A while back, we hosted a great column about how we tend to call things easy when they really aren't. (Seriously, go read that.) That's all well and good, but that's also not what I'm talking about here. Gaming as a community seems to have decided that easy is just plain bad, that it's a horrible insult, and a game being easy is like saying that a game is worthless.
But easy isn't bad. Playing a single-player game on easy difficulties isn't a mark of weakness, and having an MMO that's easy on a whole doesn't mean it's a bad game. Having easy content isn't just an acceptable thing; it's an outright good thing for a lot of player. There is absolutely nothing wrong with easy.
You don't have to take my word for it; look at Facebook games. Your archetypical challenge-focused gamer -- we'll call him Todd -- hates these games for being easy, for barely being games. He goes home to visit his mother to find her playing FarmVille, and he's exasperated because how can you find that fun? You can figure out how to break the game's mechanics in two minutes, and it's not challenging, so how are you still having fun with that?
And yet a lot of people are having fun with those types of games, probably in part because these games assume you don't need a massive challenge. For experienced gamers there's not a lot of complexity, but people who just want to enjoy playing around on a farm and decorating it can do so in the fashion they desire. That's sort of a big deal.
Magic: the Gathering refers to the three player archetypes. Leaving aside the names, they speak to three basic motivations to playing a game: overcoming a challenge, experiencing something neat, and expressing creativity. FarmVille offers only the barest point on that first axis, but for people who think the concept is neat, it offers a lot on the other two. And for the people playing it, challenge isn't really a major point of contention.
Or look at The Sims 3. Yes, there are challenges you can give yourself, but it is not meant as a difficult game; it's meant as a virtual dollhouse wherein you can make lots of people in pretty clothing in pretty houses. And it's great. It lowers the challenge bar significantly because the people who are playing it aren't doing so for the challenge; they're doing so for other rewards.
MMOs are a trickier beast in some ways because they do need to offer harder content. For some players, the challenge is what makes the game fun. These are the people who are lining up for the hardest new raids in World of Warcraft because that's what they find totally fun.
The problem comes in assuming that everyone feels that way. Let's continue using the World of Warcraft analogy: One of the major problems in early Cataclysm was the fact that the heroic dungeons were tuned to facilitate the people who enjoyed a high-end challenge... which wasn't everyone. A lot of people left, and a lot of other people toughed it out, but this was not what a good portion of the playerbase found fun.
Not everyone is playing for face-smashing difficulty. And it's not fair to act as if face-smashing challenge is the only way to go.
Let's be honest, the challenge of a dungeon is the same as the challenge of rats running a maze. It entirely revolves around knowing what to do, when to do it, and doing so successfully. For some people, overcoming the challenge of getting huge groups together and coordinated is fun, but for others, it's just pointless busywork. It's why some people prefer to do things solo; why not base the challenge on your individual skill and character development instead of the whims of others?
If you find challenge fun, that's great. Everyone deserves to have his own sort of fun, and some level of challenge is necessary in a game. But there's no reason that everything needs to be hard, either. There is space for easy content in every game, stuff that's fun not because it requires a high skill cap to work around but because it's fun to play.
Essentially, saying that easy is bad is claiming that there's only one kind of valid fun in the game, that if you prefer roleplaying or trying out new character builds or exploring or whatever, you're not really playing the game right. That somehow easy is not a valid mode of gameplay, that you must want more challenge.
Let me tell you something: I don't.
I've been playing video games most of my life, and if there's one conclusion I've come to... well, it's that I'll play almost anything that has giant robots involved somewhere. Or Commander Shepard. But if there's a second thing, it's that it's really easy for designers to make something crazy challenging. Adding an extra zero at the end of a life total and damage output is not work. You can quickly make something brutally hard without a great deal of creativity, and you can just as easily make a fight that requires seven other people or necessitates a specific class or whatever.
The real challenge is making content that's fun regardless of difficulty. Four Horsemen in World of Warcraft. The race against Demon Wall in Final Fantasy XIV. Dancing through telegraphs in WildStar.
Easy? Sometimes. But there's nothing wrong with easy if you're having fun. Not everything has to be a massive challenge.
Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews and not necessarily shared across the staff. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!