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Legitimacy of Casual

Recently I’ve found myself playing more often on casual difficulty. I remember a time when I never would have even though of such a thing but times have changed and so have the reasons why I choose play games.

So you must be thinking, what a pussy. This guy does a video game podcast and he can’t even play on Normal. That’s what I used to think too. But we all know that difficulty doesn't determine skill and there are certain games where it’s probably better for your enjoyment. Most recently I played Ghostbusters and Tron: Evolution. Not exactly the premier choices in gaming but I do feel they offer something both from a gameplay and design stand point. About a third into each game, I realized I wasn’t going to finish them. The difficultly was frustrating in a bad way and there wasn’t much in terms of story to make me want to keep going.

So it came to the point, put the game down or change the difficulty. For Ghostbusters it became start the game over because there was no opinion to change the difficulty, but that's a different argument altogether. I ended up finishing the game and got half way through Tron. Neither were fantastic games in terms of breaking new ground or polished game mechanics. The point to take away from here is that there's no reason to smash your head over and over again into a brickwall because you're trying to get through it. Games are designed by humans. Sometimes those designs aren't done well or very fairly. Some games are supposed to be enjoyed because of their challenge, others are not. Prinny = YES. Tron: Evolution = NO.

But these aren't the only games I've turned down in order to finish. Halfway through Dragon Age I got to a point where I wasn't really digging the combat. Some of the dungeons were a slow grind but I still wanted to finish the experience. It was the same with the original Mass Effect. In the final encounter I found myself too under leveled to complete the game and with no chance to remedy the situation.

I was glad for the option to change difficult because I honestly cared about the stories in both of those. I was out of my element playing Western RPGs and unfamiliar with certain systems. It allowed me to make up for those shortcomings and continue with the game instead of having to start over again. They've since become not only two of my favorite BioWare games, but two of my favorite experiences of all time. They've also opened me to other Western experiences, which I am thankful for.

So the biggest problem, I think, is not so much what difficult you play at. The problem lies in what the difficulties are labeled as. At one time, it was called Easy, Medium, Hard. They've since been reworded to be less demeaning? Casual, Normal, Hardcore. Maybe this is a question about how we view Casual. I don't like the term Casual because it makes it seem like I only play the occasional game here and there. Casual is for the people who's first console was the Wii and who recently bought a Kinect. Do you feel that way too?


On a side note, when I used to play DDR, it was called Basic, Trick, and Manic. Later it was reworded to Light, Medium, and Heavy. Those always seemed alright to me. But even better they made changes to how the game played. People could pick the Beginner opinion as an extra difficulty. A player was presented some basic steps and couldn't fail when playing at that level. It was a huge step forward for the series.

I can only imagine the numerous people who tried DDR once and vowed never to be embarrassed again. Initially with DDR you put your money in. You didn't understand what any of the symbols, songs, or difficulties meant. You picked a song. And should it be something out of your range, the music and game would just abruptly stop as if someone had just unplugged it. The machine would say something like Sorry, Better Luck Tomorrow and you'd be left standing on the machine looking around like an idiot. So many people must have walked away confused and with a bitter taste in their mouth. It's surprised DDR maintained like it did. It did have a good buddy system, so maybe that's why.


  • Microcombo 8 years, 7 months ago

    You do put up a good point about the title of the difficulties. The thing is that the term "Normal" gives off the feeling that it is a universal difficulty that is fit for the majority, but any other thing below it would be titled with a negative connotation, so I'm not sure if the title has as much to do with it than the feeling of being on a mode "lower than normal". I usually stick to the normal difficulty the first time through, but I might turn the difficulty down just to experience the story again.

    It's also interesting that you bring up Bioware because their description of casual is something along the lines for those who want to experience the story or not have as tough a time going through the game. With Dragon Age: Origins, I remember changing the difficulty to casual too because I was not enjoying the game. In the end, I was able to appreciate the story much more rather than be frustrated with things that were in between the story sequences. And once I get frustrated, my drive to play the game usually goes away too.

