It’s happened to all of us. We come to a point in the game where the difficulty seems to have ramped up significantly and you weren’t prepared for it. It could be a wave of enemies, an incredibly complicated puzzle, or a boss fight that seems impossible. If you’re like me, you’ll play this part of the game over and over until you beat it or rage quit. Sure, there are some gamers who somehow channel their inner chi and manage to remain in a state of zen, but breaking a controller or hurling pillows from your couch across the room is probably the more common reaction. There is a very simple, solvable solution to this frustration already built into the game itself, but somehow we as a gaming community have collectively decided that it is an offense. The solution: switch the difficulty to easy, novice, or beginner and move on. The response, however, is that you’re not good enough to play games if you have to take this approach. We have somehow decided that opting to make games easier to play is a mark against your skill overall, and you deserve the walk of shame for doing so.
I’m not entirely sure how or why this toxic ideology has imbedded it’s way into the very fabric of gaming, but I’m here to make the argument that we normalize the approach and unlearn this strange aversion to enjoying the games we play. The gaming community seems to have this mentality that games are either challenging or fun, but can never be both. I’m here to make the case that they can, in fact, co-exist. And look, before you get all up in arms about me coming for people who love opening a game and immediately setting it to expert and blazing through it, know that I’m not arguing that your way is wrong. Some gamers have an affinity for high level gaming, and get enjoyment out of mastering the most difficult aspects a particular game has to offer. My overall point is that it’s time to normalize not shaming people who simply don’t have the time, skill, or desire to do that.
Even in the comfort of my own home playing a game no one knows I’m currently working through, I’m always wary of lowering the difficulty. The idea that it somehow makes me less of player despite literally no one but myself or my cat knowing what I’m doing still forces me to approach games with a kind of unwarranted pride. Recently, however, I’ve started to let this misplaced resistance go and allow myself to ease up when the going gets a little too tough. There are a few reasons for this, none of which have to do with myself not being skilled enough to power through it. Let’s look at 3 different types of games that I’ve played that I have made this move for, why I feel justified in my decision to do so, and why more gamers should be ok with doing it as well. We’ll look at Mortal Kombat 9, Jedi Fallen Order, and Gears of War 5.
Let’s start with MK9 because it’s the game that still haunts me to this day. 10 years since its release, I have still never beaten the game. Shao Khan has been a roadblock for a decade, to the point where instead of just lowering the difficulty (which would have been the obvious and easiest solution), I just stopped playing it altogether. I spent hours and hours fighting the same boss over and over again. I had friends attempt it for me, I watched videos and read strategies and none of them worked. Strangely, this is the only Mortal Kombat game in the last 10 years that has given me this much grief. After reflecting on how long it has been, I finally asked myself, why? Why is it so important to beat it at a certain difficulty? Mortal Kombat doesn’t reward you with anything other than aesthetics and maybe a console trophy, so what does it matter? I don’t play fighting games online, and I’m not SonicFox competing for world titles, so who cares how I beat the game if the only reward is the cinematic story that follows?
The truth is, it doesn’t matter. Fighting games are especially insignificant, because unless you’re competing against other players online, they have very little replay value once the campaign is completed. Furthermore, with games like Mortal Kombat and Injustice, that story forces you to play characters you probably don’t main with anyway, so what’s the point of beating the game on hard with Raiden if you main as Noob Siabot? The stigma of lowering the difficulty to get past a boss has cheated me out of completing a game and seeing the end scenes, and it’s silly. These games are often short and sweet even when they’re longer than normal, and if you just want to play through the story so you can battle your friends, there should be no issue or shame lowering the settings to get through it. Hell, most of the time I don’t beat the story alone, as the controller is usually passed from friend to friend as the characters change. We’re not memorizing long, complicated combos to compete somewhere later, so just enjoy the game at any level you want.
