In: Articles by Leah "WhiteGodiva" Haydu27 Feb 2011
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.