Should all video games have a difficulty setting?

Hey, Gamers! So while I’m having a break from Dark Souls because I’m never playing that game again (it’s a joke), I wanted to talk to you all about something slightly controversial: difficulty settings. That is, whether or not difficulty settings should be on every game. I believe, from what my partner has told me, this was first posed by game journalists who were struggling to complete the game to review it, and it turned into an accessibility issue. Well, while I am not a gaming journalist, I do review games and I am disabled. For reference, I have a physical disability involving my feet, I have autism, dyslexia and dyscalculia (as well as several mental illnesses). I’m not saying this for sympathy or anything, I’m telling you what I live with in order for you to better understand where my mindset is. So without further ado, let’s get to it!

I am going to be using Dark Souls as an example as it is one that is very prevalent in my life, and I’ve played Dark Souls the most. I believe the original game was Sekiro, which is technically classed as a SoulsBorne game so that’s a better correlation than, say, Persona 5.

I first came across Dark Souls in, I think, 2018. My partner’s brother borrowed it from his friend, and it seemed like he and his younger brother were obsessed. I didn’t get it, but I wasn’t much of a gamer at the time. I decided to get Josh the Dark Souls trilogy when it was on sale one day after he expressed interest after we moved out. He had started to enjoy Bloodborne, so it seemed fitting. By this point, Persona 5 had come into my life and I think I had finished the Witcher 3 so I had started to consider myself a gamer. But it took a long time for me to even think about playing Dark Souls.

Dark Souls is infamously hard. If you refer to something as a souls-like game, that means it’s hard. It means it’s unforgiving. It’s meant to be that way. It’s meant to be something that you work for, that you struggle with. The achievement of beating Dark Souls is a big one and it’s a big one because it’s an infamously hard game.

That achievement would be completely worthless if there was an easy mode. There would be no struggle, no hard work, no sweat and tears. It’ll be… easy. Worthless. It literally wouldn’t be worth playing. It’s not like there’s a riveting story that’s obvious when you’re playing (not saying the lore isn’t interesting, I’m saying it’s not obvious all the time when you’re playing. I adore SoulsBorne lore and we’ve spent countless hours watching videos on YouTube). The pain and struggle that you feel when playing Dark Souls are what makes the game so iconic and so great.

I understand some people have deadlines to meet, but you’re not playing a game properly if you’re rushing it anyway. My Persona 5 Strikers review came out in August, and I got the game in February. I didn’t want to rush it because I wanted to try to write about everything, and I gave myself time to emotionally process the plot before writing. My advice would just be to play games other than souls-like games to review, if you’re finding them ‘too hard’. There really isn’t such thing as ‘too hard’ for a SoulsBorne game, because that’s the whole point of them. Review other games, leave this to people who actually care enough about the game to write about it (or make YouTube videos, whichever).

So, moving on to the whole ‘inaccessibility’ part of the argument. Now I may sound angry here… because I am. Quite frankly, this is an ableist argument made by people who are trying to prove a point to benefit themselves. There is a very, very clear difference between inaccessibility and difficulty. Just because games are difficult does not mean disabled people cannot play them. A game’s difficulty setting has nothing to do with whether or not a disabled person can play. If someone cannot play a game, they won’t play it. An easy mode won’t make the game more accessible. If anything, it would make them think that they can’t play the game normally.

Here is a list of things that I struggle with in video games due to my disabilities:
Reading both numbers and letters
Retaining information
Being triggered by domestic or sexual violence
Processing the plot

Those are the things I can think of off the top of my head but I guarantee that there are many more things. But I don’t know if you’ve noticed this but I have a gaming blog. That must mean I play games despite having these issues, right? Why? Because society doesn’t cater to disabled people in general, so growing up we just learn to deal with it. We don’t want it to stop us from experiencing things so we just get on with it. Yeah, we struggle and find things hard but we still get to experience things the way that other people do.

Before you use things like inaccessibility to try to strengthen your argument, maybe think about how society itself isn’t very accessible in the first place. We’ve learnt to deal with it, and we don’t like being used as pawns.

