Assist Modes in games are getting more and more common. In the last two years alone, Spider-Man, Super Mario Odyssey, Celeste, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Persona 5 and many other high-profile releases have featured the divisive option, to varying degrees. Assist Modes do exactly what they say on the tin: assist the player, whether this be via decreased difficulty, infinite lives, auto-steering or even just a prod in the right direction. Unsurprisingly, some of the more elitist gamers are up in arms about it. But they’re wrong. Anything that makes our amazing medium more accessible is a positive in my books.
Challenge in gaming is good, but so is accessibility
Video games were founded on the notion of player challenge. Some of the earliest games – the 8-bit and arcade classics we all know and love – rewarded players for getting the highest score, beating the most opponents and getting the fastest lap times. It was all about climbing that leaderboard – and the bragging rights that came with that climb.
Many gamers still love a challenge, myself included. I’ve definitely smashed a controller or two – and made myself genuinely stressed out – in the process of achieving some of these feats, which have included everything from getting all the achievements in Super Meat Boy to finishing MGS3 without killing any enemies or getting spotted (sorry, had sneak a brag in there). It was all worth it in the end, and despite the stress-induced rages and broken joypads, I had a hell of a lot of fun. But I’m also one to decrease a game’s difficulty in the name of fun, which is exactly what I did in last year’s Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Persona 5. It made finishing those two titles more hospitable for me as a gamer, which is a good thing really: both made it onto my 2017 game-of-the-year list.
Like many gamers, I started young – when I was just four years old, in fact. Shit. I just realised that’s almost quarter of a century ago. I’m getting old. Moving on … So yeah, most people get into gaming when they’re kids; yet, not everyone was born with a controller in their hands, and games these days are a lot more complicated than they were back then. Think how intimidating a controller would be if you’d never picked one up before; I mean really look at a controller. There’s a crazy amount of buttons and doohickeys that most of us take for granted. Imagine someone who’s never played a game – whether that’s a five year old or a gaming-curious adult. Just think about the mental gymnastics they’d have to go through to just learn the basics of controlling a game – let alone actually playing it. This is where Assist Modes come in.
But a vocal minority of gamers are dead-against Assist Modes. “If people can’t handle [insert game] at its default difficulty, they shouldn’t be playing it in the first place,” they say. Wait a minute. These are the same individuals who constantly rally for gaming to be taken more seriously, for gaming to be given the same respect as movies and books, for gaming to be accepted as art. How can the wider public experience the artistic and narrative goodness of games like Celeste and Persona 5 if they can’t get past the bloody tutorial? For people to appreciate video games, they need to experience them first hand; laypeople can’t do this if games aren’t accessible, and what does Assist Mode do? It makes games more accessible.
Bragging rights or bragging wrongs?
Another argument is “I worked my ass off to get all the achievements/the platinum trophy in [insert game], so why should some n00b be able to get it with Assist Mode turned on.” Come on. Ever since the Xbox 360 introduced Gamerscores back in 2005, I’ve been an on-again-off-again achievement whore and trophy hunter, but even when I’m not going through one of my collect-a-thon phases, I typically attempt to get all the achievements/trophies in the games I really like, the latest being Celeste – a game I absolutely I fucking adore, by the way. Head on over to my review for more on that.
Now, if I do manage to overcome all odds and nab that platinum trophy in Celeste, does somebody else getting the trophy with Assist Mode turned on take anything away from that triumph? No – of course not. Trophies and achievements are great for bragging rights, longevity and adding an extra challenge to a game, but bloody hell, people take them way too seriously sometimes. Be happy that you’ve achieved something that’s pushed you, for yourself. Of course, you can rub your mates’ noses in it a bit, too. Nothing wrong with a bit of friendly rivalry. But don’t get too sucked into it, and certainly don’t waste too much attention on what random people on the internet think about you – you’ll feel a hell of a lot better this way, trust me. This extends beyond gaming, too. I’m seeing a lot of people on forums and Reddit threads furious at the idea of someone getting Celeste’s achievements with Assist Mode on, and honestly, it’s not worth their energy.
Speaking of which, Celese has one of the most customisable Assist Modes I’ve ever seen, giving players incremental options such as the ability to slow down time in 10% intervals – as well as features like unlimited stamina and health, and the option to skip chapters. It really does add a new level of accessibility to a game with a difficulty that’d otherwise put off a lot of people. And that’d be a shame, given that it’s one of the best examples of narrative done right in a video games. And it’s got a damn fine soundtrack to boot.
There’s a deeper layer to this whole accessibility thing, though. Just look at UK-based charity SpecialEffect, who use tech such as modified controllers and eye control to make sure anyone can play. Naturally, SpecialEffect are major proponents of Assist Mode. What some gamers see as cheating, might be a life-changing feature for someone else. With help from SpecialEffect, the AbleGamers Charity, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, Warfighter Engaged, and many community members, Microsoft developed the Xbox Adaptive Controller. Specifically designed to meet the needs of individuals with limited mobility, the controller opens up our amazing pastime to even more gamers.
People with physical disabilities may need a little extra help to get the most out of gaming, and Assist Mode is another tool that helps them get there. Next time naysayers disown Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for allowing auto-steering in online matches, they should think of the people the feature is empowering.
The joys of Assist Mode: an example
It goes without saying, but Assist Mode is awesome for kids too. This is where Nintendo have really come into their own. On a personal level, Assist Mode made my Christmas ten times better last year. I have a great relationship with my five-year-old nephew, and he’s always loved watching me playing 3D games, but he struggled with the controls too much to enjoy playing them himself. He’s always managed well with 2D games – especially New Super Mario Bros. on DS – but the controls in 3D games frustrated him to the point of no longer wanted to play them. Here’s him playing my copy of Super Mario Odyssey, with Assist Mode turned on:
I don’t need to tell you that he’s having a blast. After Christmas break, Uncle Rhys’ Nintendo Switch and Mario Odyssey were all he’d talk about for weeks – constantly. It drove his parents up the wall, so they caved and surprised my nephew with, in his own tear-laden words, “the bestest thing in the world!”:
Just listen to that reaction. If that doesn’t prove why we need Assist Mode in gaming, I don’t know what does.
Do you agree with my points? Have something else to add? Think I’m a waffling idiot? Let me know on Twitter: @DragonGamingDG.
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