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Video Games Should Be Easy, For Baby Gamers Like Me

Billy Hale, age 7, Simi Valley celebrates a Nintendo victory over his brother. Photo/Art by:Alan Hagman
Alan Hagman/Getty Images

A little while back I picked up Tunic without really knowing anything about it beyond that you play as a cute fox with a sword, and that it is a tribute, both visually and in gameplay, to the original Legend of Zelda. Sold! And indeed it is a charming little game. You can feel the care that went into its art design, its lore, and the respect it pays to some classic games of my childhood. What I did not know about Tunic when I purchased it, but which I would very quickly learn, is that it's really fucking hard.

Even setting aside its unique mechanic where it doesn't tell you how to play or what to do until you collect in-game pieces of the "manual," it is devilish and unforgiving in combat. I died, reader. I died so many times. My little fox guy ate shit quicker than a Cybertruck in a carwash. I could not master the dodge-roll or block to the level where I could get through encounters without taking damage, and the game's sparse checkpoints had me attempting the same sections over and over and over. And over. One section, still in the first half of the game, was so frustrating that I was prepared to give up. Giving up, I find, is a satisfying thing to do as an adult gamer. I'm not having fun with this. Fuck this game forever. I ragequit and gave up on Metro 2033 in my first session and never looked back.

Before committing Tunic to the shadow realm and lamenting $20 unwisely spent, I checked the options. There it was: "no fail" mode. I turned it on and suddenly my little fox guy was invincible. He could be blasted in the face by a million fairies and would not die. I waded through the section that had been giving me fits, saved and recovered at a checkpoint, and went back to the menu, intending to turn off invincibility and play on normally. A moment's thought stayed my hand. What if I just ... never turned it off? I did not turn it off. I completed the rest of the game while invincible, facing no real danger. I regret nothing.

I am not the only one. The game offers pleasures beyond overcoming difficult combat. It has clever puzzles, which I solved, and an ambiguous storyline, which I relished teasing out. It is gorgeous to look at. I would have been able to do none of these things if I could not stay alive—and the section that had stymied me would prove to be downright easy compared to some later challenges. In the end, I got to enjoy everything the game had to offer, and beat it, and I have recommended it to other people—an "everybody wins" scenario that would have been impossible if not for the option to go baby mode.

For I am a baby gamer: I do not wish to be unduly or excessively challenged by video games. I wish to die a maximum of, let's say five times before beating a boss or passing a section. I wish to have fun, and I do not find it fun to be frustrated. That happens enough in real life for me to want to experience it in my free time too. In games, I want to see the entire package, and appreciate the developers' work from start to finish. I want to revel in transversal or combat or exploration or physics or plot—and I want it to be easy to see and do it all.

I can hear you now. Skill issue. Damn right it's a skill issue! I am a grown man who until the pandemic had not played games since the Nintendo 64, outside of some dorm-room Madden sessions. I suck at this! Do not think I am ashamed of it. Once, I was a capital-G Gamer. I mastered landing on the carrier in Top Gun. I played TMNT's dam level until I beat it. As a kid, I happily put in the hours necessary. As an adult, I do not have the time to git gud, as the youth say. I respect a game that respects my time.

Perhaps even more important than a lack of time is a lack of inclination: I do not obtain satisfaction from overcoming a video game challenge. Memorizing enemy attack patterns, or mastering my own fast-twitch reflexes does not give me a sense of accomplishment. If it does for you, that's fine, but I promise you I feel no less fulfilled for having beaten Tunic with damage turned off.

I suspect there are many people who feel this way about games without being vocal about it. There's a reason why the Game Genie sold as well as it did; there's a reason why game guides are such a profitable online publishing niche; there's a reason why Nintendo is thriving. We are slow, we are clumsy, and we are legion.

So you can imagine my excitement when I read about Another Crab's Treasure, a so-called Soulslike—with a twist. Soulslike, as a genre, doesn't just define the action-RPG gameplay in Demon’s Souls and its literal and spiritual successors. It also means the game is hard as fuckshit. It means it will torture you, and if you are not able or willing to put in the effort to master it, it will not meet you halfway. Soulslikes don't compromise.

But Another Crab's Treasure, releasing today, is a Soulslike for me and all the baby gamers out there who have drooled over clips of Elden Ring and whatnot, and wished there were something like that but not so punishing. Another Crab's Treasure features a detailed menu of options to make the game easier—turn down enemy strength, or enemy health, or turn up your own defense, or turn off fall damage. You can pick and choose, and turn them on or off at will until you've gotten past a particularly tricky section—or, as I imagine I will do, just leave them on. Maybe I'll even use the option to one-hit kill enemies, when I'm feeling impatient. As Nick Kaman, head of the studio Aggro Crab, put it to the New York Times: “You’re here to have fun. If that means shooting a crab with a Glock—let it rip, right?”

Hell yeah, Nick. Anyway, the point of this blog is not to brag about how bad I am at games, and I guess it could use a thesis statement, even at this late stage. How about this: Every game should have options that let players make them as easy as they need it to be. They should have this already, just for accessibility, but they should have it for me too. If you are a person who welcomes the challenge, you simply don't have to make use of those options; they cost you nothing by existing. But for us baby gamers, they mean the world.

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