Easy Mode is Better Played Than Debated

During a recent review of the contents of a couple old USB drives that I had forgotten that I stashed away, I found a handful of articles that I had written for a site that went defunct. Since I hate for words to sit unread (even those in incoherent, rambly sentences), I decided I might as well share them here. Here’s one from around February 2013 in which I mused over playing games on “easy.”

Last week, Kotaku released an brief but interesting article on “very easy” games modes. It’s a quick read if you just want to pop over there.  It’s okay — I’ll wait.

Maybe All Games Should Have a ‘Very Easy” Mode

Um.  You still…? Forget it, forget it. Here’s the jist — a reader contacted author with idea that Ni No Kuni’s developer, Studio Ghibli, should release a “very easy” mode patch in order to make the game more accessible to, in this case, his girlfriend. Author pondered this and then asked:

Why shouldn’t video games like Ni no Kuni come with a Very Easy mode so that anyone can appreciate them?

The author went on to acknowledge that many current games offer easier modes of play (or have built-in cheats, if you will) for the less experienced or casual gamer. He then concludes by saying that having lower difficulty options makes games more accessible and generally doesn’t take anything away from the gaming experience. (By the way, Kotaku has release several articles on the notion of easy modes of play in video games, most supporting the idea.)

Makes sense. I don’t have any problem with this notion at all. How this pertains to Ni no Kuni I don’t know since I haven’t played the game, however I wouldn’t have any issue with games offering easy modes of play, either with the games or after the fact. There’s plenty of support out there for easy modes, and plenty of gamers will gladly confess to choosing easy modes of play. (A quick search brings up other Kotaku articles on the topic and plenty of I-play-on-easy-and-that’s-how-I-like-it blog posts.)  Opinion over. Let’s all go home.

But…not really.  Let’s take the author’s question into the mostly hypothetical and slightly realistic realm. The industry is having a tough time right now. Sales are down, there’s a glut of current generation games on the market, and we’re on the verge of the next generation of consoles. Let’s pretend that, in an effort to improve sales, the industry decrees, decrees they say!, that ALL games MUST include easy modes of play. The hope is that non-gamers, mobile gamers, and casual gamers will jump feet first into the vast ocean of console/PC play knowing that all games have now lower difficulty options.

Looking at the issue through this academic lens makes me question my initial opinion. If an easy mode is planned into a game, that’s fine; but making companies include a causal play modes in games just so they seem more accessible to every single person on the planet doesn’t really make sense to me.

Speaking only for myself, I fall into the not-really-casual-but-not-quite-hardcore spectrum of gamers, if there is such a thing.  I play games semi-regularly mostly on normal or easy modes. If you read my last opinion piece on cheating (and I know you all did, r-i-i-i-i-ght?) you probably picked up on my willingness to trade in being a “hardcore” gamer for being a happy gamer. Therefore, it’s probably not a surprise to know that I rarely move beyond the normal difficulty level in most games. Sometimes I’ll play games on harder levels if I enjoy them enough; but I mostly stick to the easier modes because I don’t have long stretches of time to sink into harder difficulty levels. If I only have an hour to play, I want it to be an enjoyable, progression-filled hour, not a horrible hour-long drudge through a single area.

I don’t choose games because I know they have “easy” modes – most of the time I’m not really *that* informed about a game. I choose games because I like the characters/had fun with a previous title/heard good things about it/etc. And like most folks, I lean towards and away certain games anyway. If, say, a popular war-themed first person shooter has a casual mode it wouldn’t matter to me because I don’t enjoy war-themed first person shooters to begin with. And I tend to shy away from games that are naturally difficult (I’m thinking of Dark Souls here, though it’s difficulty has been debated). Sorry, but I don’t think I’m really missing anything.  I’m very comfortable in my gamer-dom.

Still, the notion of “very easy” modes has some gamers up in arms.  On the Kotaku article there’s one particular comment that pretty much sums up the basic negativity (paraphrasing ahead).

–If you can’t handle a game that only offers normal and hard modes, then don’t play it.

–Our population is already coddled enough, do gamers need coddling too?

–In the past, games offered only one difficulty level and you learned how to beat it by playing, so suck it up.

Harsh words, yet I understand the sentiments behind them.  I mean, I like having the choice to play an game on “easy,” but petitioning companies to make casual game modes just to make games more accessible to a supposed audience that’s probably already happy playing Angry Birds on their phones, just wouldn’t seem right.

What’s your stance on the issue?  Is it completely ridiculous or perfectly feasible to ask game companies to include easy modes in all their games?  What’s your preferred mode of play? 


