For the last several years on the internet, there has been a saying gaining increasing popularity. It was probably around (in some for or another) much longer than that, but it has only really been recognized when ‘game journalists’ started to have it applied to them, and started to take offense. That saying is ‘git gud’.
Oh man, I just had a thought, does this mean I am a game journalist now that I am writing about and reviewing games?
Regardless. A few weekends ago on Twitter, the official Microsoft Xbox account sent a tweet: “Beating the game on the lowest difficulty is still beating the game.” That is fine with me. If the lowest difficulty setting was included in the game by the developers, it was still in the area of what they wanted you to experience with the game.
After this however, Double Fine, the creators of the soon to be released Psychonauts 2, announced that they would have an invincibility toggle in their game, and announced that: “completing Psychonauts 2 with the ‘invincibility toggle on’ still counts as beating the game.” Which is pretty hilarious.
I mean, yeah sure, you are still technically beating the game in a way. You are getting to the end of it, but are you really beating it? Are you really experiencing a game the way it was meant to be, when you cheat through it? I can understand an easy difficulty mode, but really, cheating? Can you even properly review it at that point?
In my opinion, no, you can’t.
The funny bit of news about this though is how some ‘game journalists’ are responding. I put the term in quotes both above and here because I use it very loosely.
Kotaku’s John Walker has written an entire article on this subject, denouncing people who think that you need to actually play through a game to properly experience it and review it, and holding himself up as some sort of gaming martyr. In 2017 he wrote about the game Cuphead for Rock Paper Shotgun he suggested that there be a button to skip the bosses, which were probably the most important element of the game.
This, of course, earned him the ire of readers, as it was another in a long line of ‘game journalists’ who wanted games to be made easier for them. Not just easier in this case as well, but the ability to skip through entire portions of the game he found too hard. With Double Fine’s invincibility cheat, are you really playing the entire game? Are you experiencing it? Or are you in a sense just skipping the whole thing?
Wired’s Swapna Krishna has written an entire article about why difficult games like Dark Souls need even easier difficulty settings. But some games, their art-form, and the experience they want to grant their players are built around difficulty. If a developer releases a game that is difficult to beat, it is not out of regard for a small crowd of people who like difficult games, but because that is how they want their game to be, and be played. If that is how they envisioned their game, their art, who are we to call for them to change it?
Straw-men have been created for this other side of the argument, which Walker includes in his article: ‘uh, excuse me I beat Sword Guy Serious Time on a no hit hard mode and if didn’t do that I don’t respect you, and like, can you even comment on things if you’re not diamond six rank in shooty mcBlam? I don’t think so.’
It is not that you need to be an extremely high rank in a game, or beat the game on the hardest difficulty there is; it is beating the game on the settings the developer intended, with the tools they give you. Some games are great for this, giving you an actual setting in the options for what they expect the most optimal experience for the player to be in their game. Others include all kinds of difficulty modes, or a dozen different settings in their game to customize it how you want. And with that, that is how you should play a game to at least review it properly, how the developers intended it to be, even on the easiest levels.
Some games don’t give you that though. They say ‘here is the game, and how we intend for it to be played, enjoy it, or don’t’ and that is fine with me. I will either enjoy it, or I won’t.
But now, with high profile ‘game journalists’ whining about it for years, we are starting to see an even stronger shift, where game developers are bowing their heads to the pressure. I mean, they want to get good reviews so that their games sell right? So why not add in an invincibility mode for ‘game journalists’ to play on? If websites like Rock Paper Shotgun, Kotaku, and Wired, are going to give their games bad reviews because their ‘game journalists’ can’t beat them, why not make a ‘game journalist’ mode? I mean, invincibility mode. Sorry, slipped up there.
I had to write this to comment on just how self righteous and oblivious some of these ‘game journalists’ can be. Even funnier, is that Walker is STILL not happy about what he is being given, griping over the fact that it isn’t enough for him!
“There’s still work to be done, of course. It depresses me that both Xbox and Double Fine chose to use the term ‘beat the game’ rather than ‘complete’ or ‘finish’ it. Whenever I read or hear someone saying how they ‘beat the game,’ I can’t help but imagine their finishing watching a subtitled philosophical movie on Netflix and then thrusting their arms in the air, bellowing to all around how they ‘BEAT THE FILM!'”
I mean wow, they are giving him exactly what he wanted, and he still isn’t happy. You know what they say, when you give an inch, they take a mile.
But above, that is exactly what you are doing, John. You aren’t completing the game, you aren’t finishing it, not properly at least if you are going to be using an invincibility cheat to do it. You are the person watching the film, and when you are done watching it, claim that you beat it, and yet you can’t even see or realize it. I think that is the funniest part. Or maybe the saddest part. It is hard to tell now.
Regardless, the backlash from this was immense, enough for me to want to cover it and comment on it. I personally (as I wrote above) don’t mind easy modes in a game, or sliders and options to change the difficulty of various aspects of the game. Pathfinder: Kingmaker did this extremely well, changing difficulty and complexity of both the combat and kingdom management; and it has historical precedent. Games like System Shock 1 gave players sliders to increase or decrease the difficulty of game-play, puzzles, plot elements, and more.
But if a game developer doesn’t want to include difficulty modes to their games, or sliders that increase or decrease different aspects of difficulty, it is not for us to endlessly complain about. Games are an art form, something for us to experience. If we don’t have what it takes, move on to a different game. There are plenty out there you can play, experience, have fun with, and ultimately beat. Or finish, or complete. What ever term John would prefer we use to preserve his ego.