So, recently I watched Chris Franklin’s Errant Signal video essay on Dark Souls 3 and he touches on the idea of an easy mode for Dark Souls to make it more accessible to a greater number of gamers; he posits that you would lose something special about the game if you played on easy mode.
I guess there is a bit of a discussion going on about this in the game community because recently Franklin tweeted an essay by Cameron Kunzelman who responds to the Errant Signal video as well as several other sources that suggest an easy mode for Dark Souls 3 would be a bad idea. Kunzelman argues that this isn’t true, and you can read his thoughts in the post I linked to. (Right as I was about to publish I saw Chris Franklin tweet another well written essay, by Joe Köller, that’s basically saying the same things that I’m saying in this blogpost, except in fewer words and slightly different focus.)
All of this got me thinking. So, this discussion about whether there should be an easy mode for Dark Souls 3 goes beyond Dark Souls. It goes much deeper, into the very nature of how games are designed and played.
The real issue here is: How much control should the players have over their own experience? Usually the game community will argue for more player agency because choice is integral to the gameplay experience. So, it’s ironic and hypocritical that when it comes to Dark Souls 3 (or, as an older example, skipping combat sections in Mass Effect) suddenly players are saying that there shouldn’t be any player agency regarding how you progress (See Appendix A).
This kind of strict authoritarian control over the audience is something I’ve argued against for years (the link is to a post I made years ago arguing the same thing as in this post, although it is long and rambling and even I don’t have the patience to read the whole thing anymore). Players shouldn’t be forced to replay sections of a game over and over just to progress to the next area unless they want to engage in that experience. They should have the option of either playing the game as it was intended or playing the game as is most enjoyable for them. And if they choose not to play the game as intended, and they miss out on something, then that’s their loss.
Giving people more options opens up the medium to exploration, analysis, interpretation, and intelligent discourse, which only benefits the community and the individual player. (See Appendix D)
And part of what frustrates me with how restrictive the Dark Souls method of design is that other mediums don’t have these restrictions. Books, film, and even board games don’t force me to experience them in only one way (See Appendix A).