Easy modes don’t ruin games

Unless you don't like inclusivity

For some reason the inclusion of different difficulty modes in games seems to be a point of contention for some players and even some developers. I remember reading an interview a few years ago with Assassin’s Creed designer Alex Hutchinson who disparaged the idea of easy modes in games, claiming it ruined many games. There are games which scoff at players for daring to play on low difficult settings. For example, Wolfenstein’s easiest difficulty setting was called “Can I play, daddy?” and was supposedly for “the spineless gamer.” And then there are players themselves.

Recently it was announced that the Wii U release of Star Fox Zero would have an invincible mode for novice players and a quick glance at online forums and article comment sections was enough to gather that there are a lot of people who are less than happy with this announcement. What’s the point? They asked. Baby modes! They cried. Nintendo are just hand-holding now! They scoffed. There seems to be a community of gamers who feel that the mere option of playing in anything other than “super hard like my dick” mode is a sign that games and possibly our very society is in decline.

It’s a mindset I really can’t understand at all. If it had been announced that Star Fox Zero was going to be released with no option other than invincible mode I might be able to understand. However, invincible mode has been introduced as nothing more than an option and its existence is perfectly easy to ignore if it doesn’t appeal to you. It’s not like the developers are behaving like the bouncer at the Salty Spitoon who told Spongebob that he’d be better served going to Super Weenie Hut Jrs.

Sometimes I enjoy a challenge when I’m playing games; like reading a complex novel or watching a thought-provoking film, it can be a big part of the fun. But I understand that what constitutes a challenge is different for everyone and that not everyone plays games to be challenged. Though I’ve admitted I sometimes enjoy a challenge, particularly in puzzle games, it’s not always what I’m there for; if the difficulty setting of a game is stopping me from getting the most out of its story or exploring its world I have no hesitation dropping it for something more manageable, because I prioritise these aspects of a game over the more competitive aspects like kill scores. That’s the thing, there are more ways to challenge a player than through mechanics; challenge their values with difficult themes, challenge their ability to make decisions with wide-ranging dialogue options, hell, challenge their inner-completionist with extensive amounts of discoverable content.

It’s because there are so many different ways that I and other people enjoy games that I can’t see what the issue is with giving players the best chance to enjoy a game in their own way. By including invincible mode, Star Fox Zero’s developers aren’t negatively shutting players out; they’re trying to bring more in. They’re trying to make the game enjoyable to as wide an audience as possible by allowing them to customise the gameplay experience to suit either their experience level or simply their gaming priorities.

Unfortunately many players only seem to like customising the gaming experience when it’s a customisation that suits them. There was outrage when a dad changed The Legend of Zelda to make it gender neutral for his daughter but oddly the comments section for this mod that allows players to see “realistic bounce and jiggle” for character breasts in Skyrim didn’t attract quite the same amount of vitriol.

For some reason there’s this attitude towards videogames that they should be there to test you – we would be outraged if any other medium of entertainment tried to lock us out. Can you imagine a book stopped you reading the end because despite your enjoyment of the story you’d failed to pick up on the author’s reference to Derrida’s arbitrary dichotomous categories? Or suddenly the shutters come down over the painting you were looking at in an art museum because, although you were enjoying the brush stroke technique, you’d failed to appreciate the religious symbolism? Where’s the fun? Where’s the appreciation that there’s more than one way to look at something? More than one way to enjoy it?

If videogames are to be truly mature, not only as a form of entertainment but as an art, they need to be as inclusive as possible. Adjustable difficulty modes are a good way to go about this.