So, that’s it for this post, Gamers! This one was a little… touchy. I know this is a sensitive topic for a lot of people but I felt like as a disabled person myself, I had to make sure my voice was heard on the small platform I have. See you next post, Gamers!

9 thoughts on “Should all video games have a difficulty setting?

  1. Your argument here makes absolutely no sense. Someone else being able to play a game on an easier difficulty in no way diminishes your ability to play that same game on whatever difficulty you want. Not everyone finds that “struggle” to finish a game as fun as you do. And just because your personal disabilities don’t stop you from playing and enjoying difficult games doesn’t mean that there are no disabled folks who could benefit from more accessible difficulty ratings on games? I’m also disabled, but my disability affects my hands as well as other things. It’s absolutely ridiculous for you to discount my struggles and needs just because you, personally, don’t suffer from the same issues.

    I love Bloodborne, and I’ve played quite a bit of it. But I’ve never finished it. And do you know why? It’s because I physically can’t play it for too many consecutive days. It causes me a lot of strain (and mental distress, as an autistic person who gets frustrated easily) and therefore it just isn’t viable for me to play regularly. I would be able to enjoy the game more on a lower difficulty threshold.

    And don’t tell me I should just “find another game”, because I have every right to play whatever I want. If you feel like difficulty settings somehow diminish your own enjoyment of the game, let me challenge you to ask yourself why that is. People who want to feel special because they beat a game that other people can’t… they just reek of video game elitism. It’s gatekeeping at its finest.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I think I had difficulty expressing my point so I am planning on editing it. A lot of the issue I had (and still have) is that game journalists used disabled people as a sort of scapegoat. I’m sure you know that society tends to not be accessible and make adjustments to disabled people. I talked to so many people with all sorts of physical and mental disabilities before writing the post and the general feedback I got was saying that because society is the way it is, disabled people have just been made to “get used to it”. My argument wasn’t that accessibility is bad, it was that people like gaming journalists (who chose their career) are being like “oh this game is too hard for people who are autistic” (example from an article I read but as I am on my phone I can’t find right now), but it’s not. It’s not too hard just because someone is autistic. It’s too hard because that’s a big part of the game. It’s about overcoming challenges. Heck, I gave up Bloodborne for a year because I was too frustrated. But I, like most of the people I talked to, went back to it and started to chip away at it.
      I understand the way this post may come across and like I said, I am going to edit it soon to make my point clearer. I’m in no way trying to discredit your struggles. There would be no point in doing that considering I’m also disabled and that just feels icky to me. I think my point just got lost in my anger over people who are disabled being scapegoated again. For the most part, we overcome challenges that society gives us and the argument made it seem like we have no experience doing that.
      Again, thank you for taking the time to comment and I hope my comment clears things up. My opinion on whether or not there should be an easy mode isn’t the point of the post, it’s how disabled people were used as scapegoats.
      As I’m writing this, I am thinking of making a separate post instead of just editing this one but that’s something I really have to think about I guess.

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    2. Just because you don’t understand the point, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense. People who don’t enjoy the “struggle” to complete a game are playing the wrong game to begin with, because that’s kinda the point of Souls games. These games are about adversity and overcoming struggles in an inhospitable world that wants you dead, made this way by gods or entities that don’t value or care about your existance. Of course disabled people might have trouble with that since it’s not so dissimilar from what we go through in life anyway. That doesn’t mean that these games should have difficulty settings though, because in making the game easier, that atmosphere is lost. Bloodborne feels impactful because the Healing Church and the Mensis scholars pushed things so far that it feels like the world is ending and I don’t think the apocalypse should have a difficulty setting. In Dark Souls, Gwyn went against nature and prolonged the Age of Fire, permanently linking humanity to the First Flame and denying the Age of Dark from starting. Thus whenever the First Flame started to go out again, everything becomes a shell of what it once was and the beings of the world succumb to despair and insanity.

