Today Dark Souls creator Hidetaka Miyazaki admitted he is considering adding an easier difficulty level to future games, to make them more accessible to less dedicated players. Is this the right way forward? Should a game like Dark Souls, which uses difficulty as its point of difference, makes itself more approachable to a mainstream audience? We say yes! Maybe. If it's done correctly.
When attempting to walk a tightrope for the first time, there are certain safety mechanisms in place. Only an idiot would attempt it without a net. Climbers, when performing at their limit, will attach themselves to a rope. If you're climbing to your fullest potential, using all the strength you possess, there is a strong chance you might fall. And you will die. That is a certainty.
When playing Dark Souls you will die, but the endgame is less tangible. It is only a video game death, but there are consequences — you will lose some of the tools used before dying. You may lose the currency you've accumulated. You will feel something when you die, and that is important. It is the reason why Dark Souls is so compelling.
There is no reward without risk, that's how things work. But in life we get to manage our risks. If we're not sure we can make to the other end of the tightrope, we set up a safety net.
Because in real life, risk is scalable.
Today Dark Souls creator Hidetaka Miyazaki committed the cardinal sin of suggesting that his own game, a game renowned and celebrated for flagellating players mercilessly, is a little too difficult. Even he is coming round to the idea that Dark Souls might benefit from some sort of easy mode.
"It is true," he said, "that Dark Souls is rather difficult and a number of people may hesitate to play. This fact is really sad to me and I am thinking about whether I should prepare another difficulty that everyone can complete or carefully send all gamers the messages behind our difficult games."
Miyazaki wants players to celebrate the challenge of Dark Souls, not its raw difficulty.
Should Dark Souls have an easy mode? Most would baulk at the suggestion — Dark Souls is rewarding specifically because of its difficulty, why dumb it down? I would agree with that — but shouldn't consumers be allowed to scale their own risk, tailor it to their own specific abilities. Isn't risk the choice we all make before attempting something rewarding?
A professional, when climbing at his or her limit, will always use a rope. If not, they will fall and die. But those same climbers could scale easier walls — the ones you or I might attempt — easily, with no support mechanisms whatsoever.
A master tightrope walker would never ask you to traverse without a safety net. In real life, risk is scalable — and there's no reason why Dark Souls can't be the same.
In a lot of ways Dark Souls is the gaming equivalent of a difficult climb only experts should attempt, at their own risk; it's a tightrope without a safety net. A risk that we, as experienced gamers can manage, a risk we are willing to take because the reward is within reach.
Why shouldn't beginners be able to manage their own risk in Dark Souls? Why shouldn't they be given some sort of rope to cling to?
Climbing a steep wall, with small holds, isn't easier when you're attached to a rope — it simply allows you to learn. It allows you to practice, and improve. It doesn't make the climb itself anymore manageable; it exists only to catch you when you fall.
Dark Souls has no rope, it has no safety net.
I've spent the last six weeks playing nothing but Dark Souls, and I love the game. But I am an expert. Like most of you, I've been playing games all my life; playing Dark Souls is a risk I can manage. Surely there's a way to make Dark Souls more accessible? Surely there's a way to provide a safety net, one that doesn't decrease the actual difficulty, but gives you space to learn? To make mistakes without punishment, to die without consequence.
To catch you when you fall.