a complete cakewalk but didn’t lock anything away from the player. They got it absolutely right.

I play most games just on Normal, but I tend to drop Elder Scrolls games down to as easy as they’ll go, because I just want to get lost in their worlds and not care about a challenge. Didn’t do that with Fallouts 3 or NV, oddly enough. But I’ll still happily play a rock-hard shmup like Ikaruga or Gradius V. My difficulty preference seems to just be based on what I expect/want to get out of the game in question.

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Leah "WhiteGodiva" Haydu

February 28th, 2011 at 8:07 am

@Sean: Exactly. “Abnormal” isn’t a specifically negative term, it’s just usually taken that way. Higher difficulties are just as “abnormal” as lower ones, they’re just generally considered more acceptable.

@Jazz: I’ve actually never played Ninja Gaiden, largely because I hear it will kill you. In real life.

I don’t ever see a problem with playing on a high level of difficulty any more than I see a problem with playing on a low one, as long as there’s a reason for doing so beyond feeling that you HAVE to in order to maintain your “status”; it doesn’t have to be a reason other than that it’s what you enjoy, either. Just so long as there is one.

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Sean

February 28th, 2011 at 9:36 am

Bottom line: Friends who judge me based on how I play my own games, especially in single player, don’t deserve to remain my friends very long.

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Darn Ragnar

February 28th, 2011 at 10:53 pm

It varies by game for me. If it is a story driven game I will play it on easy. I just want to enjoy the experience. Otherwise I will play on normal or hard. But the best challenge comes from competing against friends not the game.

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