      Another problem with adding difficulty into these games is that the point of one difficulty setting is that it offers a single centralised intended experience to enjoy. Obviously it’s not actually one experience due to everyone having their own individual experiences but those will all be based on one singular experience, putting everyone at equal footing. I’m not saying that no game should have difficulty settings, I’m just saying people shouldn’t be trying to force developers to include every single game, claiming it’s an accessibility issue if they don’t. You do indeed have the right to play any game you want, however it doesn’t mean that every game has to accommodate for you. Different games are made for different target audiences and it’s ok for games to do this. Hard games like Dark Souls, Bloodborne etc. are basically their own genre, defined in part by their difficulty. If I played a game and didn’t enjoy it because it’s a dating sim and I have no social skills due to being autistic, I wouldn’t expect the game to change to suit my tastes or abilities better, I’d find a different game that I do like and can play, like an RPG or something. I understand how much it can suck playing a game that you physically or mentally cannot overcome, as an autistic person myself, I cannot comprehend how to play the Sims properly and get super frustrated with it and yeah, it’s annoying because I want to play the Sims, but I don’t hold the developers accountable for making a game that is inaccessible to me, because at the end of the day, it is still accessible to me. I can still play the game, just not to the point of succeeding. You said you’ve played Bloodborne quite a bit, which tells me that despite your struggles, it’s not inaccessible to you since, no matter how much strain it puts on you, you are still able to play it. Furthermore, you claim that you’ve never finished it as though that is evidence that it should be made easier but you fail to mention how long you’ve been attempting to beat it, how far you’ve gotten, etc. I’ve never finished Fallout 3, despite owning it since 2014 and it being my favourite Fallout title. I’ve gotten as far as entering Little Lamplight, but for whatever reason I’ve never completed it though. I wouldn’t try to use this fact as a criticism of the game’s design or the developers though, because the game is working as intended (for the most part, it is a Bethesda game after all) and not having the attention span to follow through to the end is not the game’s fault (and BTW, Fallout 3 actually has difficulty settings so it’s not like easy mode would have helped). Let’s assume that you have been able to convince me however, that you truly are unable to complete Bloodborne in its current state; how can you be so certain that having an easier difficulty to play would allow you to finish it? Just because you feel like that’s the case, it doesn’t mean that it is true. I do believe you however, because you haven’t convinced me that you can’t finish it now. I do realise that you said you think you’d enjoy it more upon looking over your comment again but firstly, the comment as a whole implies you feel that an easier difficulty would also allow you to complete the game and secondly, it actually makes your argument so much worse if you truly think that all games should have difficulty settings simply so you will enjoy them more because you’re essentially wanting to change what is a fundamental feature that is paramount to the creator’s vision of what the game should be, simply because you find it a bit unfun if it’s too hard.

      I started playing Dark Souls Remastered in September 2018 and I didn’t finish it until June 2020, so nearly 2 years. That means for nearly 2 years I hadn’t yet finished the game, I hadn’t finished it, yet at no point did that mean I was incapable, as I now have the platinum. Bloodborne was one of the first games I got in 2015 after getting a PS4 and only last year, once again in 2020 did I beat it, and once again I now have the platinum. Time taken doesn’t mean shit. Just because it takes you longer than you’d like to beat a game, it doesn’t mean that game developers like From Software are unfairly discriminating against you for being disabled. If you really cannot do it however, then seriously, just play another game. I understand that you can play any game you want, but why would you want to when, despite claiming to love it, it seems to make you miserable and cause you pain.You said that people on the opposite side of the argument should challenge themselves as to why they feel this way, and I’ll get to that, but let me give you a challenge: why do you feel that you are entitled to have every game accommodate to your wants, needs and/or abilities? Why did you pick up a game known for being a difficult struggle and essentially a prolonged reflex test for masochists, despite knowing that you have problems with reflexes and that you can’t play for too long at a time without straining your hands, and then get mad at the game for not catering to your needs by giving you the option to tone down basically the only thing the gameplay equates to? Not that I can blame you too much since I also struggle with reflexes but it’s still not something to complain about. It is not discounting your needs or struggles, just like it is not discounting the needs or struggles of a dyslexic person if they attempt to play a visual novel and they struggle and get frustrated, so you tell them that they should play something that doesn’t consist of almost exclusively the thing they struggle with, something that doesn’t challenge the ability or function that is impaired. In a lot of cases, being told to play something else isn’t because the players want to gatekeep you or are elitists, from what I have found the Soulsborne community is incredibly accepting and willing to help. In a lot of cases I imagine you’re being told to play something else simply because it seems that you and the game are incompatible and that’s fine, you don’t have to play every single game in the world, it’s ok to let some go. It’s not like you’re forbidden from playing it again if you leave it alone for a couple of years, I can attest to that myself. Of course this would be a problem if there weren’t a variety of games that catered to your apparent need of difficulty settings but that’s just not the case. Hundreds of games have difficulty settings to try and give them mass appeal, even some that probably didn’t need them, at least in my opinion. Even in those cases however, the developers are free to do what they want with their games, as long as they provide full experiences.