  1. Easy mode shouldn’t be a mandatory inclusion, but it is nice when a difficulty setting is included. I would rather play Dark Souls on easy rather than leave it as an unfinished waste of money because my skills suck.

    Liked by 1 person

    • See, that’s just it! I mean, I do understand that people play games for the challenge. But what’s the use in tearing your hair out over playing a game on difficult if it doesn’t get you anywhere? That’s enough to kill one’s spirit and confidence directly. I, too, would much rather enjoy, and finish, any given game on easy, and then work up in difficulty if I feel like I need to.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a tough one. I do feel that games should be accessible, and easy modes are certainly a way to do it. It’s up to the developer though, and not to any of us. I do still think that there should be some challenge to games, and if developers are making a game specifically to challenge players, then they should convey that so that the gaming audience knows ahead of time if it’s for them. If a game doesn’t have an easy mode and it ends up being really hard, that’s fine as long as the developers have made that clear and can also accept that they might not get as much revenue from more casual gamers. Either way, interesting topic. There isn’t really a best answer to this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Y’know, you’re right. This isn’t the kind of question that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” It’s more complex than that. The catch-22 is an issue that just goes along with making something for an audience — how you you make the thing YOU want AND also make the thing that THEY want?

      As you say, the issue is one of communication. It helps when developers are clear about their intentions with a game, whether it’s widely accessible or not. Then, the choice is up to the players. Simply requiring easy modes in games isn’t an answer. Even that would take away from what games are supposed to be –learning experiences that are sometimes challenging. This is likely a debate that may never reach a suitable resolution, and that’s okay! We — developers and gamers — need to keep questioning games in order to help them evolve.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. this is a tough one, games need to be accessible to everyone, and also need to be challenging enough in my opinion to be considered a game. If the game was sooo easy you just press A every now and then or repeatedly mash it, then to me it’s not really a game and it’s more of a movie, or interactive game at best. To me the appeal of gaming is not only a story, but also a challenge certain things bring me. If a game needs an easy mode to lure people in, then I think the game got things wrong like how accessible it really is. Hard to define what that is, but the game should just be easy to pick up, and learn, but should be challenging to master.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a great point there about accessibility. Developers simply can’t make All games for ALL people. And if they find themselves having to shoehorn in an “easy” mode just because they think it’ll get more people to play their game, then yeah, they’re doing it wrong. The game itself need to be the lure, not the fact that it has an “easy” mode.

      There are many, many games (Chrono Trigger and Borderlands come immediately to mind) where there are no difficulty levels. You simply start, learn, and level up. And you can choose or not to take on more difficult challenges as they present themselves. And these games are really easy to pick up and play. Whether or not you master them is up to you — so you can play casually or more hardcore depending on your style. Having this kind of flexibility is great without having to worry about difficulty modes.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think it’s really on the game devs to decide if they want to add an “easy mode” or not. I grew up with games that had one difficulty, and I didn’t finish games because of it. I’m not a “hardcore” (whatever that means) gamer, nor a real “casual” gamer either. Like you, I’m in the middle. I liked how Witcher 3 handled this, describing what the “focus” of the mode was – story, story and some combat, or focus on combat. Cool, great. I know I like story and a little combat, so we’re good to go. And sometimes, I just want a story. So that’s nice, too.

    I’m not sure how having an “easy” mode is a problem. After all, if you want to read an abridged version of Moby Dick so you can understand the story without reading the pages and pages of textbook information on whaling, no one says, “Well, you’re not a *real* reader. Git gud.” Or, “Excuse me, you didn’t watch the 6-hour version of Return of the King. Must you be coddled so?” I don’t like how folks who enjoy video games are judged so harshly *by other people who enjoy video games* because they want to experience them in a way that is personally enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “I don’t like how folks who enjoy video games are judged so harshly *by other people who enjoy video games* because they want to experience them in a way that is personally enjoyable.”

