video game difficulty is mostly unrelated to accessibility concerns

For a few years now, a fringe of indie developers and commentators have tried framing video game difficulty into the social justice battleground. Esteemed essayist Electron Dance ignited this debate once again following what I guess to be his third daily Twitter fix.

New rule! Do not have achievements for beating the game at certain difficulties.
You may not think of difficulty settings like it, but they are essentially accessibility features.
Don’t reward players for being more abled.

This tweet came from Nicklas 'Nifflas' Nygren, a successful independant developer from Sweden. His latest game, a creative and joyful platformer called Ynglet, came with an easy mode (albeit whom it benefits remains to be assessed). About half its budget was raised from a Danish public fund.

While the gaming community as a whole holds a record positively marred with gatekeeping and unhealthy braggery, my current opinion differs from Nygren's. Without delving too much into the achievements issue, I feel it needs to be reminded that there are essential living services which remain to be provided to disabled people. And creating an easy mode in order to make the story or the feel of a video game available to a wider audience, although a nice point, feels like a concern on a way lesser scale. I would say there’s a sufficient gap between both to differentiate accessibility on one side, from difficulty concerns on the other.

Let us notice here that 'a wider audience' does not equate 'everyone'. I'd say everyone should get proper food and housing, but not everyone needs to be cleared for playing a video game. Or any video game, for that matter. Coming from game workers, the wish to make media universally available suggests a self-deceptive tangle between a sincere yearning for social progress, and a cloaked frustration when faced with the inherent limitations of the entertainment industry.

Furthermore, aren’t there enough games to provide delight to players of all skills? Thus assuming that the issue is not simply to satisfy all gamers, but to gather all of them around star games, I do understand there can be social frustration in being left outside of the Dark Souls bubble, or whichever AAA holds the spotlight this month. Still, I don’t find it any different from not being able to talk about Stranger Things or the latest big show on Netflix. The absurd logical continuity would be to blame Netflix for charging one bill a month although some people cannot pay for it, or even to blame them for putting out overlong episodes that some people just couldn’t watch.

Extending this thought to other media forms, are we to blame artists and cultural institutions for producing art which requires some context from the audience? This context could be precised as some aesthetic, social and historical knowledge, thus defining a hazy set of skills meant to foster the appreciation of the artwork... but there's obviously no way to define a shared common ground here (with lengthy museum labels acting as the saddest evidence for this). And yet, it has never been, and should not ever be, a reason for dismissing the work of someone expressing themselves.

Media just cannot be expected to cater to everyone. It is (mostly) not a public service. And to those believing they are entitled to video game content X or Y, I would kindly suggest to ponder upon what made them believe that a private corporation held someting essential to their being.

  1. ria,