Whenever FromSoftware releases a new game, one thing is guaranteed: the discourse of the week will be about its “difficulty”. Elden Ring, much like the Souls series and Sekiro before it, does not have an easy mode. In fact, the game is genuinely challenging. Note: It’s not difficult as some claim – it’s not like the arcade games of yesteryear which were designed to arbitrarily beat you and force you to pay another coin to play some more. It’s challenging like playing a musical instrument is challenging. At first, you’ll be overwhelmed just looking at a sheet of music, but with practice and dedication, you’ll be playing Mozart. For some people, it takes longer than others, but most people can learn how to play a musical instrument and with dedication and practice most people can, in fact, overcome the challenges of Elden Ring.
The point of this piece is not to argue for the above, though. Not everyone is interested in Elden Ring, and not everyone finds the idea of a video game that requires practice to be appealing. That’s all totally fine. What I want to talk about in this piece, however, is a sense of entitlement that has crept into video games, and, specifically, the idea that game developers have some kind of obligation to make a game palatable to you (and I do mean every individual you out there). Witness this tweet from a couple of days ago:
“I was honestly ENJOYING my time with Elden Ring thus far UNTIL I got to my first boss. I was reminded how STUPIDLY difficult these games are. Why would I want to play something that’s just NOT fun? Why doesn’t this have an OPTIONAL “easy” mode? It’s 2022—not 1999. Refunded.”
I was honestly ENJOYING my time with Elden Ring thus far UNTIL I got to my first boss. I was reminded how STUPIDLY difficult these games are. Why would I want to play something that’s just NOT fun? Why doesn’t this have an OPTIONAL “easy” mode? It’s 2022—not 1999. Refunded. pic.twitter.com/d0ZFRCBFpH
— Michael Does Life (@MichaelDoesLife) February 24, 2022
Now, there’s a bit to unpack here, but I do want to start by repeating my earlier sentiment that there’s nothing wrong with disliking Elden Ring, or refunding it if you don’t enjoy it. Predictably, if you look at the responses to that tweet, you’ll see a lot of people getting very upset at the very idea that someone might not like a game they like, and that’s a lousy attitude to have in response. No, people don’t need to “git gud,” and they don’t need to love a game just because you do. No one has to like a game. And, on top of that, people are entitled to voice their disappointment about a game they haven’t enjoyed.
What isn’t so justifiable from that is the idea that Elden Ring is some antiquated game because it doesn’t have an easy mode, as well as the implication carried within the tweet that the development team should be somehow obliged to put an easy mode into their games. No. That’s not on. Whether you, personally, like it or not, FromSoftware has decided that its creative vision for these games does not have room for an easy mode. I can assure you, the team would be incredibly aware of the calls for it, since you can’t talk about these games without someone complaining about the lack of the easy mode. They have absolutely had support tickets, emails, and social media messages from armchair experts telling them just how much better off they’d be if they included an easy mode. Despite the feedback, they have persisted with their creative vision that their games should be challenging.
You don’t have to like that FromSoftware has decided that they, as a team, don’t want to compromise their creative vision. You don’t have to buy the FromSoftware game, no matter how popular it is and how many people are talking about it. What you should do is acknowledge that FromSoftware is the creative energy here, and if FromSoftware’s team of producers, directors, artists, coders and whoever else are comfortable with their creative vision, and are comfortable knowing that it means that some people will not play the game, then that’s a creative decision that certain people really need to learn to accept. In fact, this goes back to the notion that games are supposedly an art form. If that’s true, and people certainly do love chanting it like it’s a mantra when it’s convenient, then it’s also something that we need to support when it isn’t convenient. As an art form, artists are entitled to make creative decisions. Even if you don’t like them. That’s how art works. You don’t have to like it, but they are not obliged to make something that you do like.
This is distinct from criticising a game, and the difference isn’t even a nuanced one. I can’t stand military shooters, and I am certainly vocal about that. However, I would never argue that the developers of Call of Duty or whatever else are obliged to stop making them because I find them to be morally reprehensible. The people that demand an easy mode in a FromSoftware thing, meanwhile, come from the same culture that has led people to announce that they’re not going to take their shoes off when they come into your home. It’s the same kind of person that tells their friends to stop enjoying board games because they don’t like them. Modern society, driven by the narcissism encouraged by social media and the individualism of the dominant western culture, believes that the individual has the right to be an imposition, and everyone else needs to accommodate them, regardless of what everyone else around them wants. In video games, this manifests as the idea that every video game needs to be made to suit your preferences. Rather than simply not play a game that doesn’t do that, instead, the game needs to be changed to suit your tastes. Indeed, the developer has an obligation to you because you’re a consumer.
Not every game has to be made for you. Indeed, if you want a massive open world game that’s easy to play and highly accessible, there was one released just a week before Elden Ring. You could play Horizon: Forbidden West, which the developer has gone out of their way to make as available to as many people as possible. That matched with Guerilla’s creative vision and Guerilla was rightfully celebrated for it. The co-existence of Horizon and Elden Ring is what we should be championing in this industry; a variety of ideas and creative visions that people can experience based on their preferences. What we should not be arguing for is for Elden Ring to be more like Horizon.
Elden Ring’s developer decided to do something different to how 99 per cent of the other games out there are made. If FromSoftware wanted to make the game easier and more accessible to more people, then they would have done that. But FromSoftware’s people didn’t do that, and while, again, you don’t have to play or like it, it’s high time that consumers in the video game industry understood that as an art form, not everything has to be for them. One look at the sales figures and attention that Elden Ring has received should really have made it clear to you that, even if it’s not for you, an awful lot of other people do like it, and perhaps you just need to learn to be comfortable with that while you play something else instead.
– Matt S.