From Software’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice ignited the conversation about difficulty in video games, or, as the conversation went on, the relationship between accessibility and a developer’s creative vision.
It’s a conversation that’s had accessibility advocates and developers alike chiming in about the accessibility options games can and often offer players to make them playable and enjoyable by a wider audience.
Cory Barlog, director of Sony Santa Monica’s recent 2018 release God of War, weighed in on the issue on Twitter, offering a succinct: “Accessibility has never and will never be a compromise to my vision.”
In God of War's case, the game offers four difficulty settings, named for the different ways players choose to experience the game (Give Me A Story, Give Me A Balanced Experience, Give Me A Challenge, Give Me God of War) rather than as ‘easy, normal, hard’.
To me, accessibility does not exist in contradistinction to anyones creative vision but rather it is an essential aspect of any experience you wish to be enjoyed by the greatest number of humans as possible.— Cory Barlog ðŸŽ® #BAFTAGames (@corybarlog) April 7, 2019
Sorry to all the Llamas ...this is just not for them.â¤ï¸ðŸ˜¬
It’s a sentiment that came as a reply to accessibility advocate and Able Gamers COO Steve Spohn’s own thoughts on the topic and how the conversation is often unfairly boiled down to players wanting an easy mode when, in Spohn’s words, “accessibility means options, not easy gameplay.”
Celeste designer Matt Thorson has also spoken on the issue (in a couple of the many various developer tweets gathered by Eurogamer’s roundup on the conversation), breaking down the accessibility elements in the platformer’s adjustable assist mode and how those same concepts could fit into Sekiro.
I also think that the most important assist options are the in-between ones, like slowing the game down 20%, or getting a single extra dash in Celeste. Things that let the player fine-tune aspects of the difficulty, rather than make it trivial.— Matt Thorson ðŸ‚ (@MattThorson) April 3, 2019
Those kinds of customizable difficulties have been showing up in more and more games, from triple-A to indie. Eidos Montréal’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider introduced the ability to customize different aspects of the game’s difficulty, letting players manually choose easy, normal, and hard settings for combat, exploration, and puzzle difficulty.
Insomniac’s Spider-Man offers players an accessibility menu that houses things like subtitle options like background and size, as well the option to change button taps to holds for some interactions, and the toggle-able options to skip puzzles or have quick-time events auto-complete.
Frictional Games created a ‘safe mode’ for SOMA after the game’s release that pacifies the monsters that normally torment players throughout the game. Even just last week, Falcon Age developer Outerloop Games took convention-floor feedback to heart and announced a combat-optional way to play through the game.
This is the thesis statement of people being toxic in my mentions— Steve Spohn (@stevenspohn) April 6, 2019
"Why must a video game present options & be accessible to everybody"
It's a lack of empathy. When someone blatantly states they don't get "why videogame must be accessible to everybody" there's no room to teach