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Easy Should Be Easy

Susan Arendt | 24 Sep 2009 21:00
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Earlier in the week, John Funk talked about how MMOs are becoming more casual-friendly, a trend echoed by gaming in general. He's right, to a point. Games on the whole are becoming easier, but only by gamers' standards. We still have a long way to go before a game's "Easy" mode is genuinely easy, by which I mean that someone with little to no skill or experience could pick it up and still succeed. Spawning weaker enemies and providing more health packs isn't enough - if we really want a wider variety of games to be playable by a wider variety of people, we first need to recognize how awesome we experienced gamers are.

You may not realize it, but if you're reading this, you're probably an expert on games. I don't mean that you top the leaderboard of every game you've ever played, or that you know all kinds of useless gaming factoids, or even that you're necessarily very good. I mean that you have a wealth of knowledge that you don't even realize you possess. Knowledge that instantly gives you entry to all manner of gaming situations and scenarios. Knowledge that brand new gamers simply don't have.

I'm not even talking about navigating in 3d space or being able to manipulate a many-buttoned controller, although those are huge skills in and of themselves. I'm talking about knowing that if you're playing a game with lots of jumping and cutesy graphics, you can probably jump on an enemy's head to kill it. You know that Sonic is safe as long as he has at least one ring. You know that if there's a bar in the corner of your screen, that it probably represents your character's health, and if there are two bars, the second one probably represents magic. You know what hit points, checkpoints, and spawn points are. Don't even get me started what you know if you play MMOs.

A new player is almost instantly overwhelmed by what he or she doesn't know. It's a daunting and sometimes humiliating experience. Nobody enjoys feeling stupid or inadequate and all too often, that's exactly how games make new players feel, even on the supposedly Easy setting. Now, some of you out there may think that so-called "casual" players have no business playing games if they're not willing to put in the effort to become good at them, but that attitude is elitist, exclusionary, and just plain mean. Do skilled players deserve to be rewarded for the time they've spent honing their skills? Damn straight, they do. But that doesn't mean that someone who hasn't had the opportunity or desire to achieve that level of excellence shouldn't also be allowed to enjoy a truly wonderful and exciting form of entertainment.

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