      As for how having lower difficulty settings can diminish the experience, there are a few things that I feel, with personal experience regarding this. My first point is that in regards to difficult games, having an easy difficulty can be a huge temptation that isn’t always easy to ignore, or alternatively, players who aren’t confident in their skills could end up playing easy out of fear that the other difficulties will be too much, and in that case they will have neutered their experience of a game by choosing a difficulty option too easy for them. When I was around 14 I played the original God of War. I played it on normal difficulty, as I still do even now since there’s no way of knowing what the intended difficulty experience is and that seems like a safe bet. I don’t know if it’ll still be the case for me but I found that game to be hard. Like, real hard. I died a lot and in particular there was one room that had an undisclosed time limit to kill a certain number of enemies. I died a lot in this room and it kept offering me easy mode. As you said, being autistic can lead to getting very frustrated when things go the wrong way so I ended up accepting the switch to easy mode and as a result, I only finished it on easy mode and it’s bothered me ever since. Could I have done that room, and finished the game, without lowering the difficulty? Probably but I’ll never know. Could I do it now? Honestly I don’t even want to know. I gave up about halfway through GoW 2 and only played a little bit of GoW 3 earlier this year but I really just can’t bring myself to care about the franchise, simply because in a moment of weakness and frustration, the game offered me an easy way to solve my problem and I wasn’t strong enough in that instance to reject it. Dark Souls, Bloodborne and others like it are meant to be challenging, but everyone will admit that on their first time playing, they will have come up against a part of the game that felt insurmountable. Imagine how shitty it would feel to resort to playing on an easier setting in a moment of raw emotion, when they are thinking with their feelings rather than with logic, and then having to live knowing that you should have stuck with the original difficulty setting and not knowing whether or not you could have done it. Well like I said, I don’t have to imagine that, but Bloodborne is one of my favourite games of all time and it would kill me if I had to experience that with this game. Moving on, if the Souls games suddenly had difficulty implemented, it would invalidate the accomplishments of everyone who managed to beat it without added difficulty settings. Suddenly, the game infamous for its difficulty would be playable with the infamous difficulty basically washed away for anyone and their grandmas to complete. It’s like like if they started doing amateur events in the Olympics, it would be a huge slap in the face to the athletes who put tons of effort into perfecting their craft only to have some random guy win the same medal as you without putting in any of the work, simply because it was felt that non-professional athletes should get to win gold medals too. It would go the other way too, since harder difficulties would probably aslo be added, making the achievement of completing base difficulty Dark Souls/Bloodborne/whatever even more worthless. It’s all well and good saying that these achievements aren’t worth anything anyway and shouldn’t get in the way of further accessibility but honestly, if you think that the achievement of completing Dark Souls or Bloodborne is worthless, and it’s usually because they are more casual gamers who don’t see games as worthy of achievement, then that’s more elitist than wanting the thing you are proud of to remain special. Like I said before, the community isn’t trying to gatekeep and keep themselves as some exclusive club where only the most cool dudes can join, I have seen so many instances of people being supportive of new players who have beat their first boss, things that seem mundane having played it a lot but is really exciting to someone who has just started. I’ve even seen examples of people being excited about how active the games still are, which would not be seen if the community were trying to scare new players away.

