Dead Easy: Is Art for Everyone?

This is the second post in a series of blog entries about the inclusion of an ‘easy mode’ in all games. The previous piece Difficulty and Design Intent focused on the argument that an easier mode in a game like Dark Souls, would ruin the experience intended by the game’s developers. In this I also give a little bit of background to this discussion, so I would recommend it as a starting point to understand the wider conversation I wish to contribute to. 

N.B. I want to make clear that this post is for now putting aside the issue that an easier mode in games would be beneficial to differently abled or disabled players. I want to look at the discussion regarding this in a post on its own – mostly because I would like to research this topic in more detail so as to be more educated on the matter. Therefore, the arguments presented here relate mostly to players who can’t play games due to their skill level, although I am sure there will be some cross-over.

We are incredibly lucky today in that there are hundreds of games out there for us to choose from. From role playing games, to racing, to visual novel to first person shooters – there’s something for everyone. As a gamer you don’t have to like every single genre of game, or even every single game out there. You can pick what appeals to you and play that – just like you can pick what kind of movies, books or films you like. One thing that has occurred to me when considering the idea of whether there should be an easy mode in games is this: maybe a game where difficulty is part of the design, isn’t for everyone. And if this is the case, does it need to be?

In the previous post, which focused on design intent in Dark Souls, I concluded that an easy mode may not compromise the artistic vision of the game too severely. But some will disagree with me – at least judging by the amount of times I see that argument put forward suggests that many subscribe to it. So, for the moment let’s assume that the difficulty of certain games is so key to their identity that it cannot be removed without compromising its artistic message. Should then ‘difficult’ become a game genre like FPS or RPG? So if you can’t hack Dark Souls then it’s clear you should just avoid ‘difficult’ games because they’re not for you. Maybe these kind of games aren’t for everyone.

This line of thinking makes me incredibly sad. On its own sure, not playing Dark Souls is not going to leave your life withered and unfulfilled. But on a larger scale, it doesn’t feel right to bar people from an experience because they don’t meet an arbitrary skill level.

I think this is an appropriate point to ask ourselves: what are video games for? Are they for entertainment? Do we learn something from them about humanity, or ourselves? Are they an engrossing narrative? Are they art? I think all these definitions are valid, and honestly I think games serve a purpose very similar to films and literature – they can be quick and silly, or they can be deep and profound, and neither function is necessarily better than the other.

So, let’s consider video games to be something similar to art and literature. Some art is super weird! Sometimes I see some art and I don’t know what it means or what I should be getting out of it. And some novels require serious effort to read. I’ve tried to read all of Ulysses every summer since I was 19, and I’ve still never finished it. So maybe some games are like modern art or high literature – they’re just not for everyone.

Except I think that’s bullshit. I’m not saying everyone has to read Ulysses, I haven’t managed to yet. And, like Dark Souls, the reason it’s so difficult is the same reason that makes it so revolutionary and incredible. But, if you listen to an audiobook of Ulysses, even an abridged version, I think that still counts for something. You won’t get the same experience as reading the book, the experience James Joyce intended. But you’re getting to experience more of it than if you had never read it. And I think that’s amazing.

Art should be for everyone, and so should games. Maybe an easier mode doesn’t give you the exact same experience as the one the devs wanted. So what? Something is better than nothing. An easier mode would still allow players to play the game, experience the story and have fun. Yes, you could watch a let’s play instead if you’re only interested in the narrative of Bloodborne, but that’s not the same as playing the games. I like LPs, but it’s not the same as playing it yourself. If we as gamers were only interested in stories then we’d be watching films instead. The actual playing of a game is also enjoyable, and it’s essential to the experience of playing a game – I don’t think we should exclude people from that.

I think games are great – they’re more than that in fact – so I don’t want to be a gatekeeper to a section of something I enjoy just because someone can’t ‘git gud’. Whether its modern art, or literature, or Dark Souls, I want the things that I love, that inspire me, to be open to everyone, not closed off to a select few who ‘get it’. And if I were a game developer? I want as many people as possible to enjoy something I worked hard to create. Art is for everyone, and games are too.


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