This is an editorial piece. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of, and should not be attributed to, Niche Gamer as an organization.
A few games have released in the past couple weeks that have set a new standard for not just style and visuals, but also solid gameplay mechanics and challenging difficulty. Those games are Ruiner and Cuphead, both games that I personally reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed. Unfortunately, some other game journalists or critics are infantile buffoons, so they want easier games.
Various diatribes from the regular collection of websites have arisen, like Rock Paper Shotgun who actually pointed to Ubisoft’s new supplementary combat-free educational mode in Assassin’s Creed: Origins in demanding a “skip boss fight” button, or Polygon who actually considered whether or not it’s okay for a video game to be challenging.
All of this ceaseless whining boils down to a central argument: games should be more inclusive so that more people can play them. Most of these writers go a step further by saying games with highly challenging or complicated gameplay are therefore exclusionary, some even going as far to say they are deliberately shunning the casual market “whale” gamer archetype.
I think this is all complete nonsense and as game journalists or critics it’s your job to be at least competent in playing video games, whether it’s via a controller or a mouse and keyboard. Not every game has to be designed with everyone in mind, because that defeats the purpose of creating a product for a target market demographic.
Video games are products, a fact lots of holier-than-thou game writers, critics, and journalists like to avoid or even vehemently deny. Therefore, game journalists and critics are literally product reviewers or enthusiast press, a reality that was pretty much widely accepted a decade ago before a regressive and poisonous groupthink started to embarrass themselves and the industry.
Many of these so-called pundits and “personalities” want gaming to forcibly evolve into something more presentable to people who don’t play video games. Do you see how absolutely ridiculous this kind of thinking looks? The very definition of what a game is breaks down because the framework for what makes a game is inherently subjective, and yet these bloggers want to define that.
The beautiful thing about the video games industry is that it has expanded and gotten more popular because of how inclusive it is and how it can easily tap into a massive range of specialized markets. If your thing is playing digital sports games, there are loads of those. If you’re a gearhead and want to drive cars when not driving your car, you can do that too.
Cuphead is an anomaly in a sea of sequels and tacky block-like indie games that are trying to capitalize on the next big craze for livestreamers or YouTubers. Many detractors of this game are literally demanding that it have an easier mode, while some aren’t even happy with that – they’re mad that the easy mode literally has content you can only get to in the regular difficulty.
My question to these bloggers is why should a developer turn back their vision so they can maybe garner more sales? If a developer is confident in their product, if they’ve built a superb game with a fair but challenging level of difficulty, this becomes a non-issue. Shouldn’t the focus be on making a superior product, thus securing the path for critical acclaim and more sales?
You can have the most inclusive game with some of the most socially-progressive themes in recent gaming history and no one could care about it – which is the case with Sunset and its endless praise from the very same gaming critics. Actual gamers didn’t buy the game in droves, because it just didn’t appeal to them nor did it really feel like a game.
My personal theory is that a lot of the gaming press and critics are simply stuck in an industry they really don’t like and want to make it more of what they like – maybe something in film or interactive art, interpretive dance, live theater, or poetry readings. Perhaps they want something exciting and divisive like politics, lots of them seem to be quick to boil things down to politics.
Why should people who clearly don’t enjoy the very concept of a game or game-play be allowed to dictate how games are made? How games are played from beginning to finish? Asking a developer to add a button to skip gameplay is the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard, but it honestly doesn’t surprise me when other game critics will literally fail tutorials.
It boggles my mind when I hear people complain about gameplay. I have to focus on leaving myself and my own consciousness so that I can try to enter the state of a deluded critic or journalist that simply wants to “press X to continue” an interactive cutscene. This is why I’ve never been a fan of visual novels, but western-made VNs are all the rage now with the other critics.
To me, a game has some kind of fail and win conditions while also having an overall goal. I think this is a reasonable yet basic concept of a game, but as the very nature of games has changed and been expanded upon, there might be multiple winning conditions, as well as multiple ways to fail. Maybe this goes back to the failed “everyone’s a winner” mantra parroted after I grew up.
I don’t think everyone is a winner, I think you have to learn what it means to lose and following that learn what it takes to finally win. The feeling of winning after losing is a miraculous and character-building thing sadly maligned by more thin-skinned people. Sure, a game can be unfair and that should be called out – however, a game that is only challenging is totally OK.
Lots of these commentators have a blind vision that “video games are art,” while they have no vision themselves and can’t wrap their heads around why some people (like myself) will play a game repeatedly until they get better. This is a core concept of games, digital or in real life, and once again something these bloggers have no understanding of.
Video games can indeed be art, but the regular crowd of critics simply want to divide up the industry with banal demands instead of focusing on finding better games. If a game doesn’t appeal to you simply move on or assign it to someone else – don’t blame the developer for pursuing a vision. Also stop being helpless babies and learn to actually play video games for once.
How do you guys feel about more challenging gameplay in video games? Should games consider providing a “skip gameplay” button for players that want to just watch a movie instead? Do modern gaming journalists simply want to be movie critics instead? Sound off in the comments below!
Cuphead is now available for Windows PC and Xbox One. In case you missed it, you can find our review for the game here (we recommend it with our highest praise!).