Some video games are known for their brutal difficulty. Roguelike games often reward death by having the player lose all experience and items. Atlus’ recent game Demon’s Souls had death mean the player went back to the start of a level, lost all of their accumulated experience (in the form of souls), and had every enemy reappear. If the player’s character could not make it back to the location of their demise to recollect their lost souls/experience in one attempt it would be lost forever. On the other hand there are games with numerous difficulty levels. Players can choose Easy, Medium, or Hard or any variation of such in many recent games including Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins, Bioshock, Heavy Rain and Bayonetta. These steps in difficulty level make games accessible to a larger number of players.
There are many ways to make a game less difficult. Just a few examples include enemies with lower health, less enemies, the player having higher defense, more time to input commands, or diminished penalty for character death. Bioshock and Bioshock 2 include a mechanic called Vita-Chambers. If the player’s character dies at lower difficulty levels they resurrect in the Vita-Chamber. Their health is diminished but any enemies that were dead when they player’s character perished remain so and any damage done to enemies that remained alive is still present. This mechanic made the game more forgiving for players that find shooters difficult.
Why are these various difficulty settings so important? According to the Entertainment Software Association the average gamer is 35 years old, 65% of households play games, and 40% of gamers are female. Video games DO appeal to people of all ages and sexes. Some gamers have played shooters for decades and want the challenge of higher difficulty, some are new to certain genres and have trouble with the controls, some never play shooters but like adventure games, and others may have difficulty with fast paced games for a variety of reasons. There is simply a large variety of gamers out there. Varied difficulty settings allows players to make the game experience more closely fit their needs. They make a game more accessible and higher accessibility means a greater potential base of happy customers.
But not all gamers want lower difficulty settings. Beating a game like Demon’s Souls requires a certain mix of skills and patience. These brutally difficult games give players a sense of accomplishment when they complete them. As the industry adds more games with various difficulty settings some complain that games are just too easy. I argue that various difficulty settings do not take away that sense of thrill when beating the game on higher difficulty levels. Mass Effect even has an achievement for completing the game on the highest difficulty level without changing the setting, titled Insanity. If a gamer chooses to undertake that challenge they can proudly display it to others when completing the game. How does my beating the game on Easy diminish that other player’s accomplishment of beating it on the highest difficulty setting?
What do you think? Do various difficulty setting increase accessibility which is great OR do they diminish the pride of completing difficult games? Can they do both? Are easier game settings ever a negative?