On Easy Modes
Originally published April 29, 2016
The link at the end of this post is an excellent piece on Dark Souls, and in particular about game experience. To me, the real underlying issue when it comes to experience for gamers is offering choice. I don’t think it holds weight to say “you must only play the game in one way and one way alone”; I think successful games offer the ability for gamers of all different flavors/preferences to be able to play and enjoy it.
I’ve never played a Dark Souls game, I’ve only watched. And the reason I watch is because the story is compelling, the art is extraordinary, and I know that if I play it I’ll miss all of that because I’ll be running around in fight/flight mode worried about shit trying to kill me.
In recent games that I’ve played (and old ones), there isn’t just a difficulty level setting, there’s also the ability to grind/overlevel before getting to the next big thing trying to kill you (even with scaling, you can overlevel — it’s rad). For someone like me, who loves story, sidequests, and really getting comfortable and exploring every little nook and cranny in a game (100-percenter, through and through), that’s important. I love a good challenge, but if it’s interfering with my patience/energy to get to the story, I’m more likely to just punt and play something else. I’ve gotten my ass handed to me by many a boss, but I know that after around 5 rounds I’m officially no longer enjoying the game, and irritated because I want to progress the story. There comes a point for me when a challenge is no longer a challenge, but a chore, and an onerous one that I couldn’t give a shit about.
Additionally, I don’t just blast through games either; I’m not playing to speedrun. I still feel a sense of “what? why???” when I think about people I’ve known who boasted with pride about beating DA:I in 60 hours. To me, it’s like “why the eff did you even bother playing the game?” Blasting through like that (outside of speedrunners, who are deliberately exploiting glitches and have speedrunning as their primary purpose before they even boot up) feels almost disrespectful to me because of the time and work that went into the creation of all the nifty little things the developers put into the game.
However, I’m not judging that; I’m just putting forth how and why I play out there. Love getting beat up repeatedly and the insane, addictive thrill that comes from finally beating that boss after the 50th time getting killed? Awesome! Love speedrunning or just punching through the story, and uninterested in the small side stories and fetch quests? Rock on, You. Play on Nightmare or Survival mode? Kill it!
I think this really just boils down to choice; it’s the same argument when it comes to character, gender, and sexuality depictions. Let players have options, and you broaden your player base (and your bottom line). It’s okay to want to play in easy mode, and it’s okay to want to punch through main storylines, and it’s okay to want to dress your Bloodborne character without a shirt but with beast claws so you can play “Wolverine style”. It’s okay to love fanservice-y JRPGS (c’mon, they’re hilarious) and Lara Croft’s newest iteration and Dorian’s battle with coming out to his family in Tevinter and the darkness of Binding of Isaac and the genius stupidity art of Soda Drinker Pro.
So I can’t totally agree with the three critics discussed in this article, because I don’t totally agree with there being only one “right” way to play a game. The games that From Software creates have very rich storylines, aren’t entirely revolving around combat, and there’s a lot of room for explorer/discovery-types like myself, as well as everyone else. The “right way” is the way you play, whatever that is.