Is Difficulty in Games Exclusionary?

What do you think about Skip Gameplay buttons and Difficulty being a means of excluding other people from being accepted as real gamers?

The thing I have to say on the recent “Difficulty is Exclusion” topic is, a big part of the art of games is their challenge. Challenge isn’t some arbitrary wall that exists to restrict you from experiencing the entire product you paid for; That wall is literally a part of the product you’re paying for, part of the desired experience. People pay to get walls like this set up in front of them that they can test themselves against and work to improve at and overcome. Games are a type of structured play that entertain us by allowing us to overcome challenges, a drive that’s built into us as humans. The design of these challenges is varied and artistic in its own right, not simply a gating mechanism for experiencing the other art present in the game. Having a system that is constructed to only allow access to successive challenges if you can beat prior ones is a unique type of experience that a lot of people intensely value, and they’re not wrong for desiring and valuing experiences that force them to “git gud”. This plays on a natural human instinct that is highly cathartic.

I don’t have a problem with “tourist” or “pacifist” difficulty modes that allow people to stroll through the game without resistance. I don’t have a problem with games having an easy mode, or a skip button for gameplay. However, not all games should have these things. Games should be allowed to exist and thrive for not giving the players an easy way out, for not even presenting the option. There isn’t an objectively correct way to do difficulty, and some people intensely value games that force them to put their nose to the grindstone in order to succeed, just as other people don’t value those things and intensely value the other aspects of entertainment software. Games should exist to cater to both these tastes instead of uniformly insisting that every game is hard only, or that every game allow you to skip gameplay. Games should be free to occasionally not give you a choice. This isn’t exclusionary, it is the nature of the art itself, as much as color is part of the nature of paintings. Not everything needs to be for everyone. It’s okay to cater to the individual tastes of a niche. “git gud” is another way of saying, “Try a little harder, you can do it, and you’ll see why I enjoy this game too.” It’s a way of ending toxicity from people who blame the game for their failure instead of themselves.

The concept of a skip gameplay button draws a kneejerk reaction from a lot of people, including myself, because having that in a game can feel patronizing, can allow us to cheat ourselves, and not having the option to do that brings a type of certainty and reassurance. It’s okay to let people skip things sometimes, but it’s also worth recognizing the value in being forced to achieve with no alternative. The advocation for the ability to skip any challenge is seen by many people as a sign that journalists just don’t get what so many people love about games. That they don’t get a fundamental part of the medium, from tabletop games, to sports, to video games. These people aren’t exclusionary (usually), they want other people to enjoy the same thing they enjoy, without removing or altering the thing they love most about it.

It’s not a matter of you being entitled to all the content you paid for. A big part of the thing itself is the enjoyment of needing to work to see all of it, not because it’s exclusive, but because working hard and challenging ourselves is intrinsically enjoyable. It’s fun to improve and figure new things out on our own. Games are the artistic expression of different types of challenges. This art form of artistic challenges, including and especially intensely difficult ones, deserves to exist! It is as pure a reflection of human nature as any other art, and it should not be truncaded in a misguided attempt to deliver it to more people, without delivering the soul of the thing itself. Please make an attempt to understand why this is something people enjoy for its own sake, rather than assuming it’s the petty exclusionary amusement of a club of insiders. Please don’t dismiss it just because it is not to your taste and you cannot empathize with the concept of enjoying the process of learning through overcoming hardship. Games are beautiful, but this type of discussion is aimed at dividing people and turning them against one another, as members of separate tribes, rather than each taking a chance to understand and enjoy what others have enjoyed in the games they love.

One thought on “Is Difficulty in Games Exclusionary?

  1. Joevan Salmon-Johnson October 12, 2017 / 11:12 pm

    I look at it from the perspective of stress. The mainstream holds the perspective that people should be allowed to choose how much stress they want to endure before they’re rewarded with something. It’s not as though they lack understanding that overcoming stress can be its own reward; it’s just that people would rather engage games “when they feel like it,” picking and choosing how much effort they should invest to fit it into their lives, and not getting social grief just for putting less effort than those around them. You’re going to have a hard time convincing some people that being unable to avoid that stress adds to the experience without coming across as wanting to control their entertainment.

    Like

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