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Should All Video Games Be Accessible to All Players?

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Video games stand alone as the only type of art and entertainment that blocks people from enjoying it’s content based on skill. If you aren’t good enough at the game, you cannot progress. That means not being able to finish the story, see the rest of the artwork, and enjoy the remainder of the soundtrack until you improve your skill.

No other medium does this. TV shows and movies don’t pause halfway through and demand the watcher to recount the plot line in order to continue. Music doesn’t demand a listener to show off their dance moves or the music will stop. Books don’t require the reader to explain the different literary devices used to continue reading.

Yes, there are different levels of knowledge that can help a person appreciate it more, but none of them block people from the content. Because of its interactive nature, players can only progress through the game by learning its rules and becoming skilled at it.

A new release, Cuphead, has brought up a problem with this philosophy of video games. Should all content in a video game be accessible to any player, regardless of their skill at the game?

Cuphead: A Beautiful Game With Challenging Gameplay

Cuphead has been a highly anticipated game for several years now. With its colorful 1930s-inspired artwork, beautiful visuals, intriguing characters and cooperative playstyle, it was easy to see why many people kept their eyes on the game. What some people weren’t expecting, though, was the increased level of difficulty.

The main attraction to the game is clearly seeing the artwork of the boss fights, which makes up a large majority of the game. You have to beat all of the (sometimes incredibly difficult) bosses in order to progress to the next area of the game. If you can’t beat those in an area, you can’t move on and see the other bosses.

The game does include a “simple” mode for every level and boss, but completing the game in this mode prevents access to the final bosses, meaning content is still blocked until the player improves in skill.

As a result, many people are mad because they aren’t skilled enough to see all of the content, but they still want to. This might be because some aren’t very good at gaming in general, not familiar with this genre, or are new to video games entirely. Some of these people are calling for a change in gaming, asking that all games have ways that allow anybody to enjoy all of the content, instead of locking it behind skill barriers.

What Makes Video Games Special?

Video games stand out from other entertainment because of their interactive nature. In a TV or movie, when the good guys overcome an obstacle, it looks cool, but brings little personal satisfaction to the viewer. Video games though put obstacles in the player’s own path and requires them to overcome it. Similar to real life, when a person overcomes obstacles, they feel accomplished and happy. There is a moment of pride and satisfaction. This is why people enjoy playing video games.

By taking away any type of challenge in order to allow anybody to “play” the game, it robs them of that feeling of satisfaction. The point of a video game is to be challenged in some way or another. Some games do this through puzzles, memory, reflexes, strategy, and more. Take the challenge away, either voluntarily or not, and you rob the video game of its purpose.

Balancing Accessibility and Challenge

Having some level of accessibility to games is something developers should consider. Some people with actual handicaps cannot play games simply because of things outside of their control, whether it is physical or mental. These people shouldn’t be denied access to a game simply because of their handicaps.

These kinds of accessibility changes can include: alternative control methods, lower (but still reasonable) difficulty settings, colorblind modes, and more. These types of changes can allow people who have barriers that prevent them from practicing and playing the game normally to still be able to participate.

Another area of accessibility developers need to consider is VR. Right now, there are many barriers to access VR games, yet many VR games entice a more non-traditional gaming crowd. Things like motion sickness, physical ability, and even age should all be things a developer consider when making a full-motion VR game. Security within the hardware and game should also be considered, since new technologies are often targeted for malware that could ruin the gaming experience.

Bring Back Cheat Codes

Another way developers could solve accessibility problems is to introduce cheat codes into their games. That way, people who want a pure experience of the game can get what the developer built for them (especially in hard games like Cuphead) but those having issues can get a little help as needed.

The goal of any singular, difficulty altering, cheat code should be to help a particular aspect of play people might struggle with. Having difficulty with quick time events or reflex required elements? Give a cheat code that slows down the game a little. Looking for a bit extra health for a particular boss? Make a cheat code that fills their health bar. Don’t give cheats that break the game or ruin the experience; that way players can still get that satisfaction of beating a hard boss.

Elitism Isn’t Helping

Gaming “elitism” is a problem. Ideally, people who enjoy games would want to share those games with their friends, family, and everybody else, because playing video games are fun.

There is a frustrating trend recently though where, instead of those skilled at the game trying to help others, they mock them. They yell things like “Get good,” and display their dominance. We should all take a lesson from professional athletes and their good sportsmanship. When a competitor fails or struggles, they don’t openly mock them, they help them up and respect them.

If skilled gamers took the time to help others instead of putting them down, it would solve a fair amount of “accessibility” for games. New players, or those unfamiliar with the genre, would be able to turn to others for help, still get to enjoy the game, and not feel bad for it.

Different Games for Different People

A final thing to think about: not every game is made with everybody in mind. Developers are passionate about a specific genre of gaming, that’s why they did the work to make the game — just like how not every other piece of art and entertainment is made for every person. You don’t walk into a theater performing Hamlet and demand they change the old play to a sci-fi horror. If you don’t like it Shakespeare, you don’t go to the play.

The same can be said for video games. If a person doesn’t like a game, they don’t have to play it. If you want to enjoy the content in a video game, be prepared to work a little at it. If you aren’t enjoying the game, that’s completely OK! There are hundreds of new games being released every day, many that you are likely to love. If you have to know how the rest of a game plays out, watch a Let’s Play, read a Wiki, or finish it with the help of a friend. More accessibility in games is always welcome, but if the developer decides not to, it’s their choice. Don’t demand a developer to change their game just to accommodate you; either work at overcoming the game’s obstacles, find a different way to enjoy the content, or play something else.

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The Author

Ben Allen

Ben Allen

Champion of Hyrule, defender of space, bane of demons, savior of light, and occasional pizza eater.