Game Industry Weighs Accessibility Against Challenge in Difficulty Debate

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10 Jul 2024

The question of difficulty is a bizarrely high-voltage third rail in videogame discourse. You can barely mention finding an Elden Ring boss a bit tough on social media without sparking some sort of global diplomatic crisis: Fathers denounce sons, sons denounce brothers, daggers are drawn and before you know it everyone is intensely angry and accusing one another of trying to kill videogames forever.

So I salute the bravery of Spelunky creator Derek Yu, who's been musing about the issue of videogame difficulty—specifically, whether it's a good idea for games to include easy-to-access god modes for players who get stuck—over on Twitter (via GamesRadar).

God Mode: A Double-Edged Sword

Yu's discussion about god mode brings an interesting perspective. "To me, the reply is actually an argument in favor of sometimes NOT including god mode if you would like to push players out of their comfort zone," he tweeted. "Often you want to meet player expectations, but like any other artform, sometimes you don't."

Lowering Elden Ring's difficulty would pull in more players but "break the game itself." Speaking as someone with 400 hours and every achievement (let me brag, it took literal years of my life) in Spelunky the first, I can see where they’re coming from. That game wouldn't hold anywhere near the dear place in my heart that it does if—in my first 10, 20, 30 hours of banging my head against it—I’d gotten bored and ratcheted down the difficulty in the settings somewhere. The whole point was to make me learn and adapt to it.

Striking a Balance

It seems an entirely reasonable middle ground: God modes and difficulty tweaks for your narrative stuff, but hard-and-fast rules for the games that are out to provide a very specific kind of challenge. Fair enough, but where it gets murky for me is when accessibility comes into it. I've got no problem if a game is too hard for me and I bounce off it (that happened with, ah, Spelunky 2), but it’s a harder pill to swallow if a player can’t join in on the Elden Ring or Spelunky fun because they have a disability that prevents them from doing so and no way to adjust the challenge to compensate.

It's a tricky question, in other words, and one that—sorry to say—I don't think I'm equipped to solve for the games industry in this news piece. Personally? I'm still generally in favor of letting players have at it when it comes to difficulty, but I'm also definitely not as smart as either Derek Yu or Hidetaka Miyazaki, and I won't deny they both make excellent points.

Update: 10 Jul 2024

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