Off-Stream: Difficulty in Gaming

Off-Stream: Difficulty in Gaming
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A brief opinion on the discussion behind ‘easy mode’

Earlier this morning, I was having a discussion with someone regarding the recent uproar over Star Fox Zero. The developers announced that the newest entry in the Star Fox series would have an easier difficulty mode added to the game. By no means will anyone playing this game be required to experience this mode — it’s merely an addition meant to increase the accessibility of the game, complementing more difficult modes of gameplay.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped people from deciding that the addition of an easier difficulty mode somehow cheapens the experience for everyone else.

The person I was discussing this with was playing devil’s advocate, arguing that those who are upset view such additions as diminishing their own achievement in completing the game. In making this argument, the person used an analogy of climbing Mount Everest:

Not achievements in the gaming sense. But achievement in the real sense, something accomplished that is considered hard. I climbed mount Everest by foot. Now there is a gondola that takes you up. The exclusivity of climbing mount Everest would have just disappeared if that was true. Which would have nullified my status from my achievement. The distinction that climbing by foot is still hard makes no difference in the sense that now everyone can just reach the top, the fact that one achieved it by walking becomes less of an achievement and more of a inefficiency or arrogance indicator.

I don’t really buy that. Climbing Everest has never been, in my experience, what people view as arrogance. What people view as arrogance are the ones who say they climbed everest but did it in a gondola or had all of the hard work for them done by trained professionals and they were basically along for the ride.

Someone doing it that way doesn’t nullify the achievement, because the achievement has and always will be climbing mount Everest yourself.

Similarly, the achievement really hasn’t been to just beat the game. It’s always, as long as I can remember, included qualifiers. “I beat the game on easy” and “I beat the game on hard”. The only times it’s about just beating the game are in the games where you don’t have those differences in difficulty, and even then the achievement becomes “I beat the game without using X” or “I beat the game and abused Y mechanic”.

Outside of arcade games or games like I mentioned without difficulty levels, I can’t think of any time a discussion has been solely about getting to the end of the game being the accomplishment. And that’s because modes of difficulty have existed for decades, at least since the technology allowed enough memory to write in the ability to change difficulty.

I mean, does anyone really, truly get mad that they got to the end of Metal Gear Solid on hard and someone else got there on easy? The vast majority of games are all about the characters and story experience anymore, and in fact have been for quite some time.

So why would they suddenly feel that difficulty options remove their achievement when the achievement has never been about just simply beating the game (again, with the exceptions outlined above), but beating the game in challenging ways?

I really, truly don’t think it’s that they feel their achievement is being diminished by inclusiveness. I think it’s just a continuation of the idea that gaming is unique and only for them, and these options might mean someone else can call themselves a gamer when the person getting angry has a very specific definition of what a gamer is and doesn’t want to share.

And that’s different from an achievement being diminished, in my opinion. Because they’re not really caring about someone beating the game. Nobody cares about beating the game. They care about someone enjoying the game but not enjoying it in the exact same way that they enjoyed it, thus not falling into that definition that they’ve created of what a True Gamer™ is.

And viewing it from that angle, it’s just the same thing that happens in every other group. You’ve got people who don’t like that other people might be a fan of a story because the first people read the book and the others might’ve only seen the movie/tv show. Those people liking the story doesn’t cheapen the “achievement” of reading the book, and that’s not really what the person is saying when they’re angry, they’re saying that nobody should be allowed to call themselves a fan unless they’ve enjoyed it the specific way they did.

Comic books, too. Oh, you like the Marvel Cinematic Universe? But you’re not a true fan unless you’ve read every single issue since the Avengers first debuted.

Anime. Oh, you like One Punch Man? But you can’t possibly understand all of its references unless you’ve seen all of these imports in their original language with subbing.

And the thing you’ll notice is that in each of these groups, there will be more and more exclusive grouping occurring. The one punch man fan can bring up they’ve seen 100 other anime, but if they aren’t the specific anime the gatekeeper has seen then they’re still not a true fan. The Avengers fan can bring up that they’ve read thousands upon thousands of comic books, but if they haven’t read the specific ones the gatekeeper wants them too, they’re not a true fan. The ASOIAF fan can mention they’ve actually read all the books, but if they didn’t read them before the show, they’re not a true fan.

And video gaming is the same way. You’re not a true fan if you didn’t beat the game this way. Oh, you did? But you didn’t do it like this. Oh, you did? Well you didn’t do it at this time and date so you’re not a true fan.

Just look at the Final Fantasy fandom and how each person’s personal Final Fantasy is the one true Final Fantasy and anyone else is a fake fan.

The “you beat the game on easy and that cheapens my achievement” argument is just an extension of all that. Their achievement isn’t cheapened, and in fact they could encourage the people who beat it on easy to try harder difficulties, maybe even help them out with suggestions and stuff so they can get to their level of achievement.

But they don’t. and that’s because it’s not about the achievement, it’s about trying to define yourself by something and being mad that others might define themselves in a similar way even if there are massive differences. It’s about keeping people out, and wanting to feel special.

And the fact is, that specialness really hasn’t ever been all that special. They generally don’t put challenges in a game unless play testing shows people can actually overcome them. They don’t put Dante Must Die in Devil May Cry games without checking that people can be expected to finish all the missions in that mode.

Dark Souls is just another example. For every person who talks about how the games are so Nintendo Hard and brutal, someone else points out that the games really aren’t that hard and the difficulty is overhyped.

That means that whatever special thing they’re gatekeeping about, there are a million or more other gamers who accomplished that same thing and it wasn’t all that difficult, wasn’t something they defined themselves by, and just isn’t that much of an achievement.

So when they make the argument that an easy mode nullifies the achievement of beating a game, what they’re really saying is they just don’t want other people playing this game because then they can’t pretend like this game is some obscure thing only they know about. They can’t pretend that gaming is an elite thing only special people do, at a higher elevated status than others.

Their achievement isn’t being diminished, but their ability to pretend they’re elite by doing something difficult plenty of other people have done without acting elite very much is being diminished. People will still think it’s cool they beat a game on hard. And they need to figure that out. but people won’t think that just beating a game is cool, and they generally never have, except for the people who defined themselves by just beating a game, which has never been anything to write home about to begin with (except for very specific games, some of which still had difficulty levels in them).

Does any of that make sense?

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