“You Played on Easy Mode — Loser!” Difficulty Modes and Accessibility in Video Games

Jennifer R. Povey
5 min readFeb 3, 2021
Photo by Pawel Kadysz on Unsplash

As a member of SFWA, I sometimes get sent or given access to things which people are hoping to get nominated for a Nebula Award. The Nebula Award for Game Writing includes video games (as well as interactive fiction, tabletop RPGs…it’s a bit of an apple and orange category). It’s rare, however, for a game developer to provide award review copies.

So I was thrilled when a game designer did so and the game concerned was listed as a “roguelike.”

See, I have a condition called dyspraxia. It’s not curable and has been treated as much as it can be with therapy. Real time combat in video games is something I just can’t do. My reflexes are slow and my coordination causes me to miss buttons. (Never mind that I can touch type at 100wpm. It’s one of those weird things).

And roguelikes traditionally have turn-based combat.

Not this one. It has real time combat and so far I haven’t been able to get past the tutorial fight. I’ve found out about some tweaks I can make that may make the game playable, which is one reason why I’m not naming it.

Disabled people often find that video game studios not only don’t cater to us, but leave us with lines such as “Not every game is for everyone” or the message that catering to us would somehow destroy the experience for able-minded and able-bodied gamers.

The fact is that accessibility in video games is a huge fight right now, and not for the right reasons.

Photo by Hayley Catherine on Unsplash

The Progress

A lot of progress has been made. Some things are hard to cater to (visual impairment in particular). But many games now routinely provide dialog in both audio and visual forms, making it much easier for deaf players (in fact the nameless game I’m bitching about is perfectly playable with the sound off). Keyboard remapping is in fact an accessibility feature which helps not just disabled gamers but people with smaller hands.

Another game, Celeste, has a speed slider that lets people like me slow down the fights, as…

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Jennifer R. Povey

I write about fantasy, science fiction and horror, LGBT issues, travel, and social issues.