It Might Be Time To Rethink Difficulty Menus

It Might Be Time To Rethink Difficulty Menus

This is the difficulty menu for Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus. In a callback to the original games which showed up in The New Order as well, the menu’s telling you only babies play the game on easy. It’s funny on the surface, but also an insidious kind of peer pressure. Don’t listen to it.

At first I did, which is why I spent half of Wolfenstein 2 completely miserable. Playing on “Bring ’em on” the game’s normal difficulty, I spent hours dying to Nazis hidden in the far corners of my TV screen or downed ones who I’d previously unloaded on but apparently didn’t register the kill shot.

In the middle of these frenzied “game over”-fests I wanted to throw my PS4 out the window. Then I’d inevitably get to a cutscene or new location, like Roswell, and instantly be transfixed again.

Finally I decided enough was enough, swallowed my pride, and set the difficulty all the way down to “Can I play Daddy” (read: super easy). And you know what? It felt great.

Everything immediately seemed to click into place. I was able to run and gun like the game obviously wanted me to and feel like B.J. was the one-man killing machine everyone kept saying he was.

It also made the game’s two dueling personas feel less at odds with one another. Instead of 90s arcade-style shooting galleries punctuated by a diverse cast of grownups debating how best to resist their new fascist overlords, it felt like a historical fever dream about American political ideals and white supremacy wrapped up in the charisma of a tightly wound action movie.

When Wolfenstein rebooted the first time in the early 90s, it came out of the same mould as Doom: A first-person splatterfest where the drama of dispatching enemies in concise and economical maneuvers superseded the the premise or plot. That’s less the case in Wolfenstein 2.

That’s by design. In case you missed the marketing, the game wants to be more than just another adolescent adrenaline-fest.

Part of the allure of Wolfenstein 2, and what helped it to stand out to everyone who wasn’t a fan of the series and didn’t pay its 2014 predecessor much attention, are its characters and setting. Rosewell, New Orleans, and even B.J.’s farm house where he grew up are beautiful places to explore. Hundreds of collectibles scattered throughout the game’s levels offer interesting backstory and insight into the events going on outside of the player’s immediate purview.

Strolling through the game’s homebase, an old German U-boat, and hearing what the varied cast of broken but hopeful revolutionaries has to say is even more interesting than a lot of the game’s set pieces.

It Might Be Time To Rethink Difficulty Menus

The story itself begins with the loss of a close friend and the body count only grows from there. At its most subversive the game suggests Nazism isn’t a cult of foreign invaders but a homegrown ideology cultivated over centurie. B.J. isn’t just there to blow away bad dudes, he’s fighting for a future his unborn children don’t have to resent living in and to shed the phantoms of his brutal, patriarchal upbringing.

Goading players by renewing B.J. with a binky in his mouth feels like an especially odd carry over then.

This land was made for you and me. Fuck your racist, domestic abuser of a father. But also don’t be wuss.

It’s that kind of guilt that plagued me early on. I spend a lot of time playing games. What’s the point if I can’t hack it at the more masochism end of the difficulty ladder? I was also plagued with the anxiety over whether the Wolfenstein 2 I experienced would be the “real” one or not. Despite the number of times people pay lip service to “there’s no right way to play,” how difficulty options are crafted and displayed often tells a different story.

Sticking a bonnet on B.J. and infantilizing the player by analogy isn’t exactly an invitation to explore playing Wolfenstein 2 differently. Even just calling one difficulty setting “normal” implies the others are deviant. When you’re fighting to liberate the country from people who believe in eugenics in a game that celebrates difference and diversity, moralizing the difficulty around the struggle (easy equals lazy/bad, hard equals virtuous/good) feels archaic.

In a broader sense, the way difficulty has come to define various people’s preferred play-styles feels counter-productive. There should be more ways to slice a game than just damage sliders. In Wolfenstein 2 difficulty affects how quickly things die, including you. Sometimes it also changes how many enemies there are and where they’re placed.

Story beats and how environments are constructed remain the same though. Rather than offer different modes that emphasise different ways of playing the game, like focusing on stealth or limited combat exploration, the settings are just knob egging you to crank it up to 11.

Assassin’s Creed Origins‘ combat-free setting, on the other hand, takes a more imaginative approach to what difficulty settings could be. Rather than a binary scale based on loaded terms like “easy” and “hard,” it suggests creating modes based around what particular players want to do in a game. Some will want to fight, loot, and take on the game’s most challenging combat scenarios. Assassin is in the title, after all. Others though will no doubt be more interested in exploring the game’s beautiful looking world and the stories taking place there.

It Might Be Time To Rethink Difficulty MenusImage via Imgur

Image via Imgur

The game designer behind Gritfish, John Kane, recently offered some examples of other ways to do game difficulties:

I’m here for the story

I’m here for challenge

I’m here for a second & harder playthrough

I’m here to take photos

I want to play with the settings and I’m ok if that breaks things

As more AAA games focus on open world design, the idea of needing to “earn” the exploration parts by completing familiar repetitive tasks like go kill some dude or collect a bunch of random stuff feels almost criminal.

People spend years of their lives creating working on different parts of a game that most people, even the ones who buy it, will probably never see, especially if it’s toward the end. Being beholden to archaic difficulty sliders just puts up more barriers.

