I recently watched the review of Cuphead by a YouTuber that I find genuinely engaging. I often have some disagreements with stuff or think some of his perspectives are not the best, but I am not the kind of person who has to agree with everything someone says to like their content. Contrary to popular opinion, not all of us critics of the regressive left are as bad as the people we criticize. Some of us actually can deal with disagreement and even have some genuinely lively banter on the subject. This particular YouTuber and I have actually had very lively debate in the comments section of my own posts where I reference their work. As a way of helping promote this individual, here is a link to their review of Cuphead, now let’s get to the point.
In the video, he says that there is a genuine discussion that should be had about difficulty in gaming. This talking point has come about after a frankly hilarious video of a game journalist being oddly incapable of dealing with the tutorial level had this person getting well-deserved ridicule. There was a guy who is very physically handicapped making a video showing his ability to play the game well. I’m sorry, but he fucked up, and there’s nothing wrong with making fun of the video that was put out and his butthurt reaction to it. There is especially nothing wrong with ridiculing video game journalists for standing up for being bad at games when this is their line of work.
The aforementioned YouTuber said difficulty vs accessibility in games is a worthwhile discussion. I am here to respectfully disagree. Now let me make something clear – I’m not talking about this when it comes to video games that are virtually unplayable. If a game has a stupid difficulty spike that makes things unfair, that is something worth calling out. I’m talking about games that make very clear the fact that they are hard and you should be expecting that.
Best example – Dark Souls, but instead of looking at that (because I never got into the franchise), let’s take a look at a game in the same vein that I happen to love – Bloodborne. Bloodborne is hard. Really hard. This game will fuck you up. Dark Souls is a game where you are encouraged to play defensively and wait for openings to attack. Bloodborne is nothing like that. Playing defensively will get you killed. The reality is that it is a game where you are actively encouraged to take risks. Did you just take a really bad hit? Well, if you have the guts and fast timing, you can get back into the fight and regain some of the health if you do it quickly. You got a limited window, idiot! So get in there and fight! That style of gameplay is not accessible to everyone. Plus, the fact that the game demands that style of play also means that you are going to be putting you fate in the hands of blind luck more than you’d like.
But here’s the thing – the players of this game know this. They accept this. It’s an understood risk of playing this game. Because that’s the kind of game that From Software makes. It’s in the vein of a franchise that was marketed specifically on it being really, really hard. The original poster for Dark Souls had the line “Prepare to Die” on it. Players went in with both eyes wide open. Uncompromising difficulty. But here’s the thing – you can learn how to work with that. You learn the placement of the enemies, and the weaknesses of bosses. Then you put that knowledge to use and fight your ass off. A little luck will sometimes be required, but you will learn by trial and error. Lots, and lots of error.
At what point does a game that is difficult become inaccessible? When it doesn’t appeal to the casual? Games that market themselves on difficulty are by their nature going to be niche. Despite the mainstream success of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, they are games made for a certain type of gamer and they know that. They aren’t the only ones. Look at Devil May Cry 3 as another example. That game’s difficulty is downright punishing at points. The final fight with Vergil requires nerves of steel and a little bit of genuine luck to overcome. But players understood this. No one was saying back in the day that we needed to have an Easy mode.
The big debate seems to be that we need to make games easier so that people who don’t like difficult games can have them. Why? Why should a game designer compromise their creative image of a game in order to cater to people who don’t want to invest the time or energy to master the game’s mechanics? You can become pretty badass at Bloodborne if you just learn the placement of enemies and learn how to telegraph their attacks. I can take on giants and wolf-men early on just by being able to dodge at then strike while taking time to step back and recover energy. It’s not that hard. Guess who I did that – by mastering the game’s mechanics. While the enemies get more difficult in New Game Plus, now I have the weapons I like best and can make even shorter work of my foes. Because by now I’ve played the game long enough to have that level of mastery.
Plus, there is no way to make that game easy. Not really. The game’s entire mechanics are centered around the difficulty and playing well to be able to overcome that. Everything is built around that! Take that away and what are you left with? A game where you wander around beautiful gothic environments and kill the occasional bad guy. Where’s the fun there?
I’m not seeing where this idea that games need to be easier in order to cater to more people comes from. The new Assassin’s Creed game has a kind of spectator mode where there are no enemies or threats and you can just wander around the world and look at stuff. I mean, sure, the environments are pretty, but why not just make a game that is an open world walking simulator at that point? I don’t even hate walking simulators on their merits. My favorite game of 2015 was Life is Strange. But Assassin’s Creed isn’t that type of game. It’s the kind of game where you are supposed to be taking out targets and using stealth to infiltrate places. All of the game’s mechanics are built around that. Take that away and what’s left? Nothing important, that’s what.
Here’s the thing – I get that hard games can be frustrating to people. The uncompromising difficulty of Cuphead with its catchy art style and glorious music (sucks that I don’t have an Xbox One. Will never get to play it unless I get a decent gaming PC) is something players have to adapt to. But forgive me if I actually believe that players can do that, instead of having to have their hands held the whole damn time because the devs need to make a mode just so they can get in on the fun. I can play the easy mode on Persona 5 because I love the story and I am just dying to get ahead on it without grinding for long periods of time. But then I can crank up the difficulty on Doom and rip and tear with the vast arsenal. But the thing is that both devs made those choices for those modes to be in it. Can you imagine Doom with a safe mode? That sounds boring as fuck.
Will be sending this article to the aforementioned YouTuber. We’ll see where this goes. What about all of you? Thoughts about the difficulty vs accessibility in gaming? Let me know in the Comments.
Until next time, a quote,
“It is one of man’s curious idiosyncrasies to create difficulties for the pleasure of solving them.” – Joseph de Maistre