In Defense of Easy Mode
Gamers, rise up. The time has come to cast off the oppressive hindrances of the past. The time has come to take control of our lives and destinies. The time has come to set that s*** to easy mode. I had always played games on normal or the second to hardest difficulty. Then I had to play the latest Halo game for work. (Yes, my childhood self is very psyched on my adult self.) Then my producer told me the client had moved up the deadline. I had 3 days essentially to blaze through the campaign. So I started playing. And died. And died. And died. I began to feel what a theatre professor had once described as “the exquisite pressure of time.” I panicked. Then I started the game over in easy mode. And, dear reader, it was a revelation. I had a blast. I was able to experiment, I was able to explore more freely, I was able to truly become one with Master Chief. So today, I offer to you my reasoning and defense for playing games in easy mode.
The story is the game. There are over 10,000 video games being released every year. Over. Ten. Thousand. It’s the fastest growing artform in the fastest growing media sector in the fastest time in human history. Games are where we are telling our collective story now. The themes and morals delivered directly to us on our couches are our north star for gauging where the hell we are as a culture. It’s why representation in gaming matters so much. And it’s also why you should be playing in easy mode. To absorb these wonderful or terrible stories, you must play them. But playing on harder difficulties leads lots of players to rage quit after a frustrating session or to abandon the game altogether. Easy mode lets players spend time with the story, not breaking their flow to look up hints and cheats and walkthroughs. Easy mode should be called immersive mode really. Live the game. Live in easy mode.
Few games have qualitative changes from mode to mode. They just get more tedious. Is hard mode the richest experience? No it’s not, it’s usually the most tedious experience. AAA games are getting longer every year. (Looking at you Ubisoft, let’s reel it back in for the next Assassin’s Creed mmmkay?) And playing on hard mode just lengthens the game by making players go back and fight the same boss over and over again. I’m busy. I write about video games for a living and I can barely make time to game. So you, with your job that gives you healthcare and your loving family who you have to take to soccer practice or whatever: you’re totally screwed. Our gaming time is precious, so if a game can be played on easy, maybe it should be. Save that “re-load a million times” energy for your FromSoft games, which notoriously don’t have any modes, because the devs in their wisdom decided they weren’t going to go to therapy, they were going to take out their trauma on players.
Now in all fairness, some games do have flavorful and fun changes when played at different difficulties. For example: The Witcher 3 becomes more immersive when played at higher difficulties. Instead of meditating for an hour and magically recovering, you must consume food and potions to heal. This made the beginning game especially fun and really gives you a role-play reason to pilfer through NPC’s houses. The action becomes “I’m gonna steal that bread because I need it and I deserve this because I just saved your town from a monster”. Not “I’m going to take everything I can because I can tell the devs put something in that box.” Playing on the harder difficulties in The Witcher 3 may have been more immersive in this case, but again, it also made the game way more tedious.
Feel like a god. Games are a power fantasy. We’re not running around, chopping down unnamed enemies and seducing NPC’s so we can feel bad about ourselves. Even low key sims like Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley are a power fantasy. Have you actually ever grown a crop? It’s back breaking and occasionally heartbreaking work. (Shoutout to the squirrels in Bushwick who decimated my rosemary that one year.) For most games, it actually makes more sense for the characters to be more powerful. Playing as a god who gets one-shotted by a single wolf bite doesn’t feel very “realistic” to me. And I’ve done mushrooms a lot so I know what being a god feels like.
Smash the patriarchy. The gamer headspace has long been psychically dominated by toxic machismo. The “git gud” mentality. Well buddy, I’m tryna “git gud” at a work life balance so let me just enjoy my 67 daily minutes of gaming ok? If you want to play on hard mode, that’s your prerogative, but enough with the gatekeeping. Save the toxicity for online multiplayer games. With other people, they’re setting the difficulty. The difficulty of the real world.
The world is hard mode. The daily grind of existence, the constant psychic hailstorm of information, opinion, and revelation that pummels our gray matter is hard enough. Having to confront a family member is hard. Being sick is hard. Having to sacrifice the fleeting hours of your pitiful existence to earn money in a system you rail against spiritually but feel powerless to change is hard. So just play Total War: Warhammer 3 on easy and give yourself a break ok?
If you want to play on hard mode, that’s fine too. Play however you want I will never know and ultimately do not care. Gaming is for you baby doll, and you alone. My goal in life is to maximize the amount of fun I’m having. If hard mode or normal or death march is your happy place, then roll with that. But for the rest of you: go boot up your PC or console and go into those settings and get thee to easy mode. Go forth and game, gamers. Go forth and game.