We’ve seen games try thinking outside this box in the past. Mass Effect 3 offered a narrative-first mode that streamlined combat and exploration to let players focus on dialogue trees and character relationships. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided did something similar. While the difficulty options didn’t dramatically change the game, they were geared toward what the player was after (story, the old-school Deus Ex feel, etc.) rather than a hierarchy of perceived gameplay purity.

It might seem like a radical rethinking of how games treat players, but these kinds of quality of life tweaks have been happening for years. Breath of Fire on the SNES let you buy items to manipulate the enemy encounter rate while modern JRPGs like Bravely Default let you do that on the fly for free.

Even the things like adding options to skip dialogue or entire cutscenes are a concession that not everyone playing a game is after the same thing.

Kane’s suggested category of a mode specific to second playthroughs is a good reminder that not even the same person wants the same thing from a game depending on how much time they have spent with it. Who hasn’t wished they could skip the tedious do-overs in a game just to catch the branching story-line they missed the first or second time through?

At the end of the day, life’s too short to worry about whether you’re playing something the right way. And if you’re just starting Wolfenstein 2, for the love of god turn down the difficulty (unless you’re already digging it).


  • I agreed with the sentiment of the title but damn, the amount of SJW in this article hurts my soul.

    • How does a game not calling someone an idiot baby for playing the game in a way they enjoy hurt you?

      I’m not even being sassy, I honestly don’t understand this. I know people with physical disabilities who love games, but if they want to play a game on a difficulty that allows for, say, having their right arm atrophied from cerebral palsy, they are called a baby, or something else stupid and pointless. I don’t see how it hurts you, but I do see how it hurts them.

      • i like playing games on medium so i play the game on medium, somehow i manage to survive the vicious slurs slung at me by difficulty menus without having to have a cry

        • Can you name any game you’ve played that has a medium difficulty setting with a negative connotation in its in-game title or description? Your comparison doesn’t work otherwise.

        • No one is crying. It just paints a picture in your mind that picking easy makes you a baby and isn’t the best way to play the game. The writer had a better time on what is literally idiot baby mode, but didn’t pick it first because the game is taking a shot at you.

          I like the throwbacks to old Wolfenstein like the baby, but I can also see how someone that wants to play on easy would think “this isn’t the way I’m meant to play the game”.

          • Then they need to start ignoring how a game is “meant to be played” and start enjoying the game in the way they find most enjoyable.

          • It’s more that the devs have put that there, so you immediately double take and wonder if you should go up a difficulty since this one is for babies.

          • I was going to say something about anyone old enough to play this would understand the reference, but the 90s ended 18 years ago… The inescapable passage of time is a bigger blow to the ego than id’s silly difficulty labels could ever be.

          • I don’t double-take, tho, because I understand that it’s a throwback to the originals, and nothing more than a good-natured jab at the player’s ego – ie. not meant to be taken seriously.

          • The menu is tongue-in-cheek though. The author was being quite earnest about his hurt feelings. I feel that there was a misunderstanding or a deliberate misinterpretation on the author’s part.

          • It definitely is and I don’t challenge that it’s a joke. I don’t think the author does either. I take their comments as being that this particular joke is tied to an old franchise and they were put off picking what they thought fit them, because they were being bagged by the dev, which in turn makes you think “ah shit am I playing this wrong if the dev is having a go at me?”

            I don’t think they misunderstood or misinterpreted. People always tend to read things differently. I definitely see the baby and take that entire difficulty as being a joke, as in I assume it’s just a walk over and included as a sad alternative to “playing the real game” or whatever.

            Basically I get why it might make someone think too hard about a menu screen rather than select “very challenging combat” or “story driven low intensity combat” mode.

            For the record I’m a sick masochist and play everything on the hardest mode, but it’s only because I hate myself more than the author probably does for thinking too hard about a menu.

          • I don’t see “hurt”? Only annoyance at the insidious–and admittedly, very likely unintended–pressure that the label placed on him. Something can be a joke, genuinely so, and still be wrong, the byproduct of having grown up hearing the joke and others laughing at it.

            Many people here are reacting as though the burden is on the spectator to avoid offence from a silly joke, but in reality, it is quite clear that in comparison to the harder difficulties, the easier ones are painted with a veneer of mockery and negativity that makes a flawed understanding of masculinity (or more trivially, of being a “gamer) produce a knee-jerk reaction.

            If for whatever reason you prefer (or can only) play in easy, there’s no reason to make you feel inferior for it.

        • You know what does make people want to cry? When their hobbies make fun of them for their disabilities.

          what a bunch of SJW babies, AMIRITE?!

          • This is why we cant have nice things. I dont get why people getting upset at a 20 year old joke, nothing more or less.

          • Racist jokes work the same way. They make fun of a person for shit they can’t change and isn’t bad, anyway.

            You think not being racist for fun is another reason why we can’t have nice things?

          • Well South Park The Fractured Butwhole implemented difficulty depending on shade of black skin, and i dont recall people being angry about it.

          • South Park did it as satirical social commentary. I believe the caption was “it won’t make combat harder, just everything else in your life”. A clear callout to systemic racism.

          • Probably because the butt of the joke wasn’t the black people. It was the society that disenfranchises them for their blackness.

            Generally speaking, if you want to do “edgy” comedy, you punch up, not down.

          • And kudo’s making the leap from people not taking a joke a 10 year old throws around to racist remark’s. This debate is childish in itself.

