Game Journalists & Game Difficulty (Essay)

 

essay2

Early this morning, I watched a YouTube video by HypeBreak titled “Sekiro Is Too Hard For Game Journalists,” under which I commented the following: I think the main problem is that the qualification for being a game journalist is mostly the ability to write. Passion for the medium is important… but proof of skill is not? If editors looked at gameplay history, trophy/achievement lists, or anything else gaming related (instead of writing related), I think our view of game journalists would be significantly better. Leave the syntax and diction to the editors, and the gaming to the journalists. Here, I’d like to expand, define, and support my thesis and talk about why this is constantly an issue within the Gaming-sphere.

To my comment, user Edohiguma asked “Are we even sure they’re passionate about games?” I thought it would be an easy question to answer: “Yes, they’re game journalists,” but that didn’t feel honest because that’s a cop-out answer. Instead, I agreed with him. He probably meant that if we knew they were passionate about games, then we wouldn’t see articles like the Cuphead or Sekiro pieces being written. A passionate gaming journalist would devote the amount of time it takes to fully appreciate the game whether it be easy or hard, as the developers intended. If they lack passion, then they would ask for an Easy Mode so that they can write their article and move onto the next game…which is exactly what it seems like is happening. So, are game journalists even passionate about games at all?

Take me, for example. I’m not a game journalist. Hell, I’m not a journalist at all. I’m a young dude with a computer and internet access and that’s about it. My qualifications for being a Game Journalist are extremely limited, even if I love playing and writing about games. If I were to be a game journalist, then I’d hope that I have actual experience in the industry either with a development team, publishing team, writing team, or anything else behind-the-scenes of the game-making process. Journalists these days seem to get the job because they can write. Here’s a surprise: everybody can write. Game journalists shouldn’t be writers, they should be gamers. The editors can edit to make the article sound better but the important part is the meat of the essay which a non-gamer would have a tough time writing if their job was to do just that.

VentureBeat.com’s Jeff Grubb wrote an article this week titled “From Software Should Want an Assist Mode in Sekiro” which is actually a fairly respectable, almost neutral stance on the topic of “are some games too hard?” Although some of the essay feels a little like he’s trying to stand up for people who aren’t good at games, the article quickly becomes a critique of From Software itself instead of a persuasive essay on why games should have multiple difficulty options. Here’s Mr. Grubb attempting to read my mind…

The arguments go something like this:

  • Not every game is for everyone, and that’s OK. Play something else.
  • You shouldn’t force a developer to add something it doesn’t want to add.
  • Accessibility just means being able to remap buttons, not making games easier.
  • It’s fine that Celeste has an accessibility mode, but that’s not From Software’s intention.

I hear these people, and I’d like to offer this counterpoint: You don’t know what you’re talking about.

Following that, he claims that we don’t know From Software’s intentions even though Hidetaka Miyazaki did an interview with Alex Donaldson for Dark Souls 3 on VG247.com and stated the following things:

“Well, there were of course several moments where I had to stop things and take a step back and consider the difficulty,” he says with a smile. “But it’s not necessarily that I say ‘oh, this is too difficult,’ but instead the term I usually use is ‘unreasonable.’ So, that’s the term I tend to use when I have these conversations with the development team.”

“When you think about it, the difficulty in the Dark Souls franchise so far has been something that players have eventually been able to overcome. So when I show concern to the development team members, that’s why the term I use is unreasonable – basically, we don’t want to go too far. It’s about striking a balance.”

“I don’t think that necessarily blocks that game from having wider commercial success,” Miyazaki says of his storytelling method. “Whatever the case is, I feel enabling the player to find something new within the game and its world or storyline – or even other things, such as a shortcut or a boss weakness – gives very high value to the product thanks to the feeling that it creates among players when they make those discoveries.”

“I really love this style of video game,” Miyazaki says. It’s genuine; it shows. “I’m very happy to see a lot of fans excited about all aspects of the product we’ve made.”

Source:https://www.vg247.com/2016/03/02/dark-souls-3-miyazaki-bloodborne-interview/

Note: Above paragraphs 3 and 4 are taken out of context, as Miyazaki was referring more to the ambiguous storyline instead of difficulty, but the emotion behind the statement applies well to the difficulty curve as well.

FromSoftware’s games are notoriously difficult, and they’re not for everybody. Asking that the game be changed to accomodate every person might as well be asking them to create Braille version of the art design, or sheet music for every note so that people with those disabilities may also join in on these specific games. The notion that not every game is for everybody is true. Hell, even I’ve had trouble getting into games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt because it’s got too much going on, Bloodborne because I don’t know what the hell the game wants me to do, Thief because it was too boring, Killzone Shadow Fall because it’s inconsistent, or Pokemon because it’s too repetitive. Does that mean those games should change to appeal to my desires? Hollow Knight was too hard for me. What did I do? I played for 80 hours and did almost everything. I still can’t beat the last challenge but if I keep trying, I’ll be able to. That’s challenge and reward. People petitioned to have Wolfenstein II‘s hardest difficulty patched out of the trophy list to make it easier, but then it devalues that trophy for people who actually earned it.

