Friday Debate: Should games be more accessible?

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Darksouls

Ahh Cuphead. It’s a delightful game, which very nearly caused me to throw my Xbox in the bin in frustration. When I eventually bested it, (the last two bosses are a goddamned nightmare) the feeling of elation of having beat the devil and his lackey is indescribable. And yet, it’s something that so few people will get to experience.

Thing is, that doesn’t make me amazing or special. It just makes this lovely, wonderfully hand-drawn game inaccessible to most people. The game has been both praised and vilified for its difficulty, but I think it could do with being a little more accessible.

Cuphead_Baroness_Von_Bon_Bon

Accessibility in games is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. As a grumpy old bastard who’s served his time playing games since the Atari 2600, I often want to sit down and play a game without hitting brick walls of difficulty, but the option to move past that just isn’t there. And I say option, because I feel that games should have those – optional difficulty levels, opening the games up to more people.

For the first time, this year’s Assassin’s Creed has a difficulty selection, letting people who don’t want to get caught up in the newly adjusted combat’s difficulty play through the game to experience the story, without as much hardship. It goes even further, offering a free update next year that introduces an educational museum mode, letting people experience parts of the game without any combat whatsoever.

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doom
IDDQD? IDKFA? Hey, those made the game more accessible!

There are other games that are great at being accessible. Forza is a great simulator, that requires technical precision when its assists are off, but allows those who drive like assholes (me) to turn on things like ABS, racing lines and more so staying on the track isn’t impossible. Marvel vs Capcom Infinite (middling game as it is) introduced new features that let newcomers unleash devastating combos just by tapping a button.

And I think more games could do this. While Cuphead is a game I’ll remember fondly, I think it could easily be adapted to be more accessible without sacrificing its design ethos. An easier mode with a halfway checkpoint? Still tough as nails, with half the frustration. Not every has god-like reflexes, and that’s okay. that shouldn’t deny them access to the content in many games. I’m not suggesting that all games need to have modes that play themselves, or that all games be stripped of their challenge, but almost all games could cater to a wider audience in some way, without losing their scope. This thread is worth a read. 

Of course, there will always be others who’ll just say “git gud,” but that’s a different argument for another day.

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So what do you think? Should games have more options, or should newcomers just struggle their way through the frustration?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.

Last Updated: October 6, 2017

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I’m old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time – they were capable of being masterpieces. I’m here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

  • Admiral Chief

    Good question Geoff. I like hard game, but I’m a seasoned (olive oil, coarse salt, grinded black pepper) gamer. I believe that it should welcome new people, especially if you have a story to tell!
    Don’t discourage newcomers away from it by making it kak-difficult

  • Meh. Whatever floats your boat.

  • Game designers shouldn’t have to make their games for the lowest common denominator.

    If the intention of your game is to appeal to a broad audience from the onset, then fair enough (See almost all mobile games).

    The Soulsborne series is a prime example of a clear, uncompromising execution of excellent game design.

    • There is no perfect pasta sauce. There are however perfect pasta SAUCES.

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    All in favour of more options.

    Some games are just as hard as balls and it gets frustrating very quickly when you get stuck, others are difficult but fair. I appreciate the latter far more because overcoming that challenge is more about you trying different things to come out ahead, whereas the former is sometimes just plain unfair.

    I’ve found that a lot in D:OS2 where I can get absolutely owned in a fight, but come back stronger & wiser & with different tactics. Like that bloody ambushing voidwoken and his damn skeletons all on situated on higher ground while my lot were all clumped together like fish in a barrel. I got you eventually.

  • Original Heretic

    If a game is tough, it must also be fair. It’s stupid to make a game impossibly difficult just for the sake of doing so. And the feeling you get when you actually complete a tough game? There is no better feeling in gaming. For me, anyway.

    i do feel, however, that persisting with a tough game is something that suits “older” gamers more. We grew up playing games that WERE impossibly difficult. You had to finish a game in one sitting or, sorry, you go all the way from the start again.
    I freakin’ remember jamming The Lion King on the old Sega Megadrive. But the power cable was dodgy. One touch and the machine reset. The first time I ever made it to Scar, the power cabled screwed me. I have never EVER thrown a game controller in rage, but that time, I was very VERY close.

    • Skittle

      The younger generation of gamers have gamespot at there finger tips, its made them lazy.

      • Original Heretic

        Exactly. We never had that growing up. There was no internet for a quick look at the walkthrough. You either had to figure that shit out for yourself, buy a magazine that had some answers, or know someone who knew what to do.

        • Skittle

          I can remember going to the mall with my parents and while they did the shopping I sat in CNA for an hour reading video game magazines. Good times

  • Skittle

    Git gud

    But on a serious note, I don’t see anything wrong with very difficult games. Beating them gives you a greater feeling of accomplishment and the difficulty is inherently a major part of what makes the game the game it is. There are plenty of easy games out there for people who aren’t up for a challenge.