          • It’s called disproof by example. If you didn’t want examples of things that are less acceptable today than 20 years ago, you shouldn’t have used “it was okay 20 years ago so it should be okay today” as supporting justification for your argument.

      • So you’re implying someone with a disability won’t have a sense of humour and will be offended? That’s a bit offensive @pokedad

        • I’m not implying anything. I know people with physical disabilities who get sick of being called names because they still want to play games despite their hands not working as well as other people’s.

          They’re not screaming about it, but they’re not exactly laughing, either. How hard would it be to just not make fun of people for shit they can’t control?

          • My comment was clearly satire. The premise that people will make an obscure connection to be offended by anything. I honestly believe the game devs were just having fun and fitting with the macho theme of the games. No insult to disabled gamers what so ever.

          • The game devs are just having fun. Lots of people say things just in fun. That doesn’t mean that what they’ve said is now immune from criticism.
            The problem isn’t this particular game. The problem is all kinds of examples across all gaming. difficulty level is tied to social legitimacy in gaming and it’s a bit shitty. It’s less people desperate for a reason to be outraged slapping their faces and screaming. It’s more people who are just tired of being belittled in small ways for existing. Like Borderlands 2 and “girlfriend mode”. It’s just unnecessary and alienates people from things they like in a hundred small ways.

      • And that, that’s exactly the thing that the kind of people who throw around dismissively the term SJW don’t get. They believe that the people who are being defended, represented or validated are nonexistent. In their minds, there are only two kinds of people: “normal” (read: them) and obtuse, infantile idiots who create drama from imaginary people or situations in order to project some sort of “virtue”, in lieu of, you know, being “normal”.

        And how do they know that such things are imaginary? Easy, because in their world-class experience, they haven’t experienced it. If they are not racist nor anybody they know is racist, then racism is a lie. (And obviously, “racism” is exclusively things like slavery, torture and murder. Tasteless comments, dismissal and mockery are “simply jokes or exaggeration, grow up, you baby”.) And so it goes.

  • Oh for Pete’s sake.

    The names for the difficulty settings for Wolfenstein are a joke and always have been. Stop being so sensitive.

      • Its a clear throwback to how ID labelled their difficulty levels back in the 90s.

        Go back and look at Wolf 3D, Doom (1, 2, Final) and even Heretic and see how they labelled them. The idea there was to make it a bit more interesting than Easy, Medium, Hard. I don’t think anyone should really read into it that much other than it being a wink to the games origins.

        And this is coming from someone why typically plays a game at the lower end of the difficulty settings (to spend more time absorbing the gameplay and story) and then comes back after to play at a higher difficulty.

        • lets not forget, being called a coward and scared little baby when you go and exit a game be it due to finishing the game or having to go IRL stuff, because thats just how it was, infact im pretty sure even Jazz Jackrabbit had a line when quitting

          • It also changed the avatar of the character from a toddler to a steroid junkie maniac based on the difficulty chosen.

      • I think more accurately you need to say that YOU don’t find them funny.

        Sure, I don’t think they’re as funny as I did when I was 11, but they still get a wry grin from me.

        It’s absolutely 100% not meant to be offensive. The whole game is a ridiculously over the top macho violent fest anyway.

        • True enough. But just because you intend something to be taken a certain way, doesn’t mean it will be. Wolfenstein is probably not the best example because this is obviously a reference to the old games. It’s an in joke.

          But there is a strong cultural idea in gaming that playing on low difficulty is a badge of shame. At best that’s fucking weird and at worst it’s the same bullshit gatekeeping that causes all kinds of social friction among people who play. It’s generally just not good for the health of the culture.

          • Cultural idea? I play different games on different difficulties. For example I’m proud to have completed the entirety of halo on legendary, but I’ll play games like Mass Effect in story mode focus modes. A small subset of gamers are high and mighty about difficulty but most, just care about an experience, and we leave those difficulty purists to dark souls 😛

            These days I care mostly about leader boards and improving myself not against an artificial difficulty and more against real people.

  • Man, I feel this hard. I always feel guilty if I play anything less than normal, like I’m less of a player, but inevitably if I jack it up I enjoy the game less. Only things I can do on hard/extreme difficulty are Mass Effect and The Witcher.

    I watched my partner get stuck on a single Wolfenstein level for five hours to the point where he wasn’t enjoying himself and when I asked why he didn’t turn it down he shrugged and went “cos I shouldn’t”. He proceeded to struggle for two more hours until he finally caved and dropped it down and – SHOCKER- enjoyed the rest of the game a hell of a lot more.

    • Difficulty give that “sense of pride and accomplishment” that EA cannot give.
      I know sometimes i hate myself for playing at the highest difficulty possible, but you appreciate the game for different reasons, The last of us for example was a matter of finding orders on how to use the resources i had and executing it with precision that the easy – normal/hard didn’t give me. Enjoy the game at your own leisure and pace, dont care what all the others are doing, like in life be happy with your achievements.

    • I used to have this problem as well, but after a while I realized no one really cares what difficulty you play on. If you’re struggling and want to just get through it there’s nothing wrong with dropping the difficulty. You’re the one that gets to decide what is enjoyable for you and ow you want to engage with the game, not someone on the internet.

      Case in point: The Wolfenstein games for me are vastly more fun on lower difficulty.

