Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are of the authors and not the sites as a whole.
Down the rabbit hole, we go.
The latest discussion concerning video games is accessibility and difficulty. This discussion is often prompted within the most unthought-of ways, however, two articles brought it to its height; Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Death Stranding. Each article attempted to prove how lower difficulties (easy and very easy modes) would vastly improve the accessibility of video games and broaden game experiences. Unsurprisingly, these articles fail to address a crucial weakness within their arguments: video games need not be accessible nor include lower difficulties.
Although this comes across as harsh, as it needs to be, game developers decide on these issues and decisions are subjective. However, given how individuals react to the topic it is apparent that critical analysis needs to be done. Thus, this article addresses the issue of accessibility and difficulty in video games.
Accessibility: Thorough Go Through
Accessibility in video games is one of gaming’s more prominent topics. One that common gaming journalists and their everyday allies bring up continuously in attempts to address a non-issue. It is a non-issue due to both parties failing to realize that gaming has become more accessible, however, it has its limitations.
In theory, accessibility is the idea of designing products that work well for people with disabilities. In recent years, the focus on accessibility in video games addressed the reality often ignored within the gaming community: that gamers do not all fit into biological normalcy, meaning some gamers are disabled. Fortunately, the disabled tend to have disabilities that are accommodatable aside from those suffering from mental illness.
Accessibility in video games manifests itself within game design and specialized hardware. Game design is self-explanatory, however, elaboration is a necessity: game design is the art of applying both design and aesthetics to create a game for entertainment, educational, exercise, or experimental purposes. This means game developers can take active steps if they choose to do so; to design their games with modes, mechanics, and so on that present themselves intuitively and simply to accommodate disabled gamers.
This is noticeable with color-blindness, as it is either incorporated into the development of a game from the beginning whereas. with others, it is an afterthought, complete oversight, or a non-issue altogether. Accessibility for the colorblind in video games is done through the use of whole-screen filters, customizable color for vital information, and incorporating iconography as supplementary conveyance. However, with these options for accessibility there is the obvious limitation with their application:
Whole-screen filters accommodate for different types of colorblindness, however, these filters tend to over saturate the entire color palette, which results in undesirable results.
Customizable colors for vital information means including preset or customizable color combinations, based on types of colorblindness. These then will represent different types of vital information in the game. Although this tends to receivable favorable feedback since it only induces changes in colors that are problematic without altering the overall color palette of the game., however, flaws exist within this method.
Incorporating iconography as supplementary conveyance often is the best practice for conveying vital information through multiple methods (the trifecta – audio, visual, and textual conveyance). However, it is not always plausible since particular conveyances for information rely on color.
Specialized hardware for video game accessibility is another means through which disabled gamers have access to gaming. Specialized hardware for video game accessibility is usually seen with controllers, especially the Xbox adaptive controller. The controller is a customizable device intended to support a wide range of needs and disabilities, which make video games more accessible. However, it needs to be noted that the Xbox adaptive controller cannot support every, single need and disability that exists, thus even such a fate has its limitations.
Difficulty: A Hill Worth Dying On
Strangely, difficulty in video games or rather lower difficulties (easy and ‘very easy’) somehow is a topical debate in gaming. The discussion generally concerns lowering difficulty in video games by providing players with optional difficulty choices to make it more accessible to prospective players, namely gamers with physical disabilities and the more recent “observational” gamer.
The stance is often championed by common gaming journalists and their everyday ilk. However, it is merely done under the guise of accessibility, as it is never adequately explained how providing optional difficulty choices make video games more accessible for disabled and “observational” gamers.
With the former, their stance had merit, though due to innovation with both game design and specialized hardware that caters to disabled gamers there is no longer any merit to their argument. Furthermore, it fails to acknowledge two important facts. First, lower difficulties will not make video games more accessible for the physically disabled since their issue lays more with hardware rather than lowered gameplay challenge. Final, it disregards that gamers who exist outside biological normalcy still manage to perform at the same level as gamers that exist within it due to specialized hardware.
The latter, on the other hand, is unique; as the intellectual gymnastics performed by those who attempt to justify the needs of the “observational” gamer are truly a fate to witness. This particular argumentative angle for lowering difficulty to bring about more accessibility in gaming prides itself on conflating challenging gameplay with gate-keeping, which is asinine at best.
Both are incomparable since challenging gameplay affords players with a sense of accomplishment and this hardly equates to it being a means of controlling and limiting the access to video games. Moreover, given the needs of the “observational” gamer to explore detailed environments and experience the game’s narrative (without playing at its intended level of interactivity and challenge) highlights how this category of gamer is best suited for a particular genre of game that accommodates their incapability to perform as gamers.
Another issue worth addressing is difficulty in video games. Game developers decide on the challenge of their game, which is often incorporated into the overall gameplay experience. This means lower difficulties result in a lessened experience due to how it affects the player’s sense of accomplishment as well as how disregards the work of developers to create a unique gameplay experience.
This explains the outrage over an incident earlier this year, whereby a gaming journalist defeated the final boss of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice on easy mode. It is the same phenomenon experienced when one attempts to make an argument to calls for an easy mode in Dark Souls. Therefore, one can easily assume that many games are purposely designed without lower difficulties since their gameplay emphasizes challenge and difficulty.
In conclusion, accessibility and difficulty in video games is a topical issue. However, its relevance is not due to necessity rather it is the result of individuals either virtue signaling or attempting to excuse their mediocre capabilities as gamers.
The former is evident from the fact that game developers have made their products more accessible through intuitive and simple game design coupled with specialized hardware that supports a wide range of needs and disabilities. The latter highlights the mediocre capabilities of both “observational” gamers and those who side with them.
Many would probably disagree with what I have said here while others might agree with my stance, thus its necessary to encourage discussion. Let me know what you think down below in the comment section.