How Good Should You Be At Games?

When difficulty and skill become a concern in gaming.

I’m by no means a “pro gamer”, though I don’t think that anybody outside of eSports is one either. Unless you’re being paid to play video games competitively, you aren’t a pro gamer, you’re just a gamer. Maybe you’re more skilled than most though, so that’s something I suppose.

But the question that’s been circling around the internet is how good should you be to enjoy the wonderful hobby of gaming? Should gaming companies be catering to audiences that aren’t as good? Should all games cater to everyone? How good do you need to be to have an opinion about games?

Well, that’s where things get a little complicated.

Git Gud

Many games feature lower difficulty modes, whether they’re the traditional easy modes, narrative-focused difficulty levels like ones in Horizon: Zero Dawn or Mass Effect 3, or even player aids that help mitigate challenges that less able players might experience, such as in games like New Super Mario Bros. Wii U or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

There’s nothing wrong with preferring a challenge. Many of the folks’ sites I read in my WordPress feed are people that love a good challenge. They’re the types that play games like The Witcher III: The Wild Hunt on Death March, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on Legendary, or Demon Souls.

There are some folks out there though, like myself, who play somewhere in the middle. I played most games on their version of Normal difficulty, though I play games like Forza Motorsport 6 or Forza Horizon 3 with no driving assists, and on Pro (though I leave Rewind on). I like my Tom Clancy games on Realistic as well. I want to experience a challenge, but not getting pounded into dust every time I turn a corner. To me, it isn’t fun dying constantly.

But where does that put me? Should I be playing on harder difficulties if I want to be taken seriously? Do I deserve a game streaming following on Twitch, YouTube, or Mixer if I’m not crushing a game on its highest settings or I’m just not very good at it?

That last question is something that I’ve struggled with for some time. I’ve worried that streaming games like The Long DarkForza Horizon 3, or Alien: Isolation would leave me open for ridicule. I worry that I’m not gaming correctly, especially if I want to be taken seriously as a game critic.

All that has come to a head recently when Dean Takahashi, a contributor for VentureBeat, played Cuphead at Gamescom and had some trouble with it. He had some trouble with his time playing the upcoming platformer, and paid dearly for it in a way. His credibility as a journalist was called into question because he apparently didn’t possess the skills needed to be a good games critic; those skills centering around being awesome at playing all games. Polygon regularly takes flak for being relatively inept for instance.

It brings me back around to a conversation that I had with Kim from Later Levels. There’s a pressure to put forth a good impression, that streamers should be good at games if they want to be considered as entertaining. I know that my own self-doubts make me call into question whether or not I should be streaming or making videos, or even just writing reviews about games. I even find myself struggling with what I guess is called Imposter Syndrome when doing things that I know I’m actually quite adept at.

Things like the Cuphead “debacle” make me second-guess myself. If a professional games critic gets crucified over having trouble with a game, then what chance do I have?

Jennifer’s Perspective

Jen: In ReCore, you can’t choose a difficulty level. The game’s difficulty is based on how much time you spend upgrading Joule and her corebots.

Because of this, the times that you spend in dungeons, doing the platforming stuff, wasn’t very fun to me. I’m a hoarder at heart (thanks for that, Shelby), so missing anything felt like I was doing something wrong. The issue I had with ReCore came to a head at the end of the game, where the dungeon stuff became the entire game. For five levels, that increased in difficulty at each step. I got to level three, I think, before I completely quit. Not that I don’t think I can get through the fifth level, but because I don’t want to spend that kind of time doing something so tedious for five levels. 

I really enjoyed ReCore, but I’m not really interested in going back to it right now. I don’t have the patience or time to deal with dying constantly. Not when I have other things going on.

I have similar issues when it comes to other games as well. I love Horizon: Zero Dawn for instance, but I do have trouble sometimes with the combat. It’s not that it’s inherently difficult, just that the fights can become rather overwhelming sometimes. The fact that the developer added a low difficulty mode to let me get through the game to enjoy the story means the world to me. I might actually get around to playing it again, once I have my fill of Destiny 2 and The Witcher III: The Wild Hunt‘s DLC.

Having an incentive to play on a higher difficulty makes a big difference, I think. Games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Halo 3 give you something special for playing on harder difficulties, like helping you level up quicker or rewarding you with special cutscenes. Other games just feel like their only reward is the satisfaction of playing them on harder levels.

Overall, I play games to have fun. I like the stories and the characters. If harder difficulties don’t add anything to it, I’m not really interested.

Where Does Fun End?

This is the sticking point for me, as both a gaming enthusiast and budding critic. I value how fun a game is, and that part of the equation is what really matters.

