A couple of months ago, if I started a new game—no matter what it was—I'd start off on a high difficulty. At the very least, I'd go for normal, but only if it was clear that normal would provide a challenge. I reasoned that nowadays ‘normal' is geared toward a more general audience which may be less familiar with games than I am. And, more importantly, pssh. Of course I can do better than normal!
We've internalized difficulty like that. I hear it all the time: games are getting easier, oh the good ol' days, they're gone, gone! Sometimes, without difficulty, some people start to wonder if what they're experiencing can even be considered a game, like with Dear Esther or Proteus.
But something curious happened recently: I noticed that playing games at high difficulties started to feel grating. I realized that playing normal/high difficulties often makes me feel like I wasn't doing it because I was having ‘fun' per se, but more because I felt I had something to prove. I'd want the better achievement for a high-difficulty run-through; I'd be able to tell people what I did and sound that much more impressive.
Part of the recent change came from being absolutely torn down by Persona 4: Golden's highest difficulty. I'm at a point where going through one level in a dungeon might take an hour, if I manage to survive and avoid getting one-hit-killed. I'll often preemptively kill myself if I didn't do amazing in a skirmish, if I spent too much SP or got knicked enough that it would affect me in the long term.
I felt I had something to prove.
I remember doing something similar in Super Meat Boy when I saw that I wasted an errant second on my run: it wasn't good enough. I could do better. Except unlike Super Meat Boy, Persona 4 has me feeling delirious. Oh, have I died for the tenth time in a row without making any progress whatsover? Have I spent hours in the same place with nothing to show for it? Haha! I don't even feel a thing anymore. Alrighty, back on the horse we go.
In an effort to retain what little of my sanity was left, I decided that any other titles I was playing concurrently to Persona 4 should be played on easy. Despite that decision, hovering between ‘normal' and ‘easy' on games like Far Cry 3 and Hitman: Absolution still felt wrong. I hesitated. Thinking back on it now, it reminds me a lot of being at a party and not knowing how to relax and just have a good time.
It wasn't until I started watching videos by popular YouTube user Criken, where he does all sorts of idiotic things, that the joy of easy mode really ‘clicked.' Maybe being sloppy and stupid could be fun. It's not so much about wanting to bulldoze through everything without thinking; games facilitate that at normal difficulties too. It's about having the ability to be creative and silly without penalty.