Not too long ago I blogged about seeing high required video game difficulty as gatekeeping: an unjustifiable way of keeping people unlike "us" out of our games, most often weakly argued as necessary to a game's integrity. I got some pushback from some friends, but I still think I'm right: the only difficulty requirements should center on what is actually possible for developers to accommodate, with the ideal and intended experience set as the default.
This comes up again because this week Celeste, a new video game for the Nintendo Switch, released. Here's the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iofYDsA2yqg
That's not a game that looks intended to be anything other than difficult. It even looks like difficulty is integral to the game's gameplay. And yet…
Hmm… That looks a lot like making a video game accessible to people who might otherwise find the experience far too difficult in its default, intended form. It looks almost as if the developer realized people who aren't skilled or just don't want to deal with the difficulty might have other reasons they want to play the game. Or maybe someone fully capable wants to see it all again without working hard the second time. It's almost as if there's no reason other than missplaced stubbornness to bar people from experiencing the game the way they want to.
But instead of looking at what it sounds like to me, let's see what the developers say. From New Normative's article Celeste's Assist Mode Brings Welcome Accessibility Options:
It’s clear about developer Matt Makes Games’s intent: “difficulty is essential to the experience. We recommend playing without Assist Mode your first time.” In an interview with ID @ Xbox, the eponymous Matt asked: “What’s the point of climbing a mountain if it doesn’t challenge you, right?”
Yet Celeste understands a simple fact: “every player is different.” This means that the standard difficulty might make the game inaccessible to some players for any number of reasons. Perhaps they have a disability, lower mechanical skill, or simply a limited amount of free time.
I won't paste the entirety of the article here. There's a little more there. The point is: Accessibility is right. Difficulty as requirement is wrong. Games should, universally, be as accessible as developers can make them.