Isn’t a game being fun the main point? Sure, as I’ve said earlier, games can be both challenging and fun, as titles like Bloodborne and Dark Souls illustrate quite well. They’ve garnered a cult following that worships challenge over all else, giving birth to the “Git Gud” meme. But what of games that don’t revolve around trying to punish the player with odds stacked against them?

Looking back on Dean Takahashi’s ordeal, I feel it was blown massively out of proportion. He made a video of him failing miserably in a genre of game that he’s wholly unfamiliar with and suffered the wrath of a community that didn’t see it for what it was: a video of him poking fun at himself. His self-deprecating humor is something that I can appreciate in a critic. He acknowledged that he isn’t the best gamer out there, and seemed to own it. I can really identify with that, and to see his approach getting so much negative attention is pretty disheartening to me.

I feel that gamers have created an environment that looks down on players that don’t conquer content at it’s penultimate challenge levels. I’m still fuzzy on the details regarding why that matters to people. It doesn’t detract from your experience to hear that someone else can beat the game you’re playing on Easy. There’s no level of difficulty that is the only way to play a game after all, but it seems that some believe that unless you’re playing on the hardest difficulty, you aren’t really experiencing the game.

The same goes for skill levels as well. As I’ve said, I’m by no means an expert, but I don’t think that disqualifies me from talking about games. My stance is that the main reason to play games is to enjoy them. If you derive enjoyment from playing games on the hardest levels or having flawless playthroughs, that’s fine. However, the grand majority of people out there aren’t pros, they’re normal folks.

Personally, I find it a little boring to see people playing a game perfectly, because I know that’s not how it really works. You often don’t see people struggling with things on YouTube because they’ve either cut that content out or they’ve practiced to get a feel for it. Additionally, nobody is an expert at every game. I’d be disinclined to believe that they just picked up a controller for the first time and just knew what to do.

I prefer a little honesty in the folks that I watch, and that’s why I want to keep doing what I’m doing with streaming and videos. I know that leaves me open for the chance of someone ridiculing me for not being an MLG level gamer, but hey… Those MLG gamers had to start somewhere, right?

Long story short, if you think that folks who aren’t as good as you at something shouldn’t be trying, you’re doing it wrong. Your attitude isn’t welcome, and nobody likes you.


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23 thoughts on “How Good Should You Be At Games?

  1. I can see how someone coming to Takahashi’s video cold would think it was a pathetically bad game demo and comment snarkily about it, but the word “Shameful” in the title sort of gives the joke away. Did the commenters simply not read the caption or was it added later?

    On the other hand, as long as I’ve been on gaming forums (going back to Compuserve in the 1980s) I’ve found that there’s a certain macho type of game player that likes to brag about their own gaming prowess by claiming to have finished games with ridiculous speed and ease, which makes me wonder if they’re simply liars (though this is harder to lie about in the Twitch Era) or if they simply play games too quickly to enjoy the mechanics.

    Jeez, folks! Stop and smell the virtual roses!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mr. Takahashi made it pretty clear I think that he was aiming for a humorous angle. I’m not sure why people got so up-in-arms about it. I know there’s a bit of a cult following surrounding Cuphead, but I didn’t think it was already approaching Souls/Borne levels.

      It’s just a shame that some people take gaming so seriously.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Cuphead flew under my radar until I saw it advertised on GOG. I like the idea of a retro aesthetic from the 1930s rather than from the NES era, but I haven’t played it yet. After seeing Takahashi’s video, I’m now rather afraid of playing it. Then again, I find it difficult to play Dark Souls for more than a half hour before I quit in frustration.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Something I picked up on there was about being an entertaining streamer. You don’t have to be good at games to be entertaining. Engaging with your audience in a fun way is the key. Most people watch a stream for the person playing it (returning viewers anyway) rather than the game being played.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Interesting post – I watch Game Grumps all the time and, unlike some of their audience, don’t mind that they actually aren’t pro gamers. They have fun bonding over games, and what could be better than that? Everyone has preferred genres or ones they are better at – that’s natural. You can still write about games even if you’re not an expert.

    As for myself, I’m a “normal” difficulty kind of guy. Generally normal offers a half-decent challenge without me getting frustrated, but there are games like XCOM where I have definitely turned down the difficulty because it stopped being fun. For me, it’s definitely more about story and immersion – and if I keep dying then I feel removed from that.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I am with iplayedthegame – YOu don’t have to be the best to be entertaining. Me and a friend – when we play Overwatch – get called entertaining not because we are good (though we are getting better) but because of our reactions and relatability. My reactions are on point apparently. XD

    But I am one of those that for heavy story line stories (like Mass Effect!) I do it on an easier level (not THE easiest – unless that is the only ‘easy’ option) because I want the story and to do everything without being too weighed down. I am not one to play the higher ones because I want to be able to move on and not die every two seconds. XD

    And I like Jay’s comment that I think is spot on: “For me, it’s definitely more aobut story and immersion – and if I keep dying then I feel removed from that.” That is SPOT ON.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Super relatable post. I struggle a lot with the fact that I both really love games and am not very good at them, despite having been playing since I was really little. There’s whole genres I’ve had to give up on because I know I’m not the target skill level demographic. As a “bad” gamer, the accessibility conversation is always on my mind when I’m thinking about purchasing certain games. Why spend money on something I won’t be able to finish, y’know?