      • (That said I’ll always try and start on ‘normal’ for most games since I assume that the designer intended that be the baseline experience)

      • Depending on the game, I’ll either start on easy or normal. Normal being what seems to be the baseline difficulty. I play games to be entertained, and unless the game is intended to be a challenge at every step (looking at you, Dark Souls) its not entertaining to be smashed every 2 minutes

        My choice, nobody elses, and its what I find enjoyable. If I like the game enough, it’ll get a second playthrough at a higher difficulty, but I just like wandering through with the brain switched off. Goes back to the old days of gaming where many games required you to have completed the lowest setting before a harder one was even unlocked for you,

        And as you say, those lower difficulty settings can be vastly more fun.

    • I’ve reached the point where I value my time and enjoyment over any sense of “gamer pride” in beating a game, so if I find a game too punishing, or if I’m dying too much to be having fun, I’ll either drop the difficulty or stop playing. If I’m not enjoying a game, then … why would I keep playing it? By backlog is long enough that there’s always something else to move on to.

      • Nothing wrong with that. All different people get different things from games. Play within your means, nothing wrong with that.

      • My thinking as well. I’m playing games to be entertained, not necessarily challenged. Others like the challenge, more power to em, but if the game is beating me to the point I’m not having fun, well the Wall of Shame is big enough that I can find something to replace it.

        And usually, once I take a game out of the console, its a long time before it goes back in.

  • Glad to hear I’m not alone I did same, “bring it on” difficulty and after getting killed again and again on the submarine level at the start (after you kill the commander who locked himself in Comms room), felt much more fun doing it on easy 🙂

  • I played Wolf on the easiest difficulty and had a blast. At no point did I get anxious over it – because I was having fun. Higher difficulties usually just mean bullet sponge enemies and cheap hits anyway.

    The difficulty settings are a direct reference to the original Wolf3D (right down to the bonnet). If that “triggers” you, then I don’t know if you should be playing those kinds of games.

    • If that “upsets” you FTFY. Unless of course you intended to use trigger in its capacity as a psychological phenomenon related to trauma, but that doesn’t appear to be the case and you really ought to know better than to co-opt such language so you can show off how “cool” you are.

      • I’ll admit I was a bit mean spirited with “triggered” but clearly this has upset the author so much that they needed to post a long article about how a difficulty screen made them anxious.

        It’s ridiculous. Are people so sensitive that tongue in cheek difficulty descriptor upsets them? Maybe Wolf2 is a special case in that people who otherwise don’t play FPS games have flocked to it because it’s a Nazi killing fantasy. I honestly think though that this is a significant over reaction best handed by having some emotional maturity.

        What next, people complaining about games where you can lose?

        • Like I said in my comment above, some people have reasons why they are physically incapable of playing harder difficulties, but they still love games. Making fun of them for that is kinda shitty. Of course that’s not intended by the devs, but intent doesn’t change the fact that it does.

          If a text heavy game had an easier language setting so people with dyslexia could play it, do you expect that it would be called “Dumb words mode for idiot losers and children” or would that be a shitty thing to do?

          • Except equating it with disability and deliberately insulting those players isn’t at all what the intent here was, and you know that. Most people have the emotional maturity to recognise it as a joke (whether it’s funny or not is irrelevant) and just move on with their life.

            It’s a picture of BJ in a bonnet – the actual text descriptor isn’t insulting. There are bigger things to be upset over.

          • Authorial intent is not the be all and end all. Nor is it your job to decide what other people are allowed to care about. i know more than one person who is negatively affected by the whole gatekeeping culture of difficulty in games being the yardstick by which people are measured in being allowed to like or participate in their hobbies.

          • So its ok for you to demand they change something because you are offended while others aren’t? What kind of world do you live in? Go do something else then. How do you even function in society?

          • I function as an adult who thinks being shitty to people for fun is uncool. It has worked out pretty well for me thus far.

            How do you function in society as someone who thinks anyone who doesn’t like a thing is somehow so offended that it stops them from living? How do you ignore the evidence all around you that people are able to have differing opinions without complete psychological collapse?

          • If people give you shit for not playing games on a hard difficulty, they are probably not your friends.

          • Honestly, play on whatever difficulty you like. If the Devs didn’t want you playing that difficulty, it wouldn’t exist – regardless of whatever throwback joke they used for it. Do you get upset about Dark Souls or Cuphead too?

          • i genuinely think that Dark Souls having an easy mode would be good. I wouldn’t use it and it would need restrictions on the PVP elements, but why not make it easier for people to get into the genre for the first time?

        • What the fuck are you talking about? The author didn’t pick the picture of a baby because it indicates that you’re doing it wrong. When I play Wolf I assume the same thing. It’s baby mode. You;re not getting the real experience in this mode. Then the author went bugger it and played on easy which was more fun for them.

          I can’t find the part of the article where the author describes themselves crying, having a nervous breakdown or requiring care. They say they were anxious picking a difficulty because they wanted to play the game the way the devs intended. The baby indicates “if you pick this, you fucked up” so of course you’re going to sit on the difficulty screen thinking “ahhhh what do I pick, I want easy but am I going to wreck this potentially awesome game for myself?”

          • Where did I mention anything about crying or nervous breakdown or whatever other nonsense you just posted?