      This is a perfect summation of the conundrum of the video game community. Granted, I think we are a supportive lot, but there remain the, shall we say, “super passionate” people who simply can’t see the forest for the trees. Not to throw my husband under the bus, but he and I will occasionally get into it over playing games on “easy.” He can’t fathom playing games on “easy,” and he’ll often razz me for it. But the thing of it is, we each experience progression and frustration differently with games. For him, he wants to feel challenged, and if that means he has to play a game on difficult and have the occasional conniption because he can’t get past a certain area/boss/level, then so be it. For me, I want to be immersed in a great story, and if that means I have to play a game on easy and become occasionally bored by the simple combat, then so be it. And this isn’t unique to the two of us; every individual player has to find his or her own way with games. And the really beautiful thing about games (that most of us realize but some remain too dense for their own good) is that there’s no wrong way to play. Whatever styles or modes work for us make it the right way. My “right way” may be different from yours, but that’s okay. We’re all just here to play.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I very much agree that games should have a mode that makes them more accessible to players of all types. There may be exceptions in which a game is specifically designed to be as hard as possible (a super easy mode in I Wanna Be The Guy may defeat its purpose) but for the most part more players is in no way a bad thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, you could make the same argument with games like Super Meat Boy, FTL, and such. There are some games where the high difficulty is the whole point, and to make them “easy” would be pretty pointless.

      I also like the idea of making games as openly accessible as possible to the widest audience possible. If a developer feels they can do their for their games, then all the better! But if not, no harm, no foul.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Goodness, I wrote so much. But it was a reaction to those last few quotes so I deleted it all. 4 paragraphs can be summed up as:
    Shortsighted elitist prick gamers will kill gaming quicker than a government mandate 😀

    But my take on this issue is:
    More players equals more money
    More money equals more games tomorrow

    Because how will including an easier mode affect the hardcore gamers? I don’t see that it would. At all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Precisely — it won’t! I consider myself a pretty regular gamer, and if I see a game that I like, I really don’t care if the game offers difficulty modes or not. I’ve definitely steered away from games that are known to be difficult generally, because I know my own limitations. But I don’t think I’ve ever avoided a game specifically because it didn’t have difficulty modes. That line of purchasing reasoning just doesn’t make much sense. It would be like saying “I like oranges, but I won’t buy them because they are too difficult to peel.”

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is an interesting issue. I actually wrote about difficulty in Dark Souls a while ago, and concluded it should not have an easy mode. That was due to how the company itself placed the game – always highlighting it as a difficult game.
    Thinking generally I can see pros and cons. First things first, simply sitting down to play any game on say a console has an admission price in terms of the controller. You need to get familiar with that first, which sure isn’t easy. Then there are game systems in general – many are by now fairly complex and you need to understand certain game conventions in order to navigate many game worlds successfully. No amount of tinkering with difficulty levels (health bars and whatnot) will solve those issues for the first-time player.
    Of course your question also includes the companies. To that we as gamers have to remember that all these things cost money. Balancing a game is difficult, very difficult. And for every time you add a difficulty level that means more balancing, more playtesting, which all racks up costs.
    So yeah, in many ways its nice for players to have an “easy” mode, but the game should still prove a challenge, or progression will feel flat.
    An analogy may prove prudent. We do not learn how to read by reading Shakespeare first. We begin with children books, then maybe move on to easy adventure novels and so on. That is how we become literate. Maybe we should apply same terms of literacy to games. You dont play Dark Souls as your first game. Most grew up playing Crash Bandicoot, Spiro, etc.
    I believe it is fair to expect that players learn to play through some games, and eventually become “literate” enough to play harder games.

    Well that was a lot longer than anticipated – apologies! Anyway, enjoyed the read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, no worries – thanks for the comment! You bring up some great points (and I like that Shakespeare analogy!). It all too easy to forget that thousands of hours of work went into that $60 game in front of you, and that may or may not include the time spent on making the game accessible to the widest array of people possible. It’s up to the developers to make the best game they feel that they can make; it’s up to the players to decide if a game is or isn’t right for them. Those of us who are experienced with games can easily take for granted the fact that a game that seems easy for us can be very difficult for someone else. In the case of the player, the non-player, and No no Kuni in the Kotaku article, the the answer might have been less of “why can’t the game have a ‘very easy’ mode?” and more of “what’s a good RPG for a beginner player?” (Probably not Ni no Kuni, I imagine.) The same can be worked out with Dark Souls. As you said, it’s not one’s “first game.” So if someone’s interested in the game, the answer is not to provide a “super easy mode” in Dark Souls but, perhaps, an easier precursor or it.

      With games that provide difficulty levels, I’ve always been of the mindset to play on “easy” or “normal” first — this helps me learn about and feel confident in a game. Then, if I feel like I want more of a challenge, I’ll replay the game at a higher difficulty. But there shouldn’t be any shame in someone enjoying and beating a game on “easy” and calling it a day.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We can easily agree on that. No reason to adopt an elitist attitude and look down on people who play a game on an easier difficulty. And yeah, enjoying a story is definitely easier when you aren’t constantly struggling to get through the next part of the game. And being a big fan of game stories, I obviously think that makes a lot of sense to do!

        Liked by 1 person

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