The conversation surrounding From Software’s “Soulsborne” genre is one of the strangest in gaming culture: Should it have an “easy” mode? Is it “too hard”? Are people suckered into thinking their games are good, when it might be a kind of self-delusion to justify spending hours on menial tasks to overcome unnecessarily powerful enemies?

I don’t know the answers. The discussion doesn’t seem to me to be enlightening (especially, as I learned, with a rabid fanbase of teens and anime avatars). What I find fascinating about Dark Souls is the world, the lore, the weird characters. It’s why I was honoured to be able to contribute to some of the official comics and put in some of the darkest stories I’ve ever conjured.

Games being hard doesn’t make them interesting. Like some men I’ve known, this is a justification for not having a personality. With games, we talk about many traits and qualities, not (only) how long or how “hard” we worked to achieve anything. Dark Souls and Bloodborne gatekeep their wonderful, weird lore and world behind ridiculously difficult gameplay, difficult combat and a total lack of instruction or guide. Many have indicate how much they’d love to participate but feel alienated by the difficulty. Too many rejoice at this restriction, which seems a pretty unkind response.

Too often, fans of the genre assert this absence in From Software games as quality, but it seems to me this is a post hoc justification. It wasn’t in before or while they learned about these obtuse games and now, if you ask for any improvement, any accessibility, this is seen as tantamount to spitting in the Pope’s favourite coffee mug.

Like Bethesda, From Software get a pass that, were it almost any one else, they would not. The frequency and lack of consequence for publishing broken games has resulted in Bethesda’s games releasing in a state many just rolls their eyes at; people just kind of tolerate Bethesda’s crappy games now. From Software making difficult, inaccessible games which clearly have genius mechanics, dark, creepy lore and so on but which hide behind this difficulty also gets a pass. It’s a From game, we get told, and any change, any amending to make it “easier” would somehow destroy every other, carefully designed aspect of the game.

It’s also bizarre to treat ease and accessibility (which, for me, are two different things) as anathema to these games, when no one decries the many guides, YouTube videos and so on that provide hints, cheats and manipulations to make the game easier. This, to me, seems like the best counter: An easier mode would undermine players helping players, that the whole point is discovery of ways to “cheat” or make it easier yourself. That, in fact, From Software have put in an Easy Mode but it’s one you should or can make yourself.

There’s a good discussion to be had about these sorts of issues, but we won’t get anywhere if people treat criticism of a favourite franchise as somehow desecrating some holy artifact. Criticism can make your experience better and countering arguments develops, not undermines, the discourse surrounding games.

(Disclosure: I wrote some officially licenced comics for the Dark Souls universe.)

One thought on “Difficulty Isn’t Personality: From Software Games Can Be Better than This?

  1. I’m pro easy-mode and pro accessibility, but implying (even in the form of a question) that people who enjoy grindy boss battles must be engaging in self-delusion is 1) unproductive and 2) a catastrophic failure to grasp that Other People Are Different Than You.

    You state “Games being hard doesn’t make them interesting” but here’s the thing: for some people, it does. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing necessarily broken about those people. Being interested in difficulty for difficulty’s sake doesn’t mean something is lacking in their personalities.

    Of course, this is not an argument against easy mode: people who genuinely love the difficulty can play on hard like they’ve always done, their experience is not tainted by the mere existence of easy mode. But just as “I genuinely enjoy difficulty” is a terrible argument against easy mode, so is “Are people who claim to enjoy difficulty merely justifying their own wasted time” terrible rhetoric when arguing *for* easy mode.

    Really any argument that leans on “Well *I* can’t imagine enjoying this, therefore people who say they do must be lying and/or have something wrong with them”-type thoughts usually reveals more about the person making the argument than anything else.


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