I covered most of what I’d want to say about the latest Gamemaker’s Toolkit that covers that old thorny Should Game [X] Have An Easier Difficulty Mode? issue in the last piece I wrote on the subject.
Here’s the video before we go on (and up front, I’m a big fan of The Gamemaker’s Toolkit normally – just this one is a family fortunes buzzer and a bit)
What grated on me was an aside towards the end, brief but it certainly puts how people tend to view access issues under a lens.
No-one is doing this.
Folks aren’t saying ‘I don’t want a challenge’, they’re saying ‘my abilities are not the same as yours so what you find a challenge, I find insurmountable’. What they’re asking for here, more often than not, is the chance to get the same thing we do from the videogame. Because unless we’re talking tourist modes, there will still be frustration, there will still be hours spent cussing and cursing at the screen, it is still difficult. They’re not asking for a free pass, they’re not coming to take away videogames, remove all the challenge from them or anything else as ridiculous as that.
They’re saying “Look, I realise that you’re fully able to push these buttons at this speed, in this order and all that jazz. I don’t want to summon 5 people to play the game for me, I want the difficulty lowered because even when lowered – it’s fucking hard for me but I’d like a go, please, thanks, if that’s OK” but we’re so, so quick to shut that down and ignore it in favour of thinking, naw, they just want an easy ride because if these options were in there for us, we would find they made the game easier.
So this, really, is about looking outside of our own abilities, our own capabilities. It’s about having some empathy for other people and understanding they don’t have the abilities we do, they can’t just practice and get better either. That’s not really how it works for most people. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, over and over, these people are not experiencing the game as the designer intended from the off – unless the designer intended that their game should be too difficult for people to ever play ever ever. These affordances are so other people can experience the intent of the designer on a fairer playing field.
But of course, this is videogames and a lot of the time, access options will change how the game works at a fundamental level. But so will a lot of tweaks, y’know? If they included an ‘even fucking harder’ mode tomorrow, no-one would bat an eyelid even though that too would fundamentally change how the game works. But this is where we are. No-one would be making 50 videos of ‘should Dark Souls have an even harder mode’ or writing a gazillion thinkpieces or comments because they’d just ignore it or go ‘fuck that, no thanks’. Yet there’s something about people asking to be included that sets off this gut response from people in videogames and no, I still don’t get it and I’ve been fighting this for over ten years now. I don’t even think it’s intentional, it’s just so ingrained into games now that it just blurts out, unthinkingly.
There is, of course, another point I think is worth making before I shut up about this again. If more videogames were designed with including difficulty levels in mind, there’d be less of a need for large companies to try and drag games to some perceived middle ground of difficulty because they’d cater, by default, to a larger pool of player abilities. So all that ‘dumbing down’ of videogames that some corners of videogames are so afraid of happening can be neatly avoided. Obviously, this being videogames nothing is ever neatly avoided but you know, worth a go, right?
But anyway, yeah, no-one is coming for our challenging videogames, no-one is saying ‘oh no, challenge is bad’ or wanting it taken away or undervaluing its importance in videogames. They’re just asking for a fairer shake of the dice. Maybe if we spent more time thinking ways they could have that instead of a thousand reasons why they can never have it here, everyone would be better off y’know?