Talking Point is a weekly series that posits a question concerning the gaming industry. We encourage readers, as well as our writers, to offer their thoughts on the topic. Hence the name: Talking Point. Feel free to join in below.
One of the most identifiable features of gaming as a whole is the sense of challenge it provides to its players. Even after expending a significant sum of money in your local game shop to pick up the latest title, you must conquer its multitude of tests in order to experience the entirety of the protagonist’s grand adventure. Many of us accomplish this with relative ease, but a select few are not so lucky and sadly get disheartened along the way. So, this raises the question: Should somebody that spends their hard earned money on a game be granted the right to experience said title in full, regardless of their personal skill level? In short, do games owe us an easy ride (should we so desire it)?
With the recent release of Cuphead, the two dimensional platformer boasting white knuckle difficulty and gorgeous retro inspired animation, certain players have lashed out in frustration in response to its unrelenting degree of challenge. Being unable to experience the entire adventure unless you conquer its wide variety of intimidating boss battles on the standard difficulty setting (as opposed to Cuphead’s easier difficulty setting) grinds the gears of some. Only those possessing a considerable sum of talent will witness Cuphead’s true finale, which offers a riveting showdown with the devil himself. Do those that simply fail to fell the tougher iterations of Cuphead’s bosses deserve to endlessly wallow in their non-regular difficulty misery, or do they deserve the right to experience the entire adventure alongside the more talented players?
My personal opinion on this topic is somewhat molded by my own experiences when facing difficulty within gaming. Once upon a time I journeyed through the 2006 turn based adventure known as Blue Dragon. I had reached approximately two thirds of the way through the sprawling three disc long quest, but had reached what I believed to be an impenetrable impasse. Fight four bosses simultaneously, followed by a fifth boss immediately after. Every time I struggled through the ruthlessly tense four boss encounter, the fifth boss (he was a total jerk) would gun me down and grant me both a game over and an internal sensation of “How on Earth do I beat this guy?”. After two days of strenuous struggle, I finally discovered the solution. I revised my combat strategy, utilized alternative character moves, upgraded specific character attributes, and discovered the secret to dominating what I believed to be an impossible challenge. It was a magnificent feeling of total accomplishment, and a truly game defining moment. My fond memories of my achievement only exist for one reason however: Blue Dragon didn’t take a single scrap of pity on fourteen year old me, and forced me to try harder and harder, again and again. I applaud it for such a bold approach, because that very moment nine years ago was the last time I ever became stuck on a game for longer than one sitting. How can any of us ever improve at playing games should the games in question give us an easy way out?
To those throwing their controllers against a wall in frustration, the aforementioned Cuphead would declare the following: “Should you be unable to overcome the challenges laid before you on the regular difficulty setting, practice via the provided easier difficulty. Over time you will steadily improve in your capabilities, until one day you are sufficiently prepared to reattempt tackling me on my regular difficulty. Your dedication and hard work will reward you with extra content, and the true Cuphead experience as a result.” Yes, Cuphead rewards talent in its players. However, said talent is only acquired through the dedication and hard work mentioned previously. As a result, games such as Cuphead are simply not just exclusive clubs for those gifted with impressive reflexes and memory, but exclusive clubs for those who are willing to invest ample time into improving their own personal talents. If a team of game designers can channel themselves into many long years of creating a quality product through their sweat, blood and tears, why should players deserve the right to demand that such a product not expect a level of commitment from them in return? When fans of gaming are already stereotyped (whether fairly or unfairly) as lazy, why should said laziness trickle into the expectations of the very games they play?
Difficulty settings are always beneficial, and the majority of games make a conscious effort to tailor themselves to varying skill levels. However, games have the right to be tough as nails. They have the right to demand your focus on improving yourself, and they have the right to restrict content until you are of a certain caliber. Removing the challenge of games would be removing the beating heart of overall experience. The rich satisfaction gained from accomplishing a challenge you did not believe you could overcome is a special feeling, and one that I would personally never want to see eradicated from the gaming mainstream.
Still, my opinion is but one of many. Should games cater to those who don’t desire to be challenged in any form, or should they maintain a minimum difficulty standard that all players must be required to meet? Fire off your thoughts in the comments below.