        • Did you read the article?
          The Author wasn’t crying about it in the way many commenters are painting it. The author made a good point that the difficulty system menus were possibly resulting in people not choosing a difficulty setting that would result in them enjoying the game more, and pointing out alternative ways to do it.
          It is pretty well written, not at all knee-jerky or whiny, it acknowledges that the menus are a throwback to an old joke from earlier in the series.
          But it also suggests that maybe some gamers are influenced into choosing a level that will result in them playing the game in a way that isn’t fun for them, and opens up the conversation that there might be better ways to implement difficulty settings and gives examples.
          Unfortunately the comments degraded into people assuming the Author was a sook or similar instead of reading the article and discussing the pros and cons of difficulty settings in various games.

    • Are you educating the author who talks in the article about the bonnet being a throwback that the bonnet is a throwback?

      • More highlighting the fact that it isn’t a deliberate attack on the player as opposed to a quick reference. The fact that the author knows this and yet is still upset by it is hilarious… Or sad, I’m not sure which.

  • Now, just imagine if there was no difficulty choice. This article would be having a small cry over that and would be asking for difficulty options.

    Play whatever one you want. If you want to go up or down the scale. Do it, it’s YOUR experience.

    • I think the point being made is that one shouldn’t be made to feel inferior or “less of a true gamer” if they choose to have an easier experience.

      • Thats more the persons mentality and the social aspect, and if you change the way things work mechanically in-game, people are still going to be elitest and people are still gonna feel inferior.

        • There’s a difference between players acting elitist about what difficulty setting they play on, and the developers calling you a baby because you decided to play on easy. The latter tends to come across with a bit more punch and authority.

          • If a game developer having a sense of humor is making people un-easy about playing at the difficulty they play at, then maybe they should not be playing that game. As some one below mentioned:

            Time to stop letting your ego questioned by something as small as a difficulty menu.
            Or if you can’t, maybe its time to git gud scrub.

          • Sorry mate, I don’t consider “ho ho easy mode is baby mode” to be worthwhile humour. It has nothing to do with the game.

          • Correction: it has everything to do with the game and Wolf fans in particular. As has been stated countless times already, calling the lowest difficulty a “baby mode” is a callback to every previous Wolf game all the way back to Wolf 3D; it’s a running gag. It’s not included for the new players who might get offended by it; the devs weren’t wringing their hands in glee at the thought of triggering players by calling them babies. It’s there for the fans who have been with the franchise for the long run and are familiar with it’s humour. As with a long-running easter egg, this callback is the game/devs raising a glass of fine brandy to returning players in a toast and saying, “Here’s to you, old friend.”

          • I said elsewhere I’m well aware where it comes from, I played Wolf3D when it was new. I stand by my statement, it has nothing to do with the game. It’s the label of a mechanic external to the narrative and theme, it has no in-setting presence, it contributes nothing to the experience any more than the top graphics setting in Unreal games does by being called ‘epic’ instead of ‘ultra’. It’s not worthwhile humour, it exists solely as a throwback.

            I’ve never suggested the devs were intentionally trying to offend anyone, and nor has the article. Neither have I nor the article said it should be retroactively changed in Wolfenstein either, only that there are better choices worth considering in the future that detract nothing from people who like to play on hard, but are less condescending to people who prefer or need to play on easy.

            There’s no harm in giving consideration to the kind of thing the article is talking about. The backlash through here seems to be built around what people assume the article said, not what it actually said.

        • Absolutely. If you are making a game make you feel inferior the problem is NOT with the game.

  • Good post. I will probably try on ‘normal’ but ratchet it down if I get stuck. I have less time to try the same thing over and over and over like when I was a teen.

  • I did my time in the difficulty trenches back in the arcades in the 80’s so I tend to play on easy mode these days, as I’d rather see the whole story to the end than bang my head against a wall for hours

    • I don’t mind if a game’s difficult, just give me the ability to input a cheat code as a last resort.
      Before pay-to-win, cheat codes were the great equaliser when it came to difficult games.

  • Time to stop letting your ego questioned by something as small as a difficulty menu.

    Or if you can’t, maybe its time to git gud scrub.

    • I would wager a lot of people had a similar realisation to the writer at some point and turned the difficulty down (myself included) without having a crisis or writing a thousand words about it.

      It feels like they are clutching at straws just because they know stupid articles get clicks and comments like ours.

      • Exactly. I’ve heard on multiple occasions that Wolfenstein 2 in particular is more enjoyable on a lower difficulty especially when compared to DOOM it’s not at the same level in the gunplay department but to complain about it because you feel the game is bullying you is a bit much.

      • Yeah. I agree with a lot of the points but not because my ego is hurt when I play on easy. I just want an actual story mode rather than a rebranded HP slider. I’m really not a fan of ‘toughen up’ solutions but this seems disproportionately soft for a game about murder. I don’t even get the impression Ehtan is genuinely offended by this. It seems like he’s just picking a fight.

  • It’s nice to give players the opportunity to get the specific thing that they want out of a game, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to try and specifically carve out each individual aspect in a difficulty menu-esque way. It sort of works for games that have a very clear and straightforward dual identity like Mass Effect, but for anything with a more complex mix, you’re really at the mercy of the developer putting a ton of effort into making it work. It also restricts their ability to design content around the assumption that players are getting involved with multiple types of content within the game, which means they can’t implement certain interactions between them if they’re forced to act under the assumption that these things have to be quarantined off for players that don’t like them. It’s a bit of a concern for people that actively enjoy a holistic game with some very different, but thoroughly connected, components.

