Accessibility and Difficulty are not the same.

The above Image is from Wolfenstein: The New Order by Machine Games and Bethesda Softworks.

EDIT: Since writing this article, my opinion has changed slightly. I think to some degree difficulty settings can be used in conjunction with other features as an accessibility option. I still think it is brought up frequently and disingenuously, however, many points I’ve made here are still valid. Also, I speak only for myself, the disabled gamers I reference are not representative of all disabled gamers, I merely use them as an example of possibility. They do not endorse this article in any way.

I tried to avoid this topic when Sekiro first released, but it has continually come up throughout the industry over and over again and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Before I share my perspective of the matter, let’s blow some minds right out of the gate.

It is a running joke that easy mode should be called game journalist mode, or game critic mode. Well, about that.

I’m a game critic, I play games almost exclusively on hard mode. Take a moment to pick yourself up off the floor, just breathe, it’s going to be okay. Ready to continue? Good!

There are many sides to this debate, some feel that it is the artists choice. Others feel that easy mode needs to be included for accessibility. My personal opinion is, they are only an artistic choice in a handful of cases. Games like Dark Souls and Sekiro are based entirely around the challenge for example. At the same time, I don’t expect hardcore mode in Yoshi’s Wooly World.

However, for most games, I believe difficulty settings should be a standard feature, like customizable controls and subtitles. Where I differ, is I believe games need easy AND hard mode equally. Without a challenge, I cant enjoy the game. Full stop. Even if a hard mode is lazy, with boosted enemy health and damage. I. Need. It!

That’s neither here nor there. The problem with this debate is accessibility continues to show up as a central talking point. Those for the inclusion of easy mode in all games consistently point to the disabled and accessibility. If you do this, you need to stop that immediately.

They aren’t the same thing, they aren’t designed with the same principles in mind. They are only marginally related. Accessibility features are to help a disabled gamer play the game the same way you and I can play them. Once given the tools needed, many can play the same as a non-disabled player and on a variety of difficulties. Accessibility is to even the playing field for the disabled, not to put bumpers in front of the gutters at the bowling alley so to speak.

Many disabled players skills are beyond you and me. Ever heard of the competitive Street Fighter player that plays with their mouth? Or the Quadriplegic player that plays Sekiro?

Frankly, it may be a little insulting to imply that the disabled need easy modes to play games when in reality, they need tools and features that help them play in spite of their disability. Difficulty settings are about personal preference and enjoyment, not accessibility. Different players enjoy different levels of challenge.

A player unable to enjoy a game that is too hard is no different than me, someone who cant enjoy a game that is too easy. It has little to nothing to do with accessibility. A disabled person can find a game un-enjoyable because it is too easy or too hard just the same as everybody else.

The reality of it is, the people using accessibility as a weapon in these debates aren’t doing so because they care about the disabled at all. They are using it as a shield to deflect from the fact that they either aren’t that good at games or do not enjoy a challenge. What these folks need to realize is both of those things are perfectly okay and require no justification to anyone.

Both sides view the mere mention of a mode they don’t play, as a personal attack. When I take part in discussions on places such as Reddit, and mention I would like to see a hard mode in a game, I am often down-voted into oblivion. The easy players saw that as a threat. Like if a hard mode exists, they are somehow inferior for not playing it.

Some hard mode players act as if a game is somehow ruined by the mere existence of an easy mode. Both sides need to get over themselves. It is personal preference regarding personal enjoyment in an entertainment product.

That’s why I advocate for easy AND hard modes in games. A game without a choice of settings assumes everyone playing is not only equally skilled, but that they also enjoy the same level of challenge. There are a lot of great games that are practically duds to me because I cant increase the challenge. I would imagine many are duds to other players who find them too hard.

However, for those in the back. Accessibility and difficulty are not the same. Stop using it as a shield to protect you from the judgment of random online personas and to be blunt, why do you care? Play how you want to play. This debate has long passed the point of being toxic.

If you want to argue that what modes are included is up to the artistic vision of its creator, go ahead. I disagree with you, but it is a valid opinion. But if you aren’t disabled, have some respect and let them speak for themselves. You don’t speak for them. Now go play some games!

If you want to read more about how I feel about difficulty. Check out my rant about Monster Hunter World.

One comment

  1. I think there is commonly a vocabulary misuse.
    I feel that “accessibility” often means “everyone should be able to enjoy it” as in “casual player” and not “disabled person”.

    That being said, accessibility for disabled players should not be about easy or hard mode, but about providing “adapted” controls and UI. Being playable with a single hand for example. Or a mouth as you said about the very impressive street fighter player 😀

    Thanks for the brain food!
    (I think your thought could be a little condensed :p)

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