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Monday, May 20, 2013

Difficulty Settings and the Hardcore Player

Options. You know what those are, right? Every game has them. Well, most of them do, anyway. You go into the options to adjust the sound, aspect ration and the difficulty of the game, if the game you happen to be playing allows you to do so. That last one has turned into quite the sore spot for some gamers over he years and as much as I hate to bring up gaming classes again, I'm referring to the hardcore gaming crowd.

For a good chunk of the hardcore gaming populace, playing on a difficulty setting other than the default setting or above is shameful. Some have even gone so far as to say playing on easy means you aren't a real gamer (what is a "real gamer," anyway?). Foolish, I know, but I guess some people have just got to prove their superiority one way or another. And what better way to demonstrate one's manliness than by playing the game on normal or higher? Gaming is about proving who has the biggest pair between their legs, isn't it?

Fire Emblem: Awakening has an option that turns off
permanent death for the casual players. Cue fan outcry
in 3... 2...

In all seriousness, there's nothing wrong with playing on higher difficulty settings to give yourself more of a challenge after you've finished the game on the normal setting. It's a great way to extend the game's time spent in your console. And it can be good to challenge yourself. At the same time, why do so many scoff at those that play on easy? It may be hard to understand but not every player is of the same skill level. Easy difficulty settings allow for more accessibility to gamers that may not have given a game a shot otherwise.

When it was announced Mega Man 10 would have an easy mode, fans went ballistic. They thought that it would cheapen the experience and the uproar was so huge that you'd think they forgotten that playing on easy was totally optional. Considering how stupidly hard Mega Man 9 was (many complaints stem from the game's cheap tricks to kill the player), you'd think an option to play on easy would be welcome. But instead, it was viewed as an insult.

You can get hearts to give yourself an extra hit in levels.
Some players didn't like this at first. Then they found out
how brutal a game Donkey Kong Country
Returns was.

Believe it or not, there is ego involvement when it comes to difficulty settings. If you can conquer a game on the default setting or above, you are one of the elite, a member of the BAMF club. Give yourself a pat on the back. Playing on easy? Wuss. Be gone from my sight. See, if other, lesser skilled, *gasp* casual gamers are suddenly allowed to play MY game, it decreases the game's value and my worth as a gamer! No one should be able to play that game but ME! Sad, but there are those out there that do posses this mindset.

The original Final Fantasy was so Nintendo Hard that
many of the ports and remakes balanced things out
to make the game easier. 

I believe I've mentioned them before, but I have two nieces. Nakaia is 8 and Ava is about to turn 6. Despite the huge age gap, they like a lot of the same games Uncle R does, including Mega Man. Since Mega Man 10 has an easy mode, I knew this would be a good starting point for them in the Classic Mega Man action/platforming series. Yes, easy mode removes a lot of the difficulty but you still have to do lots of jumping and shooting. Lives were lost to spikes and Robot Masters, but I did very little to help them as they played. Some gamers actually get offended when others are playing a game they're good at on a lower difficulty and doing well. Me? I couldn't have been happier watching my nieces enjoy Mega Man 10, having a grand old time.

Some games even give you an incentive to play on easy. Contra Rebirth has a total of four playable characters. But if you never touch the easy setting, you won't unlock them all. If you want to unlock Browny, who's diminutive stature is a big plus, you have to complete the game on easy.

Want to unlock Browny on Contra Rebirth?
Finish the game on easy.

There's been much talk that games have gotten easy over the decades to compensate for the wider audience that the medium now enjoys. Back in the day, many games were hard as a means to keep you playing. I can see why people like to brag that they beat games like NES Castlevania and NES Final Fantasy when they were kids, but at the same time, one of the reasons they completed those devilishly hard games is because they were kids. As a child, you have little in the way of responsibility. Playing video games all day was your only job so you could keep playing that insanely hard game even after you failed for the umpteenth time. As an adult, you have a whole lot more on your plate. You don't have nearly as much time to sit down and play games as you used to. I certainly don't.

Playing on easy can also help quicken the pace of a game. When I started up the Mega Man Zero Collection, I initially started playing on the default difficulty as I had finished all four Mega Man Zero Game Boy Advance games years ago. But then I kept dying and was reminded of all the hours it took me to finish those games, hours which also included grinding for crystals to power up my Cyber-Elves. I really didn't want to invest all that time again so I set it one easy and made it through Mega Man Zero 1-3. It was a great way to revisit the Zero series without doing a lot of extra work.

Viewtiful Joe was no cakewalk. It was designed
with old-school players in mind, though many of them
were annoyed that you couldn't save after every level.
Seeing this screen with the option to save was a Godsend. 

I have nothing against learning to play a game that has a set difficulty. I've adapted to many games of this type and have completed them. In some cases, I've gone beyond that and finished games on even higher settings. True, not every game is for everyone but if a game has the option that let's less experienced players enjoy it, why be bothered by it at all? What's wrong with a game catering to all parties? This elitist attitude that many hardcore players holds on easy modes and those that play them isn't doing the industry any favors and they come off as a bunch of snobs.

Lastly, lots of hardcore players like to bemoan easy modes, but in many cases, they are an option. You can still play the game on a normal setting or above. If one is that troubled by the fact that they even exist, then they probably have some deep rooted insecurity issues they need to work out. No one is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to play on that setting and if they are, you might want to consider locking your doors and windows.


Chalgyr Vokel said...

Excellent article - similar to something I wrote about a year ago, and we had many of the same sentiments. Back when I was younge,r and games were shorter and I had fewer to choose from, the only real value in replaying it was to ramp up difficulty or try to do something 'perfect' (like beating Super Mario Bros. in one life, speed runs, etc).

I'm older, my time is a bit scarcer and I have more games to choose from. I would rather not personally spend gobs of time retrying the same hard part over and over again.

Reggie White Jr. said...

I had been thinking of writing this editorial for a good while now but a friend of mine that wrote a similar blog post encouraged me to finally get this one out.

Thanks for dropping by, Chalgyr Vokel!

Melanie~Light said...

Ah, difficulty... It's a habit of mine to always start the game on the easiest-to-second easiest difficulty, just so I can get used to how a game plays. Once I understand the mechanics enough, I'll bump the difficulty to the default or "normal".

That's what made 'Fire Emblem: Awakening' fun for me. I could enjoy the story and the characters without them dropping like flies. The loss of a unit still hurt a ton, so I made sure to alter my strategy. On my second run, it's pretty uncommon for a unit to die.

I was too young (aka only a mere half a cell) to really experience the old school SNES days of gaming, but I can see where you're coming from. But even as a kid, I only cared about how replayable a game was, regardless of difficulty. The hard-mode-or-bust crowd are free to think and play as they want, I want no part of it because that's not what gaming means to me.

Thanks for this. Not many people talk about the difficulty drama in the gaming community like this.