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.
Now that From Software’s latest opus, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, has been available for a bit (we loved it! here’s our review) – the topic of difficulty has once again resurfaced in the gaming industry. Now, the usual suspects are trying to conflate difficulty with physical accessibility. The two are not linked, these folks are spreading more propaganda, and I’ll tell you why below!
Let’s start with a quick analysis of the Souls series and this new spiritual successor of sorts – Sekiro. Both are made by the same team in From Software, and both – while set in wildly different regions – focus on death and overcoming near-impossible odds. The mechanisms in the game are set to teach you, bit by bit, how to overcome the presented adversity.
The new talking point these pundits, bloggers, and social media-dwellers bring up now is “accessibility,” claiming a video game with challenging aspects is unfairly limited people who have legitimate physical disabilities. Not only have literally disabled gamers proven this is false, controller options for disabled gamers have become readily available.
Sekiro isn’t an unfairly difficult game, nor does it have any truly unreasonable moments that put players to a different standard. The game director himself, Hidetaka Miyazaki, has to be able to complete the game by himself otherwise the difficulty needs to be tweaked. The same requirement exists in Super Mario Maker – the level designer must beat their own challenges.
Video games that challenge you by repetition, learning patterns, exploiting the behavior of your enemies, are nothing new. This mechanism has existed for decades, right from the very first video games ever created. I think what we’re seeing now is a generational divide – longtime gamers used to learning and getting better, while newer or more casual gamers want quick satisfaction.
I honestly can’t think of many things that are more satisfying than learning and overcoming a challenge presented before you – in real life or in a video game. In that moment, you learn you have become better than you used to be, and that you can overcome obstacles if you put your mind and heart to it. This is a virtue I truly wish more people had, but I digress.
Folks saying they want to see the end to Sekiro without the challenge or, hilariously, via cheating, is the same thing as watching a horror movie while closing your eyes during all the scary parts. These folks just want to be able to say they got the full experience with none of the challenge or growth. They are a product of our modern, instant gratification culture.
This argument for making notoriously challenging or deeply complex video games easier or more “accessible” is nothing new as well. The Souls franchise has also seen many narratives for users demanding it be made less difficult. This argument is not only disrespectful to the creators of the game and their vision, it also cheapens the experience they designed for you, the consumer.
Game developers, much like other creators, are designing a unique experience for you, the consumer. They are making a product that will hopefully sell nicely and secure them capital to make more products. What these naysayers are asking for are cheaply made, hollow, soulless products akin to endless runner clones for smartphones, or “press X to awesome” hallway simulators.
We here at Niche Gamer (including yours truly) have written and spoken about this topic many, many times. We’re honestly getting exhausted as we keep refuting the same talking points they present against conventional video games. I really don’t understand why some folks are insisting a game made for a niche audience be changed to meet their low bar of entry.
Changing a video game and its experience to appeal to more audiences will obviously change that into a different kind of game. Complex and challenging action games like Sekiro, Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, and Bayonetta all have their unique bits however all focus on a very, very niche kind of experience. Making the game easier only cheapens and weakens that experience.
I’ve long been an advocate for video games as a hobby, an escape, a means to deal with issues you’re having in real life. The unique experiences challenging video games present are the most gratifying experiences I’ve had to date in the gaming industry. When you get “in the moment” and overcome those obstacles, the game truly becomes something special.
Please don’t misunderstand me when I say games with little to no challenge just aren’t the same. For me, personally, they are not on the same level as a hardcore city-builder that pushes you to your limits in planning and critical thinking, nor an action game that really tests your reflexes. However, they are products made for another niche audience, and that’s totally fine.
The vast majority of gamers really don’t care if a game is too challenging for them. Most will give the game a shot via a playable demo or at a friend’s house – and if they’re not feeling it, they’ll move onto something else to play. What we don’t understand are the folks demanding, screaming for those games to be changed so they can roll through them all willy nilly.
You can have your hallway simulators and railroad-ed popcorn blockbusters of delights and canned explosions while others can have their breakneck action games with tons of reflex challenges and learning by design, the way the creator(s) intended you to experience the video game. These are all unique experiences designed for different audiences, and that’s totally fine.
Again – challenging video games are nothing new, and they really shouldn’t change for people wanting the same experience. These games are designed to push you to your limits, test your resolve, and should you learn their secrets – overcome and be the better. It’s a different kind of experience designed to be experienced in that way.
Remember folks – video games are just products designed for different target markets and we’re just consumers of said video games. If a product isn’t really striking your fancy – go look for something else because it’s never been easier finding awesome video games, like here on our site. There are tons of games designed for tons of different tastes.