Easy mode ‘controversy’ is misplaced

Ashley Kronebusch, Staff Writer

With the release of From Software’s newest game “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice,” the perennial debate on accessibility came about again. This argument seems to come about with every big release of a difficult game, and it will likely rise again in the future. Frankly, the whole debate is ridiculous, and keeping it up will only maintain the video game community’s status for being exclusionary and hostile.

Accessibility in video games can mean a lot of things. Generally, it refers to ways in which game developers can design their games so that the most people can play them, regardless of any disabilities. This can encompass visual, auditory and cognitive disorders among other things. Historically, games have done very poorly in accommodating for people with disability, although strides are being made by accessibility experts and consultants.

However, debates about accessibility seem to always focus on one thing: easy mode. This most current debate was sparked after a gaming journalist wrote an article suggesting that “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” could have used an easy mode. A similar debate happened due to the inclusion of an easy mode in the game “Cuphead” as well. For accessibility experts, easy modes in games are a good cover-all that can help accommodate a variety of disabilities. However, to many, the idea of an “easy mode” in a game that sells itself on difficulty is almost offensive.

Of course, no one is actually forcing anyone else to play a game on easy mode, so this objection is rather a kind of philosophical one, as far as I understand. For many people, easy mode represents a way to avoid any actual challenge that the game presents. They emphasize the importance of overcoming challenges in games and the getting the resulting satisfaction. The core experience is really putting in the effort to master the game’s systems, and an easy mode would be too tempting to just bypass these challenges. Anyone can do it if they really put their mind to it. These arguments rarely, if ever, take into account that not everyone actually can.

I agree that the core experience of lots of games is overcoming challenge through failure and learning. However, assuming that everyone has the same capacity to do so is shortsighted. Some people have disabilities that can reduce reaction time, a factor of utmost importance in many difficult games. For plenty of people, an easy mode is a challenge. Furthermore, some people are just bad at videogames, and they shouldn’t be mocked and shunned for it.

A certain type of person is commonly assumed to be the “default” for those who play games, and anyone who deviates is ignored. It’s time that we stop ignoring the different needs of players. This isn’t really about easy modes in video games; this is a much bigger issue. The pushback against easy modes is not just a waste of time but preventing further progress for accessibility as a whole. As game developers and as game players, we need to overcome this issue and focus on making our community accessible and welcoming for every kind of person.

This article was originally published in the April 26, 2019 issue.