It seems like difficulty has become one of the most contentious subjects in gaming history, with Soulslike games often triggering DiscourseTM surrounding difficulty. Most recently, at least at the time of writing (I’m sure this one will happen again in the near future), Psychonauts 2 developers Double Fine announced that their upcoming game would feature an invincibility mode, so that players of all walks of life could enjoy what the game has to offer.
The recent discussion, or perhaps the fact it’s happened so many damn times already, has caused me to assess how I play games. Personally, I tend to play games on normal to harder difficulties, as I personally like to enjoy somewhat of a challenge in most games, partly due to the sense of satisfaction that comes from a hard earned victory, but mostly caused by the advent of achievements/trophies. What’s the point of playing on easy mode when I get more imaginary, meaningless points for playing the game on a harder difficulty? It sounds worse when written down, honestly.
However, one genre of game that I just can’t get enough of playing on easier difficulties is sports games, particularly the simulation heavy ones. Ordinarily, sports and me go together like curry and toxic waste, but there’s something inherently fun about playing sports games on easy mode specifically, and after some thought, I think it’s because it lets me play God. Or I could just be bad at them.
Nah, that can’t be it.
For a lot of players, sports games offer the chance at some kind of wish fulfillment, whether that’s from taking your chosen team to glory in the career modes, or inserting yourself into a team or sports promotion and becoming their star. The more realistic these simulations get, the more effective that wish fulfillment can be, but for someone who is mostly sports agnostic, what wish fulfilment is there to derive?
Turns out, it comes from utterly breaking reality. My one true wish in sports games is to just become the greatest thing in the history of that sport, with apparently very little in the way of resistance. Take FIFA for instance: you’d think after an entire season of matches, the other teams would stop falling for the pass across the face of goal, but nope. I’ll take those easy clean sheets, thank you, and relish in the commentators trying their best to talk straight-laced about one of the dumbest matches you could ever watch. After 12 attempts, I’m still the only one not shocked about the goalkeeper’s “sudden” desire to run halfway across the pitch and try to score a 30 yard screamer.
Really, the game that prompted this article is UFC 4, which I’ve been playing a lot of thanks to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. The game’s Career Mode tasks you with becoming the greatest fighter of all time, with a host of real life accomplishments to try and match in order to do so. Most finishes in UFC history, longest consecutive win streak, most title defenses and more. It sounds like a herculean task on paper — until you play on easy mode. My 20-0 win streak of first round KOs has led me to UFC Heavyweight Championship glory, and I’m having a whale of a time. Ignore the fact that around 10 of them have come from the same head kick.
It’s almost hilarious how much the “reality” of the simulation becomes distorted once you’ve put the game on easy mode and just started having fun. My UFC 4 character has no ground game ability, due to both me not levelling it up and also me barely being able to grasp how it works, so naturally all my resources have been invested in being able to kick everyone’s head off. In real life, you’d think that a fighter that couldn’t survive on the mat wouldn’t end up anywhere near a title fight, but here I am: living (virtual) proof that it can be done.
Yeah, I might have restarted a fight against Daniel Cormier because I promised on social media in-game that I’d knock him out in round 1 and he kept taking me down, but that’s besides the point.
Again, the “difficulty debate” is a strange one, but at least in the context of sports games, throwing the game on an easier difficulty can give you a new appreciation of said game, even if it comes at the cost of ruining the simulation in the process. Yeah, sure, I know I’ll get destroyed when playing online thanks to playing offline on an easier difficulty, but that’s fine. I’m having fun and that’s all that matters.
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