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Taking the easy road

The easy setting is ruining video games, said Assassin's Creed III's lead designer Alex Hutchinson.

The easy setting is ruining video games, said Assassin's Creed III's lead designer Alex Hutchinson.

Demon's Souls, one of the hardest games of recent years. (Credit: From Software)

He was talking to Edge magazine when he explained that an "easy" mode turned a game into the "worst possible version of your game" — dumbing it down and destroying crucial gameplay elements.

Only a few days earlier, Hidetaka Miyazaki, director of RPG Dark Souls and is predecessor Demon's Souls, which is widely regarded as the most difficult game of recent years, was reported by The Metro as expressing almost the opposite sentiment.

I personally want my games to be described as satisfying, rather than difficult. As a matter of fact, I am aiming at giving players a sense of accomplishment in the use of difficulty.

Having said that, however, it is true that Dark Souls is rather difficult and a number of people may hesitate to play. This fact is really sad to me, and I am thinking about whether I should prepare another difficulty that everyone can complete or carefully send all gamers the messages behind our difficult games.

However, I suppose gamers do not particularly prefer easy games. What they want is interesting and worthwhile games to play, so I think it is natural that hindrance or stress that does not attribute to such interesting and worthwhile elements will be removed in the end.

If the number of easy games is increasing nowadays, I guess it is because difficulty is not related to interesting and worthwhile game elements in many games among players.

It's true that many gamers pride themselves on their ability to accomplish difficult feats of gaming — beating the most difficult boss, getting the most headshots in a multiplayer FPS, playing an entire run-through of Mario without a single power-up — but I'm with Miyazaki on this one.

That difficulty preference is just that: a preference; and many gamers just want to play a relaxed game at the end of a hard day, or wander their way through an interactive story. What is worthwhile to one gamer isn't necessarily worthwhile to another; perhaps one would like to play a game for the atmosphere, for the escapism or for the art.

Yet, for some reason, there persists this notion that anyone who wants to play games for these reasons is wrong.

Earlier this year, BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler was reviled as "the cancer that is killing BioWare" for an interview she did with website Killer Betties. Her crime: she has a hard time actually playing games — even though, as a writer, there is absolutely no necessity for her to do so.

I came into the job out of a love of writing, not a love of playing games. While I enjoy the interactive aspects of gaming, if a game doesn't have a good story, it's very hard for me to get interested in playing it. Similarly, I'm really terrible at so many things, which most games use incessantly — I have awful hand-eye coordination, I don't like tactics, I don't like fighting, I don't like keeping track of inventory and I can't read a game map to save my life. This makes it very difficult for me to play to the myriad games I really should be keeping up on as our competition.

One thing that came up, time and again, as this story circulated the internet, was that games are about playing, and the ability to fast-forward through sections would destroy that component of the game. But I thought then — and I think now, on reading Hutchinson's comments — how would it spoil anything to have those options available for those who want them?

Perhaps there are some developers out there who don't want their titles in as many hands as possible. Maybe that is a thing that actually happens. But it seems to me that the biggest win for everyone would be to satisfy as many demographics as reasonably possible, even if that means making the gameplay "easy" for the relaxed players, or including a "fast-forward mode" for the time-poor.

That way, you end up with happy gamers, greater market penetration, higher game sales and an all-round healthier industry.

Either way, it's not a different play-style that's ruining gaming. If anything, it's the elitist attitudes and bullying that make gaming environments extremely hostile to anyone who doesn't subscribe to the narrow mindset that the only "real" gamer is the hardcore gamer.

And bollocks to that.