A Life of Ease, or a Life of Normalcy?

I thought I was done with Prototype. I hit that big ol’ boss fight and found it too insanely frustrating for words and vowed I just wouldn’t bother with it. I walked away from the game. And then…

… I started the entire game again. On Easy mode, instead of Normal. Since then I’ve steamrolled my way back through all the missions leading up to the boss fight in around 4 hours. It took my 14 hours with the Normal play-through, though most of that was me futzing around with side missions and generally taking my time.

One nice thing about this is that I’ve had two pretty different experiences of the game. In the first playing I struggled to some degree, experienced the “hardness” of fighting the enemies set on Normal, worried about things, paid close attention to the narrative. In my Easy play-through I’ve been, literally, a man on a mission. My only objective has been busting through one mission after another and, by and large, it’s been pretty trivially easy – I died precisely once, purely through a dumb piece of bravado.

This leads me to wonder about the whole “Easy” “Normal” “Hard” business with games. The only reason I even bothered to play on Normal was some vague ringing in my ears from Gordon scoffing at the suggestion we might play Gears of War 2 on Easy, like it was offensive to his very being (it probably was). Perhaps the other, deeper, reason is this idea that playing on Normal is the way the game is “meant” to be played. The way the designers envisaged it and so on.

But I don’t particularly buy it, at least not for me. It seems absurd to me that playing a game on Normal should be seen as some sort of “Director’s Cut”, as if the the added toughness of the enemies and lesser effectiveness of your weapons was some kind of deep and meaningful experience. Perhaps it would be if combat in video games were a bit meaningful to experience but, given that’s it’s basically not in any way that I find interesting, any extra difficulty just reads as a hindrance to me. So long as there is some resistance to progress, I’m fine with being able to sweep it out of the way fairly easily. Often it’s fairly clear that added difficulty isn’t really about being more specially skilled, but about throwing more time, grit, and determination at exactly the same problems. And I’ll pass on that.

Perhaps when the conflicts we experience in games feel like something more than a mechanical challenge, it’ll make sense to regard different difficulties differently. But I imagine we’re more likely to see those sorts of games have only one difficulty level, forgoing the idea of increased struggle being more interesting or meaningful. For now, those who want to smack themselves against the brick wall and demonstrate no small skill in doing so are welcome to it, and I do admire the skill involved.

So, Easy does it for me.

18 March 2011
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