Over the holiday season we’ll be republishing a series of Nintendo Life articles, interviews and other features from the previous twelve months that we consider to be our Best of 2020. Hopefully, this will give you a chance to catch up on pieces you missed, or simply enjoy looking back on a year which did have some highlights — honest!
This Soapbox feature was originally published in August 2020.
It’s time to make a ‘confession’ that will potentially see me getting shunned by some gamers. I have no shame in doing so, though, and I hope that by making this known about myself maybe others will also have the confidence to come forward too. Right, here goes.
Sometimes I play games on Easy difficulty.
Now, before you round up a posse to descend on the comments section and call me a games “journalist” with quote marks (a cutting attack so devastatingly original that it happens… well, every day really), hear me out, because I happen to have very good reasons for this.
There’s no need for me to “git gud”, because I’m happy enough with my current level of “gudness”, thanks very much
Firstly, let me get the obligatory credentials out of the way: not for the sake of boasting or anything, but just to eliminate the inevitable “git gud” nonsense that will come with a statement like this. I’ve been gaming for nearly 35 years, I’ve been playing Nintendo games since before the NES even launched in the UK and I’ve reviewed literally thousands of games in a career spanning nearly a decade-and-a-half.
I don’t usually blow my own trumpet because the internet has enough show-offs as it is, but please excuse a little toot-toot in this instance. This isn’t a situation where someone new to gaming is struggling to cope or anything like that: there’s no need for me to “git gud”, because I’m happy enough with my current level of “gudness”, thanks very much.
So what’s the main reason? Simply put, life’s too short, and the older I get the clearer this becomes. There used to be a time (mainly when I was in my late teens and early twenties) when I would happily play games all day and night. I still have vivid memories of a three-day Dreamcast binge at my first uni flat in which we played for so long we ended up accidentally inventing Danger Doubles, a four-player version of Virtua Tennis where you had to keep nudging your partner to stop them falling asleep.
I’m now 37 and the idea of pulling an all-nighter – let alone three in a row – is laughable. I’m juggling my freelance work, my own site, my book-writing career, my 9-to-5 job and the small matter of a two-year-old daughter, so free time is very much at a premium these days. I wouldn’t change any of it, either: this is my life now, and I’m delighted with it. What it does mean, however, is that I have to be more careful with how I spend what little free time I have. On some nights I’ll be lucky to get a spare hour or two to play games, and I need to make that time count. This is where Easy difficulty comes into it.
Many of these people have no problem playing on Hard, even though presumably the true artistic vision would be the Normal difficulty level
When I’m playing games, I want to make sure I’m at least making some sort of progress. I want to turn off my game after my session and be satisfied that I’m working my way towards the end. If it turns out I’ve only got 90 minutes to myself that evening, I don’t want to spend that entire time doing the same level over and over again because of a particularly tricky section. If I’m on the fourth mission and by the end of the night I’m still on the fourth mission, that’s a wasted night in my book. That’s why I’ll happily drop the difficulty: that way I may be on mission seven or eight by the end of the night instead.
Most of these games have stories, too. Most of the time I’m just more interested in seeing where the story goes than in any sort of serious challenge. Various people took the time to write a game’s dialogue, perform that dialogue, create the necessary assets, make an ending and the like. Some of the people who own these games will never see the back halves of them because they’ll bump the difficulty up to Hard, get burnt out playing the same levels multiple times, and move onto a different game before they reach the end.
There will be some who baulk at the idea of an Easy difficulty level, and bleat on about how it ruins the “artistic vision” of the game. Oddly, many of these people have no problem playing on Hard, even though presumably the true artistic vision would be the Normal difficulty level. It seems if you’re willing to make things more difficult than the default you’re doing nothing wrong, but if you want to make things a bit easier you’re somehow spitting in the developers’ faces.
Here’s the deal with artistic visions, though: if I know a game is going to take up a huge chunk of my free time and consist of repeating difficult sections over and over again, I’m probably going to give it a miss entirely and play something else instead. If you’re so concerned about me experiencing a developer’s artistic vision as intended, surely you’d rather I played through it in a slightly easier state than not playing it at all? I’ve never played Dark Souls and I’d absolutely love to because by all accounts the lore is brilliant, but I just don’t have the time to put up with all its cheap tricks; I fully appreciate that many players love that aspect of the game, but I just want to get on with it.
Both my dad and a self-appointed ‘hardcore’ gamer paid the same amount of money for the game, and both thoroughly enjoyed it in their own way
There are degrees to this, of course. It’s not like I want the game to play itself or anything like that. You may remember features like the Super Guide in New Super Mario Bros. Wii and the Cosmic Guide in Super Mario Galaxy 2, where the game will offer to play through a level for you if you can’t beat it. I’ll always turn something like that down because that’s taking it too far in my opinion (although, crucially, I’d always fight to keep it in there, because others may need it and who am I to decide where the line is?).
That’s the whole point, I suppose: difficulty is subjective. What might be considered too hard for you may be a cakewalk for me, or vice versa. My dad loves his Xbox One and particularly loves the Call of Duty campaigns, but if they didn’t have the easier ‘Recruit’ difficulty levels, he’d have given up on playing them a long time ago. As it is he’s played through practically all of them and loved every minute of it. And here’s the secret: him doing that had absolutely zero impact on people playing through it on Veteran difficulty. Both my dad and a self-appointed ‘hardcore’ gamer paid the same amount of money for the game, and both thoroughly enjoyed it in their own way. That’s how it should be.
Naturally, there are plenty of times when I don’t play on Easy. Whenever I’m reviewing a game for Nintendo Life, my own site or anyone else, I always play through it on its default difficulty: after all, it’s only fair to judge games on what the developer feels is the best way to play it. And there are still times when I actually feel like a challenge and I’ll pop on Mega Man 2 or play something online.
People play games for different reasons. Some play them because they want to test their abilities, others play them to relax and escape the stresses of the real world. I’m very much in the latter camp these days. I’m at the point in my gaming life where I no longer feel the need to justify my skill level: I’m content knowing that I’m good enough to play through a difficult game if I ever need to. It’s just that, right now, I really don’t want to: I’d much rather make my way through my backlog and enjoy a bunch of shorter, simpler adventures than spend a while slowly making progress on just one of them.
Ultimately, my message should be an obvious one (but it isn’t, because the internet). You play your games your way, and let me play my games my way. I don’t question the young bucks who still have enough free time to pump 30 hours into a game on a weekend and test their skills to the limit; if you’re enjoying the challenge, go for it. Just appreciate that not everyone is in the same boat and many of us just like to sail ours on the river without going through the rapids and over the waterfalls. As I approach my 40s, life gives me enough stress without the games I play adding to it.