Before I get this piece started, I have to address the elephant in the room: endeavoring to join the gaming community can be a very intimidating and daunting experience to newcomers. Why is that?
There are multiple factors at play here: there doesn’t seem to be a very effective format for mentoring or coaching newcomers, the “git gud” and elitist mentalities, the grouping of all skill levels, and the taboo of playing on Easy mode. I’ll get to the last one, but first I want to address the others.
Given the nature of gaming, I’m not sure that it would even be a viable option to have a coach teaching you how to play. This lack of education creates the idea that anyone who is skilled at video games is self-taught. This is troubling for newcomers who already feel that they’re behind the curve by starting later in life. Not only is this teaching experience missing, it often seems that the community isn’t even willing to participate where they can. This is evidenced by the rising popularity of “sherpas”, or skilled gamers willing to help new players with difficult levels. The success of sherpa-ing shows that there is a demand for it, but the supply is scarce. And while this community help is great, it often results in a new player being carried through a level instead of that same new player building the skill to do it alone. But for single player games and those unable to find a mentor, they’re often met by the community with a cold shoulder and a “git gud”.
This solution to a newcomer’s problem is now an internet meme, but it’s also destructive. Imagine playing a difficult game where you’re stuck on a boss or a demanding encounter, so you turn to the internet gaming community for some genuine help. Instead, you receive some off hand remark about how you don’t deserve to play the game unless you’re already good at it. Queue the paradox. Gamers don’t live in a Boolean world of people who are good and people who aren’t. There are new players of every age wanting to have fun and sometimes get help, often just to be shot down. There’s nothing wrong with being in the learning stage; the gaming community needs to be a lot more accepting and helpful toward these people.
Another barricade in the newcomer’s experience can be that they’re pitted against people of all ages and all skill levels. I can’t think of any other activity where the newest participant is immediately thrown in with the veterans. This makes multiplayer games incredibly scary for those who aren’t as skilled. The brave new souls who are courageous enough to venture into the battlegrounds of multiplayer are usually met with being kicked off of teams or being yelled at enough for poor performance that they leave on their own anyway. Again, the paradox of not being good enough to play but not being able to play enough to be good is relevant.
When all of this toxicity seeps in and the newcomer is left with no other options, they’re tempted with a taboo that may further ostracize them: playing a game on the Easy difficulty. Why is this taboo? It doesn’t make any sense. I think it goes along with the “git gud” mentality above, but that’s exactly what newcomers are trying to do. There’s no reason to ridicule them for starting on Easy.
When you’re a beginner, you start at the bottom: crawl before you walk, Tee Ball before Baseball, D-DU-UDU before complex strum patterns, addition before multi-variable calculus. This is how we learn as humans. It doesn’t make any sense, then, that a new video game player be expected to immediately play a game that’s completely alien to them on a Normal difficulty. That subverts the natural learning process.
There exists a stigma associated with the Easy difficulty. Playing on Easy isn’t viewed as validly playing or completing the game and you should be ashamed for even thinking about it. This mentality is complete garbage. There’s nothing wrong with being completely unfamiliar with a genre riddled with unique mechanics. If you’ve never played a third-person game, let alone one that involves stealth, crafting, and resource management, there’s going to be a learning curve.
The first time I remember setting out on an epic video game journey all by myself was after watching my older brother play through the PS1 Final Fantasy games. I loved the cutscenes and the stories and I wanted to experience the grand sense of magic that came with it. I set off alone with high hopes only to be met with boss fights I wasn’t prepared for and couldn’t get past. I quit each one out of frustration. But in the process, I noticed that I got further in FF 9 than I did in FF 8. And I got further in 8 than I did in 7. I was learning how to play RPGs. Eventually I’d come back and 100% each of those games (minus the card games I didn’t care a ton for), but it took multiple failures and the completion of other games through my career to build the skill to tackle the challenge of epic RPGs and learn how they work.
Now, as a veteran gamer, I’m able to tackle pretty much any game thrown at me and complete it. When I think about new gamers, though, I can’t help but remember the frustration I felt at being stuck in games and giving up. It very well could have ruined my gaming career. Looking back at that, I was one of the lucky ones. I realize now that there are probably many people out there who try to break through into the video game world only to be met with so much frustration and difficulty that they quit and never return. I’d rather see somebody playing on Easy and falling in love with the epic worlds and stories while building the skills to get to Normal than see someone start out over their heads, get to a frustrating part of a game, and quit. Some of those people don’t come back, and as someone who understands how important and wonderful video games can be, it truly makes me sad.
It’s okay to play on Easy. It’s okay to be overwhelmed by the community that’s so far ahead of you and so much better than you. It’s not okay to miss out on something you might love because you’re afraid of what a toxic internet community might think of you if they find out you aren’t already a master. You’re new. You’re building skills. You need to start at the level that is appropriate for you, and that just might be Easy. Don’t let anybody keep you from discovering a passion for video games. There are countless worlds and stories for you to experience, save, and fall in love with. So please, from a veteran gamer to a first timer, don’t give up.
And please, internet gaming community, try a little harder to realize that everyone out there is trying to enjoy the games just like you are.