      One more thing I would like to say is that two days ago I got a game called Kingdom Come: Deliverance. After playing this game I do not think that I’ll ever change my viewpoint on this matter without some sort of scientific proof on the contrary. This game is hard; it’s mechanics are fiddly and sometimes downright unresponsive, you’ll get your ass handed to you constantly in combat and lots of stuff going on in the background that can be a little overwhelming at times. I am almost certain that this is all intentional as well, the reason being that the game is basically a medieval peasant simulator. Of course it’s hard, you’re playing as a complete scrub. You aren’t some great hero or a brave adventurer, you are a blacksmith’s son and as such, you aren’t good at fighting, you aren’t good at tasks that require dexterity like lockpicking and you certainly aren’t good at keeping yourself from getting covered in mud. I don’t know how they could have possibly made the experience they wanted to show you without making it difficult in this way, and making it easier would definitely ruin the tone of the game, as well as just the game in general. I do sometimes wish they had made an easier lockpicking minigame, but it would detract from the experience if they did make it easy and I respect that. The only problem I have with KCD’s difficulty is that it actually has a difficulty selection. It’s only two choices, normal and hardcore, and I think the base version of KCD had no difficulty selection but I also think that higher difficulties in difficult games can detract from the experience, especially when it comes to Soulsborne, because a lot of creativity goes into creating challenge runs to make it more difficult than it already is, such as the simple SL1 run or the no hit run. KCD is already gruelling to me as a new player and while I could be wrong, I feel that it didn’t need a harder difficulty that, along with some fun things that could have been in the base difficulty, basically equates to changing some numbers arbitrarily. All in all, it’s ok to dislike hard games, and there are plenty of alternatives that will cater to you, but to say that all games should have easy modes, especially those games that use difficulty to sell you an experience, just shows a blatant lack of respect for video games as a medium and as someone who loves video games and who genuinely wants everyone to enjoy and appreciate them, it makes me rather sad and angry and it is unfair to refer to people as ‘elitists’ or ‘gatekeepers’ simply for wanting to let developers have the choice over the difficulty of a game, as well as the opportunity to use difficulty as a tool to create a story.

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  2. Also (forgot to mention this) it’s completely ridiculous to use “well the world isn’t accessible get over it” as an argument against increased accessibility. Why should we let the world perpetuate the idea that they shouldn’t make adjustments for the disabled? Please consider people other than yourself when adding your voice to a conversation. You act like other disabled people don’t exist and haven’t already spoken about this. Disabled people are literally asking for more accessibility in the gaming industry. It isn’t just whiny abled people.

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    1. Sorry I’ve just seen this! I did consider other disabled people. A lot of other disabled people. I’m not saying “get over it”. I’m saying that the reason people are disabled is because society isn’t accessible, and therefore disabled people are used to overcoming inaccessibility so to use us as scapegoats is ridiculous and offensive as it invalidates the struggles that we face every day. We’re clearly from two different corners of the internet. Like I said, my main point is that disabled people shouldn’t be used in an argument when there’s other more important things people should be fighting for in terms of the disabled community.

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  3. Difficulty IS an accessibility option, depending on the game. Trauma and anxiety are not the same as barely being able to move your fingers, and writing that off as “ableist” is completely hypocritical. This entire article is just a long-winded “get gud” argument and it’s pretty gross.

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    1. Hi, thanks for your comment. If someone can barely move their fingers, how would changing the difficulty help them? I don’t understand how that would change their ability to play a game that uses the same controls. For example, I’m physically disabled and struggle with my legs. I couldn’t play one of those dancing games (y’know, the arcade ones where there’s a dance mat) even on the Easy settings because of my disability. Sure, it sucked, but there are other games to play and that’s that.
      I apologise if my post came off that way, it wasn’t meant to. I’ve been disabled my whole life and this argument made me angry, I felt like disabled people were being scapegoated. As you can probably tell, this was written a while ago and I have done an updated post about accessibility options 🙂

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