Quick note before we move on: I want to be clear that I am not saying that you should set the game to easy indefinitely. While that’s fine, I do think that it’s perfectly fine to attempt it on normal or hard, give it the old college try and lower the difficulty when needed. I will always try a few times before I decide it’s time to get through it on an easier mode. This actually takes us to Jedi Fallen Order. This action adventure game is relatively short compared to other games, but it still has a lot of challenging levels, minions, and boss fights. The game requires a lot of combat strategy, and seldom allows you to just hack and slash your way through enemies at will. For most of the game, this was fine for me. But then I hit a road block in the form of Malicos. Similar to MK 9, I attempted this fight over and over again, watched tutorial videos and read guides to try and get past him, and nothing seemed to work. I felt guilty as hell, but I lowered the difficulty to get through it.
See, unlike a number of other gamers, I rarely have time to finish games. My schedule is packed with things constantly, and I have to go out of my way to MAKE time to play games. When and how long that time will be is never predetermined and is often extremely limited, so when I finally do get to sit down and play for a while, I want it to be worth it. Playing the same level over and over again during the limited time that I have simply isn’t worth the struggle. Again, I gain nothing from beating it at a higher difficultly. I don’t get bonus rewards, I don’t get better weapons, I don’t get additional health. I simply get to say I beat it, which would happen no matter what difficulty I put it on. And I enjoyed the story being told here, and I wanted to see it through to the end. So yeah, I dropped the difficulty, and beat Malicos. I did the same for the final boss fight as well. Trust me, I wish I had the time to fire up a game and play it out in one fail swoop as hard as I can make it. I’m not afraid of a challenge, but I also don’t want to spend the limited hours I have to play doing so on repeat. It was way more fun finishing the game and seeing its conclusion than it was desperately trying (and failing) to beat a boss on a certain difficulty. It doesn’t make me a bad gamer, simply one with a time limit.
Lastly, let’s look at Gears of War 5, a massive third person shooter with plenty of difficult enemies and boss fights. Again, my own stubbornness has caused me to not actually finish Gears of War 4, hitting a challenging swarm of enemies I simply couldn’t get through and instead of lowering the difficulty, I moved on. I don’t intentionally start games to not complete them, but games this massive require a lot of focus and playing time, the latter of which I simply don’t have the luxury to spend. Learning my lesson, I was informed from friend who had played a particular boss fight before me that it was incredibly difficult. I regard him as a better gamer than myself, and if he was having a hell of a time with it, I knew it would probably be double for me. So, instead of buckling down and wasting the hour or so I had to play, I got to that point and lowered the difficult to easy. Honestly, it was still pretty challenging, and I would have been ripped in half more than once on normal or expert.
But you know what? I was able to continue playing the story and open up more parts of the game in the small window of play time. That was more rewarding that telling my cat I beat the Matriarch on a certain difficulty level. With Gears, you don’t even get aesthetic bonuses. You get console trophies and personal bragging rights, neither of which matter to me more than advancing in the game. And no, I didn’t leave it on easy afterwards. I put it back up to normal until I hit another road block a few days later. I may actually be able to beat the game this time around because of it, and that’s far more satisfying than what difficulty it was on when I did it.
At the heart of it all, I understand that games and the gaming community are naturally competitive. MOST games now are multiplayer focused, and your skill is immediately weighed and tried against players around the world whether you want it to be or not. But this newfound obsession with PVP gaming shouldn’t change how we choose to play through campaigns. If you want thrive on the challenge, set it to expert and challenge yourself. If you’re confident enough to get through games on their natural setting, go for it. And if you, like me, sometimes need to make it easier so you can progress, well it’s time to let that be ok too.
I can already hear it in my head: “Just admit you aren’t good at playing games, dude. No need to make excuses.” And this is exactly the kind of toxic response I think we should all be actively eliminating from our community. You don’t have to be good at games to enjoy them, and you don’t have to be an expert at them to prove your metal. Sometimes, you can just play games however you need to.
Life doesn’t have an easy mode, and games are meant to be an escape. So maybe it’s time we normalize lowering that challenge once in a while so the escape is more fun than stressful. We have enough to worry about right now. Beating a boss fight on hard with no ammo and a crummy pistol shouldn’t be one of them.
They’re video games. Normalize enjoying them at any difficulty.