The difficulty setting dilemma

Chances are if you have every played a video game before and you have started a new game, you have been presented with the question “What difficult would you like to play?” in one shape or form.

Not something I’ve given a whole lot of thought, but after my last post about self-imposed challenges in games, I reckon now is the time to write about this. Fair enough too, I’m sure most people don’t think about the difficulty setting they pick in games, especially because a lot of games, or at least of the ones I’ve been playing, don’t even have a difficulty setting.

But really there is a plethora of things to consider each time this decision occurs. Each difficulty has it’s own merits, and caters to particular games, people, moods, situations, whatever. Especially at a younger age people were very good at pointing out how bad at games I must be if I played on easy, and how awesome I must be when I beat it on hard.

Easy difficulty is a no brainer, I pick this either because it’s a brand new game and I don’t want to get wrecked right off the bat, or I just want to feel invincible for a little bit. The main problem with easy is that it offers no challenge, and if you are not in a ‘wanting to be invincible’ mood, being able to cruise through the game can get quite boring. A game that offers little challenge means you don’t improve either, being on a lower difficulty can only prepare you for higher difficulties so much. But sometimes once you are good enough at a game, you just want to tone it down to an easier difficulty and feel like a god, you know, just feel good about yourself. Finally, playing on easy can be a lot less stressful when compared to harder difficulties, which can be preferred when you have a particularly stressful job or just having a rough day, we all do.

So on the flip side of the coin, there are the harder difficulty settings, which offer more of a challenge, and require you to be on point to beat it. Hard difficulties are a balance between the game being hard enough that you still need to think carefully and play well in order to beat them, but not so brutal and punishing that it is unfair and infuriating. This varies wildly between games, even games within the same franchise, for example, Halo 3 had a difficult legendary difficulty in my opinion, but Halo 4’s was a bit easier. Most of all though, playing on the harder difficulty settings is rewarding. When you get through each area, each level, and eventually when you beat the game, you feel like an absolute bad-ass, and this is the main reason I’ll pick higher difficulties. Even when I first pick up a new game, either I will pick an easier one, or just go straight to hard, not just because of the reasons mentioned earlier, but because it takes longer to win, and hence I get more out of the game.

However, the balance between it being too hard and too easy is vital. Obviously there are many games out there such as Dark Souls and Bloodborne which are just intrinsically punishing, and while I haven’t played either of them (so feel free to correct me), I feel the reason games like that are fun is because they are (to an extent) fair. I mean this as in, each time you die it feels like you were the one that made the mistake, not the game, and you learn something new to help you survive next time. No question, unjustified or unfair deaths in games are bound to happen, and they suck, but it’s when they outnumber the fair deaths that a difficult game goes from fun and rewarding, to more torturous. Admittedly even dying numerous times fairly in a particularly hard part of game can be rage inducing, but at least it doesn’t feel like it’s the games’ fault. The reason that I enjoyed Halo 3’s legendary difficulty so much is that when I died, I always felt there was somewhere I could improve, something that I could do differently to avoid dying again, and that’s why I kept playing.

But what about games without difficulty settings? I mean there are plenty of those out there. It certainly makes the process of picking a difficulty easier, as in, you don’t even need to pick. Instead usually, the game starts out easier, and eventually gets more challenging as you play through it, which is nice, because it means that all the previous challenges have prepared you for the more difficult challenge you are currently facing. This to me is a powerful driver, because it makes me feel as though I am progressing and getting better without even needing to manually up the difficulty. Pokemon games execute this formula exquisitely. Even in games without difficulty settings though, it’s always possible to make it harder with self-imposed rules, but that’s different.

However this is just me, I would love to know, what difficulty do you normally play games on? Do you start with the highest or work your way up? And why? Let me know in the comments below, and if you enjoyed reading this be sure to give it a like. Until next time, stay beautiful 🙂

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