Before the weekend, Microsoft’s Xbox Twitter account sent a surprisingly important tweet: “Beating the game on the lowest difficulty is still beating the game.” This was then followed up by Double Fine who added that completing Psychonauts 2 with the “invincibility toggle on” still counts as beating the game. Which is just about the most refreshing thing I’ve seen come out of gaming in forever.
It was probably about four years ago that one of gaming’s most tiresome, festering corners was at its peak. The “Git Gud” crowd furiously policed the internet, looking for any and all signs of gaming weakness, and swifty punished it with pile-ons and abhorrently personal abuse. As Dark Souls III was at its peak of popularity, and every other game was attempting to ride in FromSoftware’s wake, along came Cuphead, and we entered a perfect storm of gamer douchebaggery.
I experienced the frankly baffling force of this fury on plenty of occasions, but never more than when I published an article on jaunty Kotaku tribute site Rock Paper Shotgun. Calling for a button that allowed players to skip boss fights, this rather innocent suggestion that the whole of a game should be accessible to those who’d bought it was met with all manner of suggestions of how I should kill myself, how I was proof of the demise of games journalism, and of course how I must “git gud.” In other words, it was a coordinated torrent of panic from scared little boys whose only source of pride was being threatened by my suggestion.
It’s quite extraordinary that just four years later I’m reading Xbox shooting down this attitude that Nightmare Difficulty is the only acceptable way to play, finally (and so very belatedly) taking a stand against Git Gud attitudes that poison this hobby. It’s even better to see individual developers joining in, taking the same stand. While to you or I it may seem completely innocuous to read Double Fine saying completing Psychonauts 2 with what’s essentially a “cheat” switched on still counts as completing the game, it’s really hard to convey just how contentious and controversial a position this is out there on the internet.
They continue, mocking the previously louder, more prevalent attitude. “‘uh, excuse me I beat Sword Guy Serious Time on a no hit hard mode and if didn’t do that I don’t respect you. and like, can you even comment on things if you’re not diamond six rank in shooty mcBlam? I don’t think so.’” they tease, concluding, “cool bud. you’re soooo cool!” Then slightly more sensibly spell it out,
“All people should be able to enjoy games. All ages, all possible needs. It’s an ongoing and important process for our industry and a challenge we need to met. [sic]
“End of the day? We want you to have fun, to laugh, to experience a story that affects you. On whatever terms you want.”
Amen. I mean, it’d have been nice to hear these voices half a decade ago, but thank goodness we’re hearing them now.
Of course, both sets of tweets have been met with all manner of fury. “Going to school while sleeping through classes is still going to school,” quote-tweets one poster, failing to understand the difference between participating differently, and not participating at all. A podcast with 6 followers explains for us, “Whether they’re played on a screen or in real life, games are largely about bettering yourself or being a part of a team,” which is the most impressively blinkered perspective to not be able to see outside of. Others obviously opt for the more nuanced position of using homophobic slurs, but my favorite is the guy who begins, “Tangibly and provably false,” before telling game developers how games are developed.
Any objection to the notion that completing games by any means is acceptable can only be rooted in a desire to exclude others. Just a picosecond of thought gets any reasonable human being to the point of recognizing that not all people playing games might be as able-bodied as they are. Additional thinking time might see others reaching conclusions like, “How someone else plays this single-player game in their own house cannot have any impact whatsoever on my experience,” and how it would be deranged to think otherwise.
The only reason for gatekeeping gaming via this intransigent attitude toward difficulty is to protect the most fragile of egos, that are only propped up by the belief that gaming skill affords the individual superiority over others. The lack of perspicacity to realize this, while so feverishly raging about it in public, is utterly peculiar.
There’s still work to be done, of course. It depresses me that both Xbox and Double Fine chose to use the term “beat the game” rather than “complete” or “finish” it. Whenever I read or hear someone saying how they “beat the game,” I can’t help but imagine their finishing watching a subtitled philosophical movie on Netflix and then thrusting their arms in the air, bellowing to all around how they “BEAT THE FILM!”
Anyhow, the good news is Psychonauts 2 will come with an option to make yourself invincible, in case you reach a level or bossfight that proves too tricky for you to get past. And extraordinarily, for everyone else who doesn’t believe it has any right to exist, they can just… not use it!
Update 12:19p.m: Disclosure: Heather Alexandra, an ex Kotaku staffer, currently works at Double Fine.