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  • PancakeChef 8 years, 7 months ago

    I view the term "Casual" as a style of gameplay or attitude towards a game. Someone who just wants to play through the game for the fun of the experience and doesn't want to challenge themselves and master the game like a more hardcore player might.

    I don't view at as how many games or how much you play but more of a style of play. Yet I think people who play games more often lean to the hardcore side but that doesn't mean someone who plays games a lot can't be casual either.

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  • Matthew 8 years, 7 months ago

    David makes a good point. I think the best games are the ones where if you are having difficulty in an area or a boss, they will actually ask if you want to tone down the difficulty. God of War and Devil May Cry are a couple of examples of this. Sure, it may seem like the game is mocking you, but if all you want to do is finish the game (not doing any cheevo hunting), you can see it as them trying to help you.

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  • Emim0o 8 years, 7 months ago

    Yeah i was like you before i was thinking that playing game on easy wouldn't be any challenge and in action game it sucks. This attitude began while playing Halo. At easy i finished the game only with a pistol and melee so this make me sick of ''Easy'' Difficulty. So i was always playing game at Normal and thinking ''It's better to start a game on Normal and start part over and over until you get better than loosing time playing something so easy that will make you start over at normal again after anyway''

    But like you say some game's storyline dosn't worth trying some parts again and again...
    For me that change was made by the first Dragon Age... at mid-Game, being a mage was almost impossible. My spell were very strong and i couldn't use them because of their really large area effect... So it wasn't hard but the overall game experience was suffering because of the difficulty and you want to know what's happen next. So i putted it down to easy.

    The first thing is , Video Game were made for having fun. If you reach the stade of ultimate frustration and stop liking a game because of your personnal ''Pride'' , you're doing wrong.

    So yeah i feel that way too

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  • J52 8 years, 7 months ago

    I hear you David. Some games really don't need "Oh, this part's challenging because there's a lot of dudes that take a million hits to kill." The Force Unleashed sure didn't, but alas, even on easy...

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  • Shortbus 8 years, 7 months ago

    I always put it on casual. I don't play a game for difficulty, I play it for a story and to feel like a badass. Especially in "modern warfare" shooters, because honestly, dieing in 3 or 4 hits isn't fun. Neither is shooting waves of bad guys. And the stories aren't very good either. But I paid $60 and I want every god damn dollar, damnit.

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  • Aged Milk 8 years, 7 months ago

    I love it when difficultly increase is relevant to gameplay, in the sense that it forces you to adapt and use mechanics that may be easily overlooked your first time around.

    It's always been a common practice for developers to just increase/decrease a hidden numerical values (i.e. increasing health or damage output) and slap a sticker saying "Easy" or "Hard" on varying modes, but that just comes off as lazy this day in age. I find more value in games that actually change the rules of the world itself as a whole. Like giving players handicaps on Easier modes, but in a way that encourages player growth and holds their hands as they learn the intricacies of the game itself, as apposed to just making enemies one hit kills or putting solutions to puzzle in your face. Or sure, on Hard you could make enemies tougher and deal more damage, but you could also go a step further and make them more intelligent, and maybe a twist like adding enemies that are specifically unique to that mode.

    That being said, I don't think 'Casual' belongs as a title on the [Very Easy --- Very Hard] spectrum in that there are quite a few casual gamers out there that will get a game and devote themselves to that product, but in a leisurely manner with the intention of eventually getting 100%. I have a friend like this, he'll buy maybe like only 1 or 2 games a year and play them on & off over the course of that entire year. He plays them casually and irregularly, rather than going out every month and buying some movie based IP or a random cash-grab game with an obnoxious 'hook'. I really think we use the term casual to define to broad a range of people to begin with. As it stands now, many associate casual gamers with mindless cattle and ditzy grade-school girls who ask their parents to buy them anything with glitter or a Hello Kitty Sticker on it. Basically, I think there's a more negative correlation in the gaming public with calling a difficulty "Casual" than "Easy" at this point.

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  • crazydoey12 8 years, 7 months ago

    My idea of difficulty changed when I got Gamefly. At first I always believed that you should play games on higher difficulties or you wouldn't get the full experience, this would lead to must frustrating in some games but I was too stubborn to turn it down. However when I got Gamefly I didn't have time to fuse with the difficulties and spend two weeks trying to beat a game, so turning down the difficulty was a good idea and made the experience much more enjoyable for me.