This all-inclusive propaganda is ruining difficulty curves in the hope that all games will be made for all players. That’s not the case at all. Need for Speed is for gamers who love driving, Call of Duty is made for gamers who love shooting, Amnesia is made for gamers who love horror, and From Software makes games for gamers who love a challenge. I’m not going to petition for Outlast to be less scary so my inner little-girl can actually get through the game. I’m not going to petition for Need for Speed to have a get-out-of-the-car function so that I can run around. I’m not going to petition Call of Duty to be less violent if I’m a pacifist, and I’m not going to petition From Software to add an assist mode.

While it seems as though Jeff Grubb and other people are asking for the equivalent of movies to have subtitles so that it’s more accessible for other language speakers, they’re actually asking every filmmaker to just make their movie in English so that people don’t have to do the work to even read the subtitles. That’s extra programming that the developers don’t need to do, and considering how the From Software games have a huge audience, get great press, and are reviewed exceptionally well, it seems as though the minority that can’t beat the games are louder than the people who can. So, what should be done?

The people who are asking for an easy mode have something in common with me: they’re turned off by the games’ innate difficulty. Why haven’t I played any Demon Souls, Dark Souls, Sekiro, or even played more than 90 minutes of Bloodborne? The challenge-reward ratio doesn’t seem worth it to me. There are those that enjoy difficulty and feel great pleasure in overcoming that difficulty and while I do as well during tough moments in games I love, I don’t seek out games that are inherently difficult so that I can punish and reward myself. For me, I’d rather play a game that has hard moments but that I feel good about finally beating. Here are some examples of gaming moments that have made me want to rip my hair out, but that I finally managed to overcome:

  • Beating the Challenge Rooms in Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City
  • Beating Call of Duty Black Ops III on Veteran Difficulty without Dying, and Realistic Difficulty as well
  • Beating the Pantheon of the Knight in Hollow Knight
  • Beating the Valkyries in God of War (2018)
  • Beating Alien: Isolation on the Hardest Difficultly without Dying or Killing Humans (yes, I had to stack them to consolidate my fourth playthrough)
  • Beating Little Nightmares in under an hour without dying
  • Obtaining 100% Completion, Skinning All Animals, and Studying All Animals in Red Dead Redemption II
  • Beating the zombie mode in Call of Duty WWII by building all Tesla Guns, Saving Klaus, and finishing all Easter Eggs parts
  • Beating Bioshock Infinite on 1999 Mode without using any of the vending machines

But, those are all extra things I went for while Trophy Hunting. Here are games that I thought I would never be able to beat…

  • Another World
  • Bloodborne
  • Devil May Cry 3
  • Hollow Knight
  • The Last of Us
  • The Witness
  • Trials Fusion

…and some of those I still haven’t been able to complete. Furthermore, all of those games were on the normal difficulty. Should games be made easier to accommodate those who have less skill?

Absolutely Not.

If you want to beat a game, you can’t just beg your way to the credits. You have to commit, you have to practice, and you have to persevere. Signing petitions, writing articles, or complaining on Reddit that something is too hard is a waste of time; time that could be used playing the game to master the mechanics. Getting stuck in a game is part of the experience and has been ever since gaming’s inception. Could you imagine if Donkey Kong had an assist mode? High Scores wouldn’t mean shit, and everybody would be the winner.

Devaluing players isn’t the only negative impact assist modes would bring, but if a game comes with an Assist Mode, then it sounds like it’s targeting a younger audience. If the difficulty is targeting a younger audience but the content and subject matter is not, you’re sending increasingly mixed signals to parents who buy games for their kids. I don’t want to be near that mess, but I’ll admit it’s tangential at best.

Having difficulty settings in wide-appeal games is natural, but the few games that are made for a more hardcore audience need be shamed? That’s preposterous.

But, these are just one man’s thoughts. I decided to ask people on opposite ends of the gaming spectrum, one very casual, and one very hardcore, for their opinion on the matter.

RatchetHero1006 is my casual friend, who loves games that he can invest himself in without challenging him too much. In the games that allow him to start slow and get better at, the exceeds tremendously well. I’ve never seen anybody better at Guitar Hero in my life, and I’m the one that could never be beat. He’s admittedly the gamer who loves to play through series such as Sly Cooper, Jak and Daxter, and the like, whilst ignoring games like Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption, or anything else that has a large open world or steep learning curve. So, I proposed the question to him:

Me: “Should all games have an assist mode, or should players just expect to get stuck while playing certain parts?”

