I recently paged through my backlog and found The Banner Saga sitting there. Yet another game that I had heard so much about, bought during a sale, and have never opened.

I was immediately taken by the art style of the game and was whisked away to my childhood of watching The Lord of the Rings movies with my dad. No, not those. THOSE.

Anyway, I’m playing along and have a few battles under my belt and then I die. And I die again. And again.

Then I see it. That message that makes you feel so small.

“…you can change the difficulty in the options menu…”

There are variations of it in many games these days. The mechanics of modern games can sense when you are having trouble and remind you that you are actually really terrible at this and you should probably bump down the difficulty.

So what did I do in this situation? Nothing. And I kept losing battles.

At first, I didn’t want to seem like I was less of a man (you know, to the all zero people who were actually following along on this quest). Then it was just a pride thing. Finally, I said screw it and made the move to easy and, you know what, it wasn’t all that bad. We could talk about the large jump between normal and easy in The Banner Saga, but let’s save that for a different post. I’m not here to talk about that game in particular. What I am here to talk about is the stigma of playing on easy mode.

I’m not sure when it started for me, but there certainly is shame involved with playing a game on the easiest setting. Maybe it’s because there were no difficulty settings on games when I was growing up or at least I don’t remember that being an option. If I played Kid Icarus, I played the same Kid Icarus that everyone else was playing. If I struggled through Chakan the Forever Man, I just had to keep grinding it out. But now you have that option sitting there in the options menu that’s just one click away.

And it kind of feels like…

…cheating.

Maybe that’s just it. For people that started gaming on an Atari, they grew up with games that were presented with one difficulty. You popped in the cartridge, turned on the system, and played the game that was there. Sometimes messing with the difficulty setting of the game now feels like playing the game in a way that the developer did not intend.

Of course, I understand that games and game development are completely different these days. On a recent episode of Game Scoop, someone (maybe Justin?) mentioned that old games had to be super hard because if they weren’t you’d beat them in 20 minutes. But somehow that doesn’t change how I feel when I, tail between legs, click over to the options menu and select “easy.”

Unless I’m playing Civ V. Man, do I just love to crush fools on “chieftain.”

Wolfenstein difficulty selection screen

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