The release of Elden Ring and SIFU brings the big question of difficulty in video games back to the fore. So here are some arguments in favor of difficulty levels in all games (yes, even Dark Souls).
For several years in the video game industry, players have taken part in a heated and recurring debate on the difficulty of video games. If it does not concern all the titles that appear on consoles and PC, the discussion mainly targets certain games that are well known for their great difficulty, and therefore, the lack of accessibility for beginners.
We will not bring iconic franchises such as the Dark Souls, Ghost ‘n Goblins or Cuphead. But with the arrival on the gaming scene of SIFUSloclap nugget, or even Elden Ring FromSoftware, the controversy is still raging among gamers.
Taking an overview of what the difficulty in video games entails, we will explain to you here why we advocate better accessibility to all games, (almost) without exception, notably through difficulty levels or even the implementation of tools aimed at integrating novice players. On your side, it seems that the opinions are also mixed, as the poll we posted on Twitter shows:
🚨Do you think all video games should have difficulty levels?🎮
— The Journal of the Geek (@JournalDuGeek)
An dispensable hurdle for studios
If you are one of those who bought the game SIFU and who went all the way, a thousand bravos! You are surely not many on this earth so congratulations are in order. And yet, it is not a game devoid of originality. To tell the truth, it is even very interesting visually and puts at its heart a rather unusual gameplay mechanic, which is what interested us in the first place.
Unfortunately, the Sloclap studio made the controversial choice to drastically limit its number of (satisfied) players because of the inherent difficulty of the game. Once the controller was in hand, many players realized that the title advocating martial arts was actually very demanding, more than you could see in the trailers, and didn’t offer many escape routes.
From then on, many lamented the fact that they could not choose a difficulty level suited to their skills, as is the case in other games of the genre. By making this choice, the studio has in fact put a spoke in its own wheels by depriving itself of a large part of its visibility. This is also the case for all those who are in the same situation.
By choosing to do the opposite, it could have allowed the studio to expand its audience by targeting different types of players, to acquire more visibility, but also to earn more money and recognition, factors essential to any prosperous development. While some deplore this “elitist” decision, the studios that make this singular choice are the first to be affected. It’s a shame, especially since nothing is mandatory, even to accomplish a certain artistic vision of the game.
It is indeed not renouncing his art to make it more accessible to all. To illustrate this idea, we will take the example of musical and visual art. Both have been marked by countless artists, some of whom advocate a sharp technique. But Beethoven’s symphonies are not reserved for prodigies. The more technology advances, the more accessibility is at the heart of all projects. That’s why anyone today can watch tutorials to learn how to play the greatest classics of all time. The same is true with the most famous of paintings.
You know that philosophical question that asks if a falling tree makes noise even if there’s no one to hear it? That pretty much sums up what we think of excessive difficulty in video games. Too much to sort out its players, there will be very few left to take advantage of the hard work that the developers have provided, often a vision that requires years of personal investment. Wouldn’t that deserve to be appreciated by the greatest number?
The rage factor at its peak
But it’s all the more frustrating for the players who leave with less money and a negative experience that will mark them. It must be said that the majority of them give up before they have been able to complete the mission entrusted to them, without asking for their rest. The finding is even more obvious for beginners, or very occasional players, who will not even try to buy the game if critics describe it as being too punitive.
This feeling of frustration, which is created with each “abusive” death, will reinforce in them a feeling which will prevent them from turning to the productions of the studios even for future games. This is particularly the case with Elden Ringwhich many are afraid to apprehend following the liabilities of the FromSoftware studio (Dark Souls, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice).
They then deliberately deprive themselves of worlds that they would surely have loved to explore, or quite simply of a game that succeeds at all levels, except to integrate them. Entertainment takes a back seat, in favor of a difficulty that some find unfair and unjustified.
Of course, at one time, players didn’t really have a choice. The lack of technology did not allow for very fluid or very precise gameplay as is the case today. Not to mention franchises famous for it, even picking up the very first Unchartedyou’ll see that accessibility and ease aren’t at their best.
It must also be said that over the past 40 years, the audience targeted by video games has drastically expanded. Initially very niche, the sector has become more democratic and now reaches diverse and varied audiences, who also want to be able to touch victory, whatever their starting level. The whole industry must therefore be able to move in this direction in order to better integrate them.
Difficult and accessible, it is not incompatible
It goes without saying that creating difficulty levels involves a lot of technical factors to take into account. Depending on the game, this may involve adjusting in-game life, damage caused and/or received, more or less present HUD, and a multitude of other aspects. It can therefore be very complicated for some studios to adapt to everyone’s level and to set up this kind of hierarchy, which can also be very poorly done as it is arbitrary.
However, it would be tantamount to being fatalistic to say that without difficulty levels, nothing is possible for better accessibility, just to limit damage. We will take the example of games Crash Bandicootalso in the tough genre, but which have the merit of offering us a checkpoint when we die a little too often, or even of Mario Kart which gives better items to those at the end of the race than to those in pole position.
Without mentioning specific games, we can also think of having more tutorials when necessary, or the possibility of passing a level in training mode, before doing it for real, as in Geometry Dash. So many options that can open the doors to a difficult basic game to a less experienced audience.
For those who are fans of the challenge, they are then free to play without these tricks. Moreover, even for these kinds of titles, adding trophies related to the difficulty encourages completionists to turn to the more difficult modes. The studio therefore succeeds in attracting more players, but also in satisfying the main target audience, those who live in difficulty. At the end of the story, everyone wins.
A subjective difficulty
All this thinking about difficult games is also based on the premise that the difficulty of a title resides in a common factor for all players. However, each individual does not have the same faculties and is therefore not subject to the same difficulties for the same gameplay. For some it will be the speed, for others the too great diversity of controls, and for still others the endurance of the bosses. From this, establishing the nature of a game from its difficulty does not really make sense since all players will not draw the same experience and therefore the same lesson.
Obviously, our argument only extends to certain types of games. For a title like Getting over it, the difficulty levels wouldn’t really make sense because the only principle of the game is perseverance. There’s no story at all, the settings are absurd, and there are only two gameplay mechanics.
But we see you coming. For SIFU or Elden Ring, the situation is very different since there is still an interesting context to explore, a certain visual style, a story or even just an original concept. What about simulation or management games, which approach entertainment in a completely different way.
Why I am for better accessibility in all games
Video games are a shared passion that is meant to unite, not divide. So certainly, the galleys always create a solid community. But what about wins? A game does not necessarily need to be challenging, whatever its nature, to be appreciated. Difficulty levels may not be the answer to everything, but the question arises: what does it cost challenge-loving players to let novices fit in and take part in the adventure?
In the end, nothing at all. It simply requires a greater investment on the part of the studio, which must put in place certain tools, even minimal ones, to facilitate the journey of those who are starting out. But any investment has the potential to pay off, both at the community level and in terms of recognition and financial support. However, everyone is free to choose. And you, what is your opinion on the matter? Do not hesitate to let us know in the comments and if you are curious, take a look at our second file, which defends the difficulty in video games!
Some fly over the games in easy mode to see it as a movie, others prefer the hard mode.
This is the best way to satisfy tlm on single player games.
Obviously on multiplayer it wouldn’t make sense.
— November 🚔 🇨🇵 📽 (@LaDilt)