RatchetHero1006: “Tough to say that it should be ‘all games,’ but I do appreciate having the easy option on the campaign-driven games I do play like Uncharted, Spider-Man, etc. When the focus of the game is the narrative as well as the fun gameplay experience, then sometimes a difficulty that’s too challenging can distract and frustrate me away from what I’m supposed to be invested in: the story and characters. But, when a game just hands things to a player and doesn’t expect their skills to increase as they play, then that can also be unsatisfying. Gotta find a happy medium.”

I’m not sure how to say it better myself, especially when story matters so much. If the difficulty gets in the way of the story, then you have an issue. However, From Software games traditionally aren’t known for their arcs, a fact that’s apparent from the quote earlier in this article made my Miyazaki when discussing his very own games.

On the other hand, I asked PLATINUM_STEVIE the very same question. He is somebody that I met while going for the Platinum Trophy in Call of Duty: WWII, we were two of four people that triumphed in the zombies game mode (a trophy I mentioned being proud of earlier). He is somebody that I never play with, but always watch his Trophy Progression. Whenever he starts a game, he doesn’t move onto the next game until he gets 100% Completion across the trophy lists. The aforementioned Wolfenstein II‘s hardest difficulty trophy? He has it. I could list off all of the incredible accolades he’s earned but you could also just check out his account on PSNProfiles.com to see for yourself.

He hasn’t responded yet, but when he does I’ll add his comment here.

While FromSoftware games are notoriously difficult, they’re far from impossible. Here are the trophy statistics for the six games in their library thus far:

FromSoftware Games Average % Platinum %
Demon’s Souls 25.39 10.19
Dark Souls 43.04 16.90
Dark Souls II 48.00 15.37
Dark Souls III 52.73 17.73
Bloodborne 36.72 21.99
Sekiro 31.63 12.51

To explain what this means, the Average % number is the average trophy completion for each PSNProfiles user who has played the game. The Platinum % number represents how many of those players have 100% of the trophies for the game. Granted, those numbers represent people who have played the game, have an account on PSNProfiles, and most likely have a passion for trophy hunting and game completion, but the numbers are far from drastically low. To compare, these following games have lower percentages for both the Average Completion and Platinum Completion statistics (compared to the lowest of the aforementioned titles, Demon’s Souls)…

  • Devil May Cry 4
  • Prey
  • Hollow Knight
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
  • Bulletstorm
  • Need for Speed: Rivals
  • Unravel Two
  • Red Dead Redemption
  • Red Dead Redemption II
  • Thief
  • Grand Theft Auto V
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops III
  • Battlefield 4
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered
  • Call of Duty: WWII
  • Bioshock: Infinite
  • Bioshock 2
  • Evolve
  • Killzone: Shadow Fall
  • Killzone 2

Honestly, it goes on forever…And while the list above isn’t necessarily harder than the FromSoftware games, the statistics say that if you were to start playing a game from that list or a game from the FromSoftware list, you’ll more likely get farther in the game AND earn 100% of the trophies on the FromSoftware game list than these other games. And those above games were all taken from games that I’ve played on my PS4 account recently, and I don’t hunt down hard games. Hell, I avoid most of them. Yet, here we are.

So, to wrap this essay up: gaming journalists need to devote more time to the mechanics of a game instead of trying to hurry through it in order to write their article and move onto the next game. If they really cared about the craft, they wouldn’t complain about the difficulty curves. If they really cared about the medium, they’d respect the developers’ decisions and work from there. If they really cared about their article, they’d put as much effort into making it as good as possible instead of abandoning it altogether to write a piece on how they suck at games. Not every journalist needs to cover every game. If you find a game you’re passionate about, write about it. If you find a game you can’t beat, either devote the time it takes to complete it, or move on.

It’s that easy.

It would be nice for me to write a review of all FromSoftware games, but I can’t do that because I probably can’t beat them. Instead, I’m playing through all six Devil May Cry games to write a series review and so far, it looks like it’s going to take me 70 hours when all is said and done. And I don’t make money on this site. If a gaming journalist put 70  hours into Sekiro, they’d be a goddamn master. Perspective.

As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!

-Blake

 

 

Published by Blake Carson Schwarz

Indiana University graduate in Media and Creative Writing. I love to write my own stories as well as experience the work of others. On this site, I post reviews, essays, and other fun posts that I hope you have as much fun reading and I have writing. Please share any comments you have, I'd be happy to hear what you think! *Never a critic, always a fan*

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