  • Original Heretic

    I actually love Dara O’Briain’s take on video games and their difficulty.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fbd5cc423b7b14aeb745f433fb92cf63b96d050ba23303889e1b6d4816fd3efb.jpg

  • Jacques Van Zyl

    Gaming for years has instilled in many of us a sense of “Git gud” or die trying. But something I’ve noticed living with my current flatmate is that, for her, games are a completely different beast. Take tekken 7 for example, I play it competitively, she plays it for the character outfits. Tekken 7 does something right though in that it allows a simple one button combo input during the story mode. I can choose not to use, my flatmate found it a godsend especially against cheaper characters.

    I think it only fair games should launch with a difficulty option. More people that can play a game, the more people end up buying it.

    There will always be that challenge for those of us looking to play a Souls level game, I can always disable my hud overlays in Skyrim whilst playing a heavily modded survival version of that. It is the options that goes a long way toward having games reach the widest audience.

    Devs, please keep giving us options, that is all we really want.

  • Gr8_Balls_o_Fire

    Sure. Easy mode for only five dollar!

  • Accessibility is good for the industry. It stimulates the growth of video games as a medium and so is a key ingredient that most developers need to take in to consideration to ensure their own sustainability in the industry.

    So yes, accessibility is required and should always be something that needs to be a consideration when a game is designed.

    But, it has to be left with the developers and game designers.
    If, in their design phase, they get to the tickbox and they ask “Should this be accessible to as many as possible or do we have a very specific experience in mind” and those two clash, then they should opt to go with their experience they have in mind and not with consideration for allowing anyone to play the game.

    It sounds harsh but the honest truth is this: Not all games are meant for all people. Just as not all books are. Or Movies, or food, or cellphones or OS or whatever.

    Everyone has their own tastes and everyone has their own preference on what makes a good game.

    Personally? I like hard games. Sometimes. Most of the time I’m in for the more casual experience. Bang that game on to easy mode and just have a relaxed afternoon playing through a game at a casual pace.
    When I want to experience a harder game, I don’t play that same game on hard. No, instead I load up a game that was designed to be that. Dark Souls or Cuphead (If I ever decide to get it) etc.

    I do agree that there are ways to make games more accessible without compromising difficulty. Perhaps optiosn to enable more checkpoints or ways to survive just a little longer for sections that only veteran players of a specific genre would really be able to master. And that is fine, if the dev has that vision in their mind of how they would like their game experienced.

    I think there is a very fine line between accessibility if intended (Which, let’s face it, 99% of games want to be) vs what gamers demand.
    When we start treading in to the murky waters of what gamers want and how they start demanding it, things aren’t as nice.

    There are far too many gamers out there that feel entitled to being able to finish a game that would then demand and vilify devs for making a game too tough and that is not ok. When you start attacking the people who made the game because you feel you should be entitled to finish the game then it’s not OK.
    Sure you paid for it, but there were reviews and gameplay videos and a plethora of information to make up your mind whether you should buy it.
    If you bought cuphead you should have known it was hard. People were saying it was hoes difficult before it even came out, so why buy it, find it just that and then demand it be made easier?

    Granted, perhaps it was a design flaw not to include modes that have more checkpoints halfway through a stage or maybe, for real accessibility, right before the boss fight etc to allow more people to finish it, but it’s really poor form to attack a developer over that as some have been doing, when that developer clearly had a specific experience in mind when they made it as tough as it is.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, is that there needs to be a balance. Some games should allow more accessibility, but devs need to be free to make games that are targeted at the more niche players within genres if they so wish and people should learn to accept when something just simply wasn’t designed with them in mind.

    In the same breath some devs do need to remember that not every gamer may be as good at gaming as others and that if they want their game enjoyed by a wider audience, then a more accessible design is a key factor.

    Really all depends on what the dev’s goals are.

  • It’s interesting that even in an article that’s asking for a discussion on difficulty instead of polarising it, the responses are being polarised into two camps, namely should games be more accessible or should newcomers struggle.

    Here’s the thing. There IS an innate difficulty associated with games that, correctly stated by the tweets you linked, is mislabeled. As regular, consistent players of certain types of games, we start to take the mechanics of those games for granted, and develop an almost third-eye to the way a game works, much like how someone who drives a manual gearbox car will be able to drive any other manual gearbox car; clutch control is just a matter of adjustment, for us. But what about those who prefer automatics, but want to experience a car that is only available in manual?

