Ever since Dark Souls released in 2011, there have been numerous discussions about accessibility in games; about whether a game being hard keeps potential players from enjoying it and even buying it, since the difficulty might scare them away. Or wheter the player who made a purchase is entitled to have an option which will help him finish the game and thus get his money worth out of the product he bought. Boiling it down, the discussion ends up being “Should hard games have an easy mode for players that aren’t good enough for the standard difficulty?”. And I’m here to say that, not only should games not cater to anything but the developer's own creative decisions, be the game easy or hard, accessibility has nothing to do with the difficulty of a game.
It's easy to imagine why this topic sprang up. Imagine yourself playing Contra, Dark Souls, Blasphemous or any other game known for being hard, and feeling frustrated for not managing to make progress into the game, especially for a game that you have spent money on. Certainly, frustration would arise from that, given that you aren’t getting enjoyment out of a product that you have paid for, and promised you dozens of hours of uninterrupted fun. So it’s expected that said people would bring their frustration to the internet, trying to make their voices known about their issues; about how they cant enjoy the game because it's “too hard”, and linking this supposed problem to the lack of accessibility to the game for players like them. But the problem is, this is not an accessibility issue. For better or for worse, it’s the player responsibility to understand the game better and to improve, much like you would need to understand a math problem or resolve an issue that would arise in your own personal life. More than that though, accessibility refers to the tools that the game provides you to play it at your best. For example, when a game's standard control scheme is simply atrocious, or the button placements simply dont make sense to you, the game should have an option in-game for you to customize its layout, so it adapts to your preferred playstyle or physical conditions. Another example would be the standard options that any game would have, such as sound and graphical settings, so that you can adjust the game to the conditions of your house or your senses, either because you're playing the game at night and want it to be quieter, or because your screen is too bright and needs to be adjusted to better see what’s going on. These are true accessibility options; tools that enable the user to adapt the game's overall settings and mechanics to their own preference, so that they can play at their best.
But more than that, the difficulty in these kind of games are more than just a tool to either make the game longer or to bar people from playing it. The way its implemented in these games makes it almost a genre in its own, so much so that when a game is hard, people usually compares said game to Dark Souls, the game mostly responsible to revive the taste for hard games. The developers of such games doesn’t simply increase the health and damage of the enemies and call it a day, but rather it is implemented in its overall design. Take Blasphemous for instance, a game that released last year boasting about how hard and brutal it is. There is a part in the game that you are forced to go down in a small platform, that slowly goes down, while you are being attack by enemies that throw boomerangs, both in your right and on your left. That particular instance isn’t simply hard because of how much damage those enemies do, but rather because of their position and how the whole situation is set up. You are forced to keep taps on how fast you are approaching the enemies, but also on your own position, giving the moving platform, and also at the same time to dodge their attacks, that comes simultaneously from both sites. The difficulty of that particular part then comes from the level design and how well the level blends with the enemy pattern and positions, making for a though situation to handle, at least at the first few times that you go through it.
Unless you make said enemies do a damage so low that dodging or blocking seems inconsequential, the situation described previously where you are surrounded by enemies is still hard, no matter how much less damage you receive or how much more life you have, especially considering that scene I have just described is just a tiny portion of a game that have numerous tough situations, and that it requires for you to tackle them in succession to make a significant progress in the game. And this is why this whole discussion of hard games having multiple difficulties is ridiculous: For you to make an easy difficulty of a game like Blasphemous or Dark Souls, it would require more than simply decreasing the damage and health of foes, it would mean to redesign a game completely from scratch. And doing that its either financially impossible, or it would be simply easier to make a new game that would cater to a different audience altogether, one that does not like games that are inherently hard.
Another point that should be brought up, and that’s personally the biggest reason why hard games should remain only being hard, is the developer own wishes and creative reasons to make the game as challenging as it is. Hidetaka Miyazaki once said he wants his games to be more satisfying than difficult, and the sense of accomplishment is given to the players through overcoming the tremendous odds his games presents. It was due to that creative freedom and the simple wish of creating a game that the creator himself would like to play, without the restrains of “what others might think the game should have”, that these hard games not only became the critical and commercial successes that they are, but also became an identity in and of itself. More than being described as a souls – like game, these games are known and revered for its difficulty. And said franchises managed to grow based on that reputation. Those games became popular because they were hard. Giving it a easier option, not only wouldn’t it make it more “accessible” to more players, but it also could backfire, and make the game less desirable, given that the level design could end up suffering because of that.
More than anything, games that are especially hard have become almost a genre on its own, and much like that, it wont be able to please everyone, either that be because of someone skills or simply because the game features don’t appeal to that certain individual. But that’s the beauty to it: like we have games that are about racing, platforming or just about story, we also have games that are about conquering the challenges the game presents to the players, to muster all you have to reach its conclusion. What we should be discussing is not that every game should be beatable by everyone, but rather how the industry have grown so much that everyone can find a game that they will utterly enjoy.
My (locked) thread about how difficulty should be a decision for the developers, not the gamers.