    Perhaps more importantly, you still run the risk of having a disconnect between what the game presents a mode as, and what you feel like you’re getting out of it. For example, if you have a game like Mass Effect that has “I’m here for the story”, “I’m here for a challenge” and “I’m here for both” modes, then anyone who is thinking critically about their own choice is going to realise that “I’m here for both” is the “authentic” choice. If someone feels guilty about turning down the difficulty, then I get the sense that they’d feel the same way about opting out of a combat focus, because the two are very similar in substance.

    For non-combat elements, I think it’s also a risky choice. If you have a game with a lot of exploration that ties into other benefits, you could implement a “no exploration mode” that de-emphasizes that by removing exploration as a requirement for anything. On paper, that sounds like it’s just giving people another option, but I can guarantee that I’d constantly have a thought in the back of my mind while exploring; “if I turned it off, I wouldn’t have to do this”. That’s not necessarily because I don’t want to explore, it’s just that the presence of that option basically exists as a content skip that I’m forced to consider. Like any person with options before them, I’m going to contemplate using it, and I’m not necessarily sure I want to have that thought hanging around. I’d rather just have a curated, deliberately-designed experience, without being made to pre-evaluate my own priorities and tastes to make the game churn out some supposedly better, markedly different version.

  • I try not to play on easy anymore. While I enjoy taking in scenery and story, I kind of also think that run and gun gets kinda boring after a while, so I do enjoy playing on the tougher difficulties.

    I played Horizon: Zero Dawn on hard, and while I died plenty, I had to tailor the way I played in order to stay alive. There was less running, jumping, diving and sliding, and more stalking, sniping, and diversion creating. I was able to ‘run and gun’ against lower level enemies in the latter part of the game, so I never missed out on that.

    Regarding Wolfenstein 2, I’d write it up to being more of an homage to the original Wolf3d’s difficulty settings rather than an attack on your masculinity. I think it would be pretty hypersensitive of someone to even view it that way.

  • Agree completely, naming a difficulty after the experience you want to get out of a game makes so much sense, that I don’t understand why all games with difficulty sliders don’t do it.

    From what I’ve read, Wolfenstein II is a double whammy of using the joke names to suggest you aren’t playing “the real” game, along with having the standard difficulty too high to keep a good fun/challenge balance.

    The amount of comments I see here and there from people who start a game on the highest difficulty to prove to themselves that they are a “true gamer”, only for them to lament that they aren’t having fun shows that there’s a problem with people equating skill with worth.

  • Games use to be harder, and the difficulty settings clearly described what the dev thought was a legitimate rating. This game difficulty menu was ripped directly from an era where gamers had more perseverance but they also knew their own limits and didn’t seem to worry about the wording of a difficulty setting. This seems more of a personal issue than an issue for the developer, id like to know why anyone would feel “pressure” to play a video game at a given level if it was clearly out of their skill set, i lied, i don’t want to know, it would most likely depress me.

    TL:DR Developers shouldn’t have to worry about gamers egos on top of every sjw thing trending, gamers should better understand their own capabilities and enjoy time playing rather than being disgruntled because they clearly dont have a set of skills required to play Mein Leben.

  • Next Ethan will be crying about it being called Easy because it makes him feel bad at games. Why can’t all of them be called ‘super hard’ and the publisher should include a ‘You are a winner’ ribbon in each box.

  • Apart from Wolfenstein and Doom, what other games take the piss with tongue firmly in cheek like this?

    This feels like an article about an issue that doesn’t really exist.

    • South Park The Fractured Butwhole made it if you play the game at a higher difficulty your skin color gets darker. e.g White/easy — black/hard

    • 100% agree. Without doing any research into the matter, I am pretty sure the vast majority of games do not insult the player for picking easy.

      Besides, this particular instance is a callback/reference to a 24 year old game, so I’m not sure if it even counts.

  • 3rd year psych student here. The feeling of awkwardness a person experiences when faced with easy mode and a pic of BJ’s baby face sounds both like a self esteem issue and cognitive dissonance (the need to change behaviour or attitude due to discomfort). Someone with positive self esteem and someone who can navigate cognitive dissonance can justify why they play on easy (time, used as a tool to relax etc) wouldn’t worry about the issue. The question shouldn’t be the image but why a person feels discomfort. The image is just a trigger, the person has the problem.

    • Bingo. Nailed it. Time to pack up and go home. If someone is offended by a difficulty setting of ALL things in a videogame, there’s deeper issues to be had there than the difficulty setting itself. Thanks for the excellent elaboration!

    • Wow, well the whole point is not to penalise gamer’s for playing the games they paid for the way they want to play them.

      The answer is not to “harden the eff up” or “get guid”, but to make games more welcoming. I don’t see the problem with rephrasing “easy” mode to “story” mode. Games aren’t just played by 14-24 year old males any more.
      Nothing to do with self esteem but not mocking gamer’s with pink ribbons, dummies or chicken hats.

      • I do see an issue with this. This is essentially controlling a developers vision, you’re saying “You can’t call your difficulty level what you want, you must rename it to ‘story mode’ so as not to offend people!”

        What a world we live in where people are offended by this lol, seriously.

        Also your point about 14-24 males is absolutely out of nowhere and irrelevant to the entire conversation.

    • I really, really hope to never have the misfortune to have an appointment booked with you if I ever need to see a psychologist.

    • The initial concern is valid because the pool of potential players is comprised of a broad range of demographics and intersections, and we know that the external forces affect our internal state – this is a topic driven by community standards and perceptions that is worthy of an expansive discussion.