    Which is why I appreciate streamers who also struggle a bit. It makes me feel less alone and also helps me figure things out that I might have missed.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for reading this. I’m very glad that you enjoyed it.

      I can see where you’re coming from about game purchases. I know there are a few games that I do want to play, but know that I won’t be able to get into for various reasons. EVE Online being on in particular. I know that there’s a steep learning curve on it, and it’s a bit of a barrier for me. The same goes for Battlefield 1 now, where I know that I’d love it, but I would get annihilated in multiplayer at this point.

      It’s a shame, because I know I’m missing out, but I’d rather save my money.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think it all depends on why you play games. If you’re playing for the narrative then you don’t have to be perfect at the gameplay; you just have to be able to get through it. It’s why I like easier difficulty, because it caters to all types. If I want to crank up the challenge later I can, but iplayedthegame made an excellent point in his post about his games are the only type of media that “punishes” you with not seeing the rest of the story if you don’t have the skill, patience, and/or time to get past a particular part. While it can certainly push you to improve, if it’s too hard, you can just wind up frustrated, and since LP culture exists, there are many options to just say the hell with it and watch the rest. I prefer to play games I really like (and are the type of gameplay I enjoy).

    Games should be for anyone who wants to play them. I was much better in my youth when I had more time to do the trial and error necessary to progress in harder games. Now, while some challenge is nice, I don’t want to battle near impossible odds for some minor payoff if I can help it.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. To me it’s a personal thing, which is why I like it when games have difficulty settings.
    You can’t expect everyone to play the same way and with equal determination or skill.

    When balancing difficulty and skill, higher difficulties bring more pressure; especially to the people that want to accurately experience (and review) the entirety of a game and it’s difficulty capacity.

    As a streamer and the rare times that I actually review something, I want to play at a difficulty that is both entertaining, but also allows me to enjoy the game without losing the entertainment aspect. It’s why I tend to choose titles with rich stories or turn-based strategy / RPG games where I can somewhat control what I do and in what order.

    Furi, for example is a terrible game for a beginner gamer to stream at maximum difficulty. It’s madness and dodging lasers from all corners in an arena and just is too much for most people to handle.

    Same goes for the highest difficulties in games like Dark Souls or the Witcher series; there’s nothing wrong with challenging games, but it’s unlikely to enjoy them unless you’re exceptionally skilled or experienced in the mechanics of the specific title. Even more unlikely for streamers and reviewers that just want to cover the game rather than delving completely into them.

    I love gaming and I will continue to do so, but that doesn’t mean that we have to conform to some sort of standard in streaming / reviewing / hardcore or just casual gaming.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I kind of feel that there is a place for all perspectives. Sometimes a perspective isn’t helpful for you but it might be helpful for others. For instance, I really like horror (books, films, games, whathaveyou) and my take on them comes from that angle and will benefit those that may also like horror, however someone else that doesn’t like horror will have a different perspective on and it will be valuable to others that don’t like horror. Same can be said for difficulty. Jennifer mentions Horizon Zero Dawn and I’m sure there are a ton of people out there that were in a similar situation with that game, her perspective on that game matters to those people, while it may hold less water for me or you.

    I think the bigger problem is that internet culture has evolved around a singular scope of there is one right way to do things and the one that is the loudest gets to determine that, in the process shaming everyone else that doesn’t think that way. If we could take back that scope and let it be known that there are places for everyone’s perspective then we’d all be a lot better off. But then again… this is the internet we are talking about.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. When the willingness of the critic to push through difficulty and the accessibility of the experience are at odds, you can actually see some really great reviews. I particularly liked George Weidman’s review of The Witness:

    Like

  10. i think a games journalists job is NOT to be amazing at the hardest games and wipe the floor with them, but to understand what makes certain games appeal to certain people and recommend them for the right crowd. Afterall, i think that’s the purpose of reviews and coverage is to expose the games to the right crowds.

    When I do reviews, regardless of how gud or bad I was at a game, i always like to close out, even if i found a game too hard or not good to say that probably people who are fans of such and such things will love the game.

    and for all we know, cuphead may be an extremely hard game. It looks pretty frantic

    Liked by 1 person

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