Video games are hard. At least, they used to be. The end screen on a game was a hard fought battle, you against the toughest, most unfair creatures and puzzles the designer could think to throw at you. You had to buy books, read magazines, and scour the playground for tips to beat many of them and even then that wasn’t always enough. In addition to those resources you needed an iron thumb and the reflexes to match.
A couple of floppy disks or a gray cartridge were all you needed for an entire weekend, and by the time it was over you either stood triumphant over the final boss or you watched your parents slip the game back into the return slot at your local video store along with your hopes and dreams. Times were hard, but gamers were harder, and they fought on through glitches and esoteric quest dialog. Maps were hand drawn on graph paper and taped on walls over computer monitors. And most of all, if there was an easy mode, you never used it.
Easy mode. That’s what you put on when your kid brother wants to play, but not you, you’re a real gamer. Yeah, it might make the game easier, but it takes out all the integrity. Does beating the game on easy mode even count? Well, unfortunately, it often does not. Don’t think for a second that shelling out over fifty dollars for a game means that you’re entitled to beat it, quite the contrary.
All facetiousness aside, gaming was a hard earned right in its formative years. Now I’m getting older and easy mode is probably one of the biggest reasons that I’ve been able to continue gaming throughout adulthood. I have a job and school to contend with, so honing my lightning reflexes or memorizing patterns just to beat a game I’m playing aren’t things I generally have a lot of time for. I want to get through the narrative and have a fun time doing it, and grinding levels it not something that I find incredibly fun anymore. The taboo surrounding easy modes still goes on in gaming culture, and it’s something saturated in male bravado and hypermsaculinity.
It seems to me that a lot of people are more concerned with how “hardcore” they look when playing a game than they are with having a good time and enjoying the experience. Granted, there isn’t anything wrong with someone who wants to practice the same stage in a game for hundreds of hours and upload perfect speed runs. It’s precisely this kind of dedication that makes gaming great. No, I’m talking about the guy that spends his days playing a single game and trolling the forums looking to belittle anyone who hasn’t spent thousands of hours developing the same mastery of the game that he has.
In this day of dynamic difficulties, increasingly impressive AI, and radically diverse play styles, you should be allowed to play easy mode without feeling like you’re doing it wrong. There is a certain amount of accomplishment that comes from completing a challenging task, but at a certain point it just feels like bashing your head against a brick wall. Difficulty is a hard thing to nail down. Developers and testers spend months, even years with some games, so it’s hard for them to tell what level of difficulty would be appropriate for a new player.
My girlfriend of four years recently started getting into playing games a bit, and simple things like moving in a 3D space and shoulder buttons still give her trouble. This keeps her from playing the bulk of major games on her Vita that she recently purchased. She seeks out games that are easy enough, and that don’t punish gamers who complete the game on normal. On that same note I always hesitate when purchasing something that is considered difficult. The more recent example is Dark Souls, a game that I adore.
Dark Souls is one of those games that comes along once a generation, and despite the fact that it ignores many years of gameplay innovations, it becomes a hit. The atmosphere and esoteric storyline drew then, as expected, spit and me in me back out. The difficulty was part of the appeal, but in the end it prevented me from finishing the game. After about sixty hours I moved on to other titles that were piling up, and I still look back on Dark Souls wishing I had the time and manual dexterity to go back and finish it. My point here is that I loved the game, and if there was an easy mode then I might have been able to finish it instead of just giving up. No, it might not have been as satisfying as defeating the game’s challenge, but I would have felt better having had a more complete experience.
So to anyone out there that still hesitates on the difficulty selection screen: take the leap, no one’s watching. Bump it down a notch, sit back, and have a good time. It’s easy to forget that games should be enjoyed, and they aren’t always tweaked perfectly to your particular skill level. It’s time that the easy mode taboo is broken, and we all move on to greener pastures.