Opinion: I feel no shame playing games on easy mode anymore

As one gets older you start to value time a lot more. During your school years, gaming was easy to do because your only responsibilities were going to school and maybe doing your math homework. But when you enter adulthood and you need to keep yourself and/or other people from starving or trying to not be homeless, your available time becomes a lot more precious. Those 12 hour gaming marathons aren’t really feasible anymore unless you’d like to mess up your blood pressure and ruin your perfectly sculpted sleeping pattern.

When I was a young whippersnapper, I felt like I had to prove something. To be the best, to be superior to my peers in the ultra-important world of gaming. In that foolish pursuit I played a lot of games in the most challenging way possible. Every shooter game was played on hard, every RPG had to be fully explored on the hardest difficulty, my K/D and win rate had to be perfect in multiplayer. It was this endless chase to be the best.

My achievement hunting was also a big component of this goal. I would be playing games that would frustrate me out of my skin because I had to play them on Very Hard or finish a playthrough using just three save slots or something. The amount of times I’ve made my life difficult for the sake of getting some achievements was just ridiculous. All this effort, all this grinding while grinding my teeth resulted in a big number on my Xbox Live profile that didn’t matter anyway because I switched over to the PS4 as my main console in the current generation where I had to start the trophy collection process from scratch.

All this wasn’t entirely pointless. Far from it, in fact. Because I subjected myself to all these trials, my skills as a gamer have increased pretty substantially and I could be at least familiar with a new game in no time at all. Plus, the bragging rights didn’t hurt. Some of my accomplishments are pretty memorable because of the speed I completed them or just the tireless hard work it took.

However, in my current life things have changed quite dramatically. I have too many games to count thanks to all the subscription services and great sales that I took advantage of. My backlog isn’t a backlog anymore, it’s just a painful reality now. My teenage self would have been over the moon with all these awesome games to play, but my grizzled adult self struggles to finish one game in the span of a week.

I still do my odd trophy hunting, but definitely not as religiously as I did before. For these reasons, I have started to go to a place that I thought I was too superior to be caught dead in. Playing a game on easy mode. Taking the “show me the story” route when given the option. This was something that I gave people grief for in the past.

In the gaming community, we have this weird masculine preening that happens with regards to the difficulty of games. You need to complete Dark Souls wearing only your underpants to be considered a “real gamer” and taking the easy route is reserved for casual non-gamer scrubs. You need to suffer in order to be credible as a “gamer” and this was a philosophy I tended to agree with in my naive adolesence.

How can you possibly get the most out of a game if you don’t challenge yourself? That became my mantra at one point and the thought of taking the easy way wasn’t even something I considered. However, I started to realise something. Time is finite and spending that time being annoyed by enemies killing you in a matter of seconds is completely pointless.

So when I tackle some games on my backlog and they give me the option for difficulty, I take the easy one. Often I just take medium because that’s the developer’s “vision” for how the game should be played, but difficulty is such an arbitrary thing anyway. You see, “difficulty” can mean a multitude of things in the context of gaming.

A game can be naturally difficult with big enemies, dangerous environments and complex puzzles. This is your typical Dark Souls area of games. This is all fine and I’ll happily accept the challenge in this regard because the difficulty is part of the game’s identity. It’s tied to the experience, not just some option you choose in the main menu before you start the game.

The other difficulty I like to call “artificial difficulty”. Here you get games with enemies with set healthbars and your character has a set way to deal damage and eventually beat them. The difficulty slider determines nothing but the amount of health the enemies have and how effective you are against them. Sometimes they also throw scarcity into the mix such as The Last of Us that made resources very rare to find around the world.

When a game has artificial difficulty it isn’t about “challenge” at that point. It’s about time. All you’re doing to the game is making it longer because you need to deal more damage and be more careful. Often this sucks the fun right out of the experience. I used to play every Call of Duty game on Veteran during my first playthrough and obviously it was a miserable experience of hiding behind walls and getting shot to pieces the instant you’re spotted. When I finished the playthrough I’d do another one on Recruit and just enjoy myself. Why couldn’t I do that from the start?

So, these days when I play an older game in my backlog and I’m just trying to finish it, I select Easy because I value my time more than I value some fleeting bragging right of being able to finish it on a difficulty setting that just makes things more annoying to deal with. I still play all new releases or review games on their standard difficulty setting for obvious reasons, but I feel no shame in going the easy route anymore.

Another big reason for it is, simply put, who really cares? I’ve proven my gaming prowess already and I don’t need to continue proving myself to anyone anymore. I want to have fun with my games and if that means I have to stoop down to the casuals, I’m more than happy to. Life is way too short and to be able to get through many games quicker just means picking that option at the start of the game, I’m going to pick it.

What do you think about playing games on easy mode? Am I some casual and you lost all respect for me or is it fine to just take things easy for a bit? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I am way too tall, played way too many games and I love to write about what we love about games. In the end, I'm just being #Thabolicious

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