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  • David Liao 8 years, 7 months ago

    I've read all your comments up to this point. Thanks for discussion.

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  • Skrams 8 years, 7 months ago

    Just wanted to point out that Tron Evolution is weird with difficulties. Since your level in single player crosses over to multiplayer you can be level 1 at the start of the game and the game won't really recognize that. So you won't have other weapons like the bomb disc or whatever to make it easier. Only really know this because of Mr. Jeff Gerstmann from Bombcast. He even recommended playing some multiplayer first then doing single player so its easier.

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  • Rendrak 8 years, 7 months ago

    I agree completely. If changing the difficulty only makes the combat more difficult by giving the enemies more life and giving you less, I usually see no point in playing on a higher difficulty. Especially when combat isn't the main focus of the game. Take Just Cause 2 for example. The combat is kind of shit, so I play on casual. That game isn't about shooting dudes, it's about fucking around in a huge open world.

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  • darkraynerules 8 years, 7 months ago

    I wish they'd just get rid of difficulty options all together. I'd like to think they could tailor games to suit individual players. Maybe next gen? I'm cautiously optimistic for next gen. Then I think of the price tag and I get queasy. Games are an expensive hobby. :( But yeah I hate having to choose a difficulty. I settle for Normal. I like a bit of a challenge but not too much. Sadly some games are either so easy they're boring, or hard in all the wrong ways and frustrate you no end.

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  • VagrantHige 8 years, 7 months ago

    I definately think that the names of difficulties were changed for a reson. As many have stated before, choosing easy makes it seem lesser whereas casual is how often you play games. There is one other criteria I have found that has effected the level on which I play games: GameFly.

    Most of the time if I am really interested in a game I am going to buy it. Those games I pretty much always play on Normal and sometimes higher if I really enjoy it for a second time through. I use GameFly for the games that I'm interested in seeing but have no real intention to buy. As long as there is no Trophy/Achievement tied to the difficulty I have no hesitation dropping the difficulty down so I can see everything I can from the game and finish it at a decent pace so I can return it and get another. If I end up really liking the game I may turn the difficulty up and give it another run through.

    As for games like Tron that are just frustrating and tedious I agree completely. Dropping it down makes it tolerable and lets you get what you wanted to from the game without banging your head against the wall. In the case of Dragon Age 2, I dropped to casual for the final fight of the Forbidden Knowledge quest and realized I like that better simply because I don't care for setting tactics. There are some games that it's alright in but the way they have it set isn't fun for me. This is also the reason I never finished and don't care for FF12.

    Having the option to drop down is great. Especially mid game. It's a simple tweak to the system and mechanics that every developer is capable of so there is no excuse for it being left out in this day and age.

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  • harleycosmo 8 years, 7 months ago

    I think casual means that you just want to sit and enjoy the game without any real pressure, a stress free experience that requires no effort. Casual difficulty is for when you just want to "chill"

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  • jon2435 8 years, 7 months ago

    When time and/or will to play is limited the lowest difficulty is the best. You get the story and a breezy run through the game. It's not like the player can't fail, it's just much harder to fail. Players still get the gameplay, just not the 'play it right or start over' bit. Games like Mass Effect are meant to be played on a lower difficulty first play through. Games without a difficulty tweak are lessor for it. Could've used them on some RPGs in the 90s.

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  • Kritta 8 years, 7 months ago

    I love this article.

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  • Comradebearjew 8 years, 7 months ago

    I wish Deadly Premonition had an option to change the difficulty, I am too far in right now to restart it in easy mode.

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  • David Liao 8 years, 7 months ago

    Thanks, I'm up to here now.

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  • puffycloud 8 years, 7 months ago

    they definitely need to tune some games to those who don't have time to play as much as they used to. iirc, the #'s on hardcore gamers who spend most on games is well over the age of 30! and for gamers who play more than 1 game a month, sometimes theyd rather finish the game then spend more hours on it (easy OR hard).

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