    I realise this a lot when playing games with my girlfriend, who by all accounts is a brilliant gamer with the likes of quick-thinking, fast-paced games as well as the more story-heavy, narrative-driven games. But put a first person shooter in front of her and she will struggle with the concept of moving your character, while simultaneously moving your view AND shooting (essentially 3 inputs at once) before eventually giving up and going back to other games (and that’s totally cool!). Could first person shooters, even ones with “Easy” difficulty settings, be more accessible to her, or is it simply not a style of game for her? Compound that with a story she might thoroughly enjoy, but the mechanics of the game are not her proverbial cup of tea. BioShock: Infinite for example.

    To her, the mechanics of playing a first person shooter introduce the first version of difficulty. To me, that might not be an issue but instead the difficulty could come in the more traditional tougher enemies and less player health, or perhaps removing the ability to save the game. To someone else, the difficulty could come in having to endure the slog and grind of the “gameplay” sections deemed necessary by the developers to unlock the next story bit, whilst another person might abhor the story and just want the gameplay sections. Another person, to use an extreme example, might only have one hand that they could use for playing games and find it difficult playing first person shooters at all.

    How the heck do you cater to all these markets???

    The short answer: You don’t.

    My opinion is that you simply create the game you want, with the vision you have, and then you put it out into the world, and that’s that. If there are legitimate concerns (balancing in multiplayer for example) that affect the entire player-base, then sure, those can be looked at. But to try and cater to every possible person is impossible.

    On the flip side, to imply that a game is better/worse because of its difficulty is a one-dimensional, disingenuous argument. A game may be better *for you* because it requires you to manage your stamina bar while rolling around until you figure out *the only possible pattern that will help you defeat this boss* (cough) but for anyone who isn’t enamoured by that, it’s not better for them. In fact, it’s actually worse because to them that’s a chore. There’s nothing inherently wrong with saying that someone who doesn’t like it possibly doesn’t appreciate what it’s trying to do, but there is of course a line, and crossing that line is being an elitist bastard about it.

    Appreciating what a game is trying to do sometimes does tie perfectly into the experience of playing it. For example, would Cuphead (or indeed Ori, which I would argue is an equally difficult game but for some reason doesn’t have the same reputation) still be the same game if it was easier to play? Would it feel as rewarding? Assassin’s Creed has never been about difficulty, so it’s very easy for them to put in a mode that turns off some combat, because combat has always been its weakest area. Would you feel the same if a game had a toned down story to account for the gameplay which was its biggest strength AKA the Call of Duty series? Of course not, but why not? Is that not making it more accessible? The answer is that we understand when being inclusive can harm a story, or an idea, or a game in this case.

    And with all of this said, I will finally provide my answer: I think it depends on the intention of the developer making the game, and we should not try to influence that based on our personal preferences. We need to learn to accept that some stuff just isn’t for everyone, and leave it at that.

  • Deceased

    Depends on what the target-audience is for any given game, right?

    N++ – will DRAW the masochists of the gaming community

    Cuphead – as far as I can tell, is supposed to DRAW people with an expectation of an insanely difficult game ( sure, the hand drawn, cartoon art-style will draw other people, but that’s besides the point )

    Ori and the blind forest – in my experience, will DRAW the crowd that enjoys a challenge, but is mostly there for the mechanics ( and the feels )

    Sonic The Hedgehog – will DRAW the crowd running on nostalgia

    *Insert Easy-Mode game-title here* – will DRAW the casual crowd that’s there to relax after a hard day at work

    Running through the examples stated, giving an option to change difficulty would result in a completely different game ( except for Ori, which is supposed to highlight somewhere in the middle i.r.t. difficulty ).

    I can’t imagine playing N++ on an easy mode, because if there was something such as “EASY” in N++, it wouldn’t BE N++

    ( PS: I’ve been keeping this to platformers only – but the argument can branch out to other genres as well )

  • Hammersteyn

    Difficulty options are good, but personally I think that games aren’t that difficult at all. The problem is the snowflake generation. Back when we were all rocking golden chinas we either had to try and try again or play something else. Megaman was beatable, you just needed to learn the order of the bosses.

    • miaau

      Yeah, I suck at games, but I still love to play them.

      It is funny, I have great hand eye co-ordination, good ball skills (played Soccer for a club), played provincial Tennis, entered some Martial Tounrnaments as child (started age 4). So, in theory, I should be able to handle the quick moves of games, but funnily enough, I was never that good at Fighting games (Tekken, Soul Calibre) or “adventure” hack and slash games (Not Diablo II, I murdered that, played with the “players 8” in single players (simulated 8 players in game, monsters, EXP all super high).

      But still, I am weak at games that require quick reflexes.

      • Hammersteyn

        I grew up with platform games and arcade games but not RTS games. So I’m pretty awful at StarCraft. Tekken was my bread and butter growing up.

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