      While I appreciate the perspective you’ve brought to the conversation, I find your attempt to reframe this issue through the lens of individual pathology as a means to brush the original concern aside to be a particularly invidious approach.

    • This is a completely fair point in a vacuum. But we don’t live in one.

      Like I said in my references to real examples told to me by multiple people with physical disabilities, the culture of making fun of people for playing on easy mode plays on their existing experiences of being belittled and made to feel inadequate because of their physical problems. Yes, the problem is their own internal relationship with their sense of self, but that comes from very real experiences of being belittled and Othered by society as a whole. The fact that they have to continue navigating that even when alone with a hobby they love is unnecessary and easily fixed by just not tying social standing to difficulty.

  • Lucky for me I read this article on the “Harden the fuck up bub” difficulty setting…

    • With the amount of complaining coming from you in the comments, it doesn’t sound like you’re anywhere near that difficulty setting.

      • Ad hominem attacks are always quaint. The main issue I have with the article, is it’s making a gigantic issue out of a complete non issue. Maybe the author has a mountain he can sell you from the molehill he made it from.

        • But that’s the thing, 90% of the articles that aren’t straight news on Kotaku (and any gaming site) are non-issues, they are thought pieces. All this article is saying is taking subtle jabs at the player for playing the way they want discourages can have a small shepherding effect. When people play a game they aren’t enjoying, most will stop playing it, either by modifying the game (changing the difficulty) or just stop playing all together.

          I don’t 100% agree with what he’s saying, but the article was an interesting enough read on how subtle enforcements can affect our enjoyment of our game, at no point did he say that this was a bigger issue than microtransactions, or that everyone should take up arms to stop any dev from every doing thing again.

          You wouldn’t think that by the dozens upon dozens of comments attacking the article, the site and the author (some of the insults aren’t so quaint). Do you really think any part of that article or any of the posts in favour it are in any way advocating censorship? Since when does criticism equal a call for censorship?

  • The salt levels in these comments is reaching overload. The amount of personal attacks on the author for an article that basically boils down to “don’t let difficulty names bait you into playing in a way that isn’t fun” is turning out to be very interesting as a topic on fandom mentality.

    I swear some people just visit Kotaku to vent the outrage they hold inside.

  • I’m rubbish at stealth. Always have been, always will be. So I struggled with MGS5 Phantom Pain, and when I moved it to easy mode half way through the game it made me wear a chicken hat. I thought stuff that, and I switched it off and uninstalled it. If a game doesn’t respect my time and effort, then I will reciprocate in kind.

    I agree on the “I’m here for the story” difficulty setting, but I would like to see it pushed a bit further with the likes of crafting and levelling up. In the Last of Us I would be following a character and they would be telling their story but I would be off rummaging through the cupboards and kitchens on the way trying to collect bandages, water, scissors and the like. I wish the “I’m here for the story” mode would include the option for a full inventory. Often it just means the enemies are weaker and the crafting items are more numerous. Give me the story and all the weapons and health, without the crafting busywork, and let me enjoy it for that.

  • I felt the game was pretty easy on the middle setting, sure some boss fights required some reloads, and that damn court level was hell, but the rest of the game was quite easy enough.

  • How can you be so sensitive to a game ‘calling you a baby’ for not playing it on a harder setting, but be so desensitised to the actual content of the game. You’re fine murdering hundreds of soldiers, in complete and graphic gore, but you have a bit of a cry when someone pokes your manhood.

    I really don’t get this article.

    I’m playing on Death Incarnate for what its worth. It isn’t a hard game. It still holds your hand like most modern games.

  • The thing about art is that it can’t be made for everyone. It’s the nature of art.

    If we remove everything that offends everyone we’re going to be playing some pretty homogenized games and watching some supremely bland films.

    It’s sad that it made the author feel that way but I don’t agree that it means things need to be changed. Maybe it’s just not the right game for the author?

  • Don’t care what it’s called, just let me change the difficulty mid game and continue.

    I’m sick of games expecting me to restart from scratch if I realise several hours in that I’m not up to the end game challenge.

  • People spend years of their lives creating working on different parts of a game that most people, even the ones who buy it, will probably never see, especially if it’s toward the end. Being beholden to archaic difficulty sliders just puts up more barriers.

    This feels like the best and probably only argument that needs to be made. It’s a damn crime that we don’t see more of these peoples’ hard work.

  • With the difficulty on easy the gameplay just becomes another “put your target on a person and press the button” type game. It gets super boring real quick. By jacking up the difficulty strategy and gameplay come into play and you actually learn how to play the game.

  • Claims it’s mean to call easy mode “baby mode”.
    Then calls shooters “infantile”.

  • I’ve always played games on easy. I’m okay with it. My self-esteem isn’t tied to my ability to play video games.

  • This is fine. What is not fine is the attitude of people on the net claiming that you are somehow inferior for not choosing the hardest difficulty or assuming that everyone is an instant pro at a game and just needs to “Git Gud”.

    That is far more the problem than someone having fun with menu options.

  • Dear Conservatives pressing the Daily Mail ‘POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD’ button over and over:

    What you may have missed while being triggered is that a lot of people HAVE to play on easy mode. Elderly people, those with disabilities – these are a significant gaming demographic (when you’re limited in life choices gaming is a great escape) and they have no option but to select these difficulties because they suffer ACTUAL difficulties you people can’t imagine.

