Accessibility in games and what that means is something I’m always looking at when I play new games. In some cases, it's why I refuse to play some games. It can be a pretty hot button issue and there's a lot of 'debate' about it on the line.
So recently, I came across a tweet. I come across a lot of them on a regular basis that are varying takes on "I/my kids/my dog beat Soulsborne you don't need easy mode."
My first thought is usually, "Wow, amazing! Good on them!"
Then comes the anger and irritation over the phrasing. Why is needing any assistance a sign of weakness, or some kind of character flaw?
But let’s examine what ‘easy mode’ typically means for a moment, and what that means in the broader scope of accessibility.
In the '90s, easy mode was something that we kind of mocked. It was the mode you’d let your kid or younger sibling play on, because heaven forbid you choose the easy mode only for Wolfenstein to basically call you a baby, or various platformers denying you the last levels because of your difficulty choice.
Basically, it started this idea that easy mode was ‘lesser’ in the eyes of not only the gamers, but the people that made them. Never mind that in some cases, these difficulty settings were turned on their heads and altered between various international releases.
There are multiple examples of this, such as Battletoads, one of the most hair pullingly frustrating games of all time, which was actually easier in the original Japanese release. Other games had more difficulty modes added or removed, or even swapped around (such as Japanese hard being international normal).
Typically, the only real variations, especially in older games, were enemies doing more or less damage and having more or less health, with the same applying to the player. As games advanced, so did the options.
As accessibility became included in this discussion, said options became more nuanced. There were options that wouldn’t affect difficulty, such as colour-blind modes, subtitles and remappable controls, as well as various other options laid out in the game accessibility guidelines.
Then come the other options, such as automatic lock on for weapons, modes that increase or lower damage (such as Hades God mode which lowered damage with each death), or even the ability to skip certain pieces of content entirely with no negative consequences.
As a result, more games are having less in terms of difficulty levels and instead allowing players to cater to how they’d like to approach the game, even in terms of making it more difficult for the added challenge.
Challenging? Or just obstructive?
With that in mind, let’s look back at Bloodborne and its lack of ‘easy’ mode, through the lens of a disabled player instead of an able-bodied one.
For starters, you can’t pause. This is always my biggest gripe with Soulsborne games. It sucks a lot for various reasons. It’s not immersive, it’s just a pain in the ass.
Secondly, audio cues. There’s a lot of them, indicating certain attacks, and no option to change that.
And outside of turning subtitles on or off, there’s really no accessibility options to speak of. It doesn’t even allow players to remap buttons natively.
People that need these options aren’t looking for a free pass or an 'easy mode'. Trust me, I’d absolutely love to have my ass kicked by this game and find it fun.
A lot would argue its hostility is part of its design. And I’d agree, I’m fascinated by that approach and the idea of ‘git gud’ is one I can certainly appreciate. However, what’s hostile to an able-bodied player and someone who needs accessibility options, or even simply wants them, is very different.
I like the idea of being able to play something like this on equal footing. People that need these options aren’t looking for a free pass or an 'easy mode'. Trust me, I’d absolutely love to have my ass kicked by this game and find it fun. Instead, I find it frustrating.
Frustrating because I’m dying over and over to things that a more able-bodied player would eventually be able to overcome in a different way to how I would.
Frustrating because I need to take regular breaks for a minute or so at a time that, unless I turn it off altogether, the game won’t allow and will even punish me for.
We’re not asking for an ‘easy mode’, rather, we're asking for the option to put ourselves on level footing to enjoy the same challenge, presented in a way we can manage.
No one wants to take your toys away
I feel like this isn’t something I should have to write once a year, but it is. I constantly find myself writing pieces like this in utter frustration, because time and time again, someone says something stupid on the internet that steams my greens.
But I like to take the time to remind people: We All Love Games. We all want to be able to approach and enjoy games in a way that suits us.
Part of your audience is always, for one reason or another, not going to be able to play the same way as the rest of your audience. But they still deserve to be able to play and to be presented with as much or as little challenge as they like.
What's more, people who think these options are somehow 'ruining' the game for whatever reason? This may come as a surprise: you don't have to use the options that would make the game easier for you. They're not there for you! Not everything is for you! No one is asking to take your 'hardcore' toys away.
At the end of the day, we all play games for different reasons. And whatever reason we want to play the game, for challenge, for fun, for the story, or any reason at all, games should provide us options to ensure that's possible.