    And this is the thing. They work harder and suffer more every day than any of you lot – but get smacked in the face by this kind of thing.

    The point being made is that it’s unnecessary. The humour is pathetic and lazy at best and only benefits those suffering from significant insecurity issues to the point where selecting a higher difficulty gives them an inflated sense of self – which is hopefully very few.

    So either way, it’s just a black hole of nastiness and not required. And for those whose issues force them to use those modes, casual and continual insults are pretty poor form.

    Something tells me though if you’re the kind of person to squawk “SJW” and “PC MADNESS” then your empathy levels aren’t exactly very high, however.

    • It’s a simple change that costs essentially nothing, doesn’t detract from the game and makes it more enjoyable for some people. It’s not even saying anything current should be changed, just that there are better options moving forward. There’s no rational basis for getting upset with what the article is proposing, it’s just being used as an anti-“SJW” proxy war.

  • This comment section is pretty much what I expected/hoped to see.

    Not sure why it’s still here, since both the “evil” Marvel EIC and Gross Anime Thing articles had their comments removed, but I’m glad it’s here. I think it’s important for commenters to get their thoughts out there. Discussion is important and endlessly interesting.

    On the subject of the article, you would almost think that all games have a “fuck you, retard” setting, specifically designed to insult the lesser abled. But really, how many games do this? Most stick to variations of “easy-hard” with some fanciful titles for the hardest settings. If you find “very easy” offensive in itself, I don’t know what to say to you.

    And if you ARE disabled in ways that makes playing video games on higher difficulties impossible, well, know that “baby mode” isn’t aimed at you, it’s aimed at the fully abled who are bad at games. That and Dean Takahashi.

    • If you consider discussion important, you should consider using replies instead of downvotes to express disagreement. Downvotes are tied to a manual moderation trigger which specifically prevents people from being able to participate in the discussion if they get enough.

      I’ve been advocating that Kotaku not connect downvotes to moderation because it stifles dissent against whoever the majority is in any given article, and I don’t want anyone from either side silenced by the other. But in the absence of a change on their part please consider using downvotes for non-contribution the same way Reddit does.

      • Not to get too far off topic yet to add to what you’ve said already.

        I remember back in the day, down voting only showed disagreement. Somewhere along the line it became connected to moderation and since then the comments has lost any and all balance.

        The worst part is those who go about down voting to silence discussion they don’t like get very vocal and demanding if they themselves are down voted for their behaviour.

        I think it safe to say any chance of repair is now long gone and the best Allure Media can do is just remove the voting system. Until it is gone, rational (and even factual) discussion will always be suppressed if the current instance is not following the popular narrative.

        • I thought it was always tied to moderation, it’s only lately that moderation has meant getting your comment taken down for a week?

          • I’m skating on the edge here so I’ll be quick. There isn’t a time period, per se. If you get a lot of down votes you basically keep getting moderated until you get enough up votes to cross the threshold and out of moderation.

            But some have abused the system by simply down voting to the point where participation can only be continued by emailing someone at Allura to be put back in good standing (which I have done more than once as I’ve basically been falsely moderated almost as many times as Jim Sterling and Sid Alpha have had false DMCA claims against them!).

            Anyhow, this tangent has gone far enough so I’m ending my part.

          • Sorry, by ‘for a week’ I meant that moderated comments used to get the thumbs up/down much quicker than they do now.

          • I’m not convinced it takes upvotes into account at all. And I think once you’re flagged for manual moderation the only way out is for one of the comment reviewers to remove the flag. Maybe they’ve developed the system some since then but that was my impression last time I saw it in action.

      • Kinda dumb that it works that way. I can understand it, as a (lazy) moderation tool. “Oh, this post was downvoted. Probably said something racist, sexist or outright inappropriate. Let’s just automatically hide it for review” but yeah once you get into “opinion on the internet territory” on what is apparently such a volatile subject, you’re going to get casualties.

        Not gonna apologies for giving “BS” the red arrow though.

      • But none of these guys *actually* ‘value discussion’, and you can see this by them downvoting everyone who posts dissenting opinions.

        What they are *actually* saying is that they don’t like it when some of the more egregious aspects of conservative speech (racism, misogyny etc) aren’t given an open platform.

        Like most ‘free speech’ advocates, they aren’t actually worried whether disabled transgender Muslims are allowed to speak openly, just that middle class white guys with somewhat unsavoury opinions based on their level of privilege are given free rein in any conversation.

        You can tell this by careful observation of which topics prompt them into action 😉

  • lmao you cant be this sensitive
    for real

    I finished the game on dead incarnate and still felt like a stroll in the park, the piss poor ai programming was garbage and the only “thing” that made it “harder” was the fact that they dealt more dmg and had aimbot.

    I always play new games on the hardest difficulty (in this case you have to unlock the final one) because is the true experience at least for me. At the end if you finish it on the hardest setting then you feel you accomplish something worth of bragging.

  • Something about this article makes me think the wording in the settings was actually spot on in this case… Oh the irony.

  • If you feel bad about taking the cake walk, perhaps consider being a movie/book reviewer instead. Games are meant to be challenging but really i think you are just after an interactive story.

    • Have to respectfully disagree my friend. Not saying your opinion is wrong, but I’m in the EXACT same situation as him and just because you play video games on easy, it doesn’t make you unfit for the job. Still, it’s a good point and I can relate.

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