Spelunky creator comes out against god modes in brutal games like his because 'The amount of satisfaction one gets from succeeding eventually is incredible'

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The question of difficulty is a bizarrely high-voltage third rail in videogame discourse. You can barely mention finding an Elden Ring boss a bit tough on social media without sparking some sort of global diplomatic crisis: Fathers denounce sons, sons denounce brothers, daggers are drawn and before you know it everyone is intensely angry and accusing one another of trying to kill videogames forever.

So I salute the bravery of Spelunky creator Derek Yu, who's been musing about the issue of videogame difficulty—specifically, whether it's a good idea for games to include easy-to-access god modes for players who get stuck—over on Twitter (via GamesRadar). 

Yu was responding to an anonymous discussion between two people, one of whom advocated for including god modes since players would only use it "when they're well and truly stuck." But that didn't quite hold water for Yu. After all, he said, if a designer wants to "push players out of their comfort zone," then giving them an option to run back to that comfort zone would be totally anathema to the point of the game.

Plus, Yu continued, sticking a 'break in case of emergency' god mode in a game's option menu risks destroying a beautiful feeling that will be familiar to any FromSoft fan: Walking away from a boss you're stuck on before coming back later and trampling them. "The amount of satisfaction one gets from succeeding eventually is incredible… you can rob people of that experience if a shortcut is too close at hand."

That doesn't mean Yu is uniformly opposed to letting players go god mode, mind you. After all, "Not every game is designed around the extremes of frustration/satisfaction," and "for each person that you motivate to persevere there are people who will simply quit." In fact, he reckons that "god mode is fine for most games," particularly ones that are "heavily centered around a scripted narrative." But in an Elden Ring, a Dark Souls, or, say, a Spelunky? Letting players muck about with the difficulty when things get too tough risks upending the entire point of the game.

In other words, it sounds like Yu is of a similar mind to FromSoft boss Hidetaka Miyazaki himself, who recently said that lowering Elden Ring's difficulty would pull in more players but "break the game itself." Speaking as someone with 400 hours and every achievement (let me brag, it took literal years of my life) in Spelunky the first, I can see where they're coming from. That game wouldn't hold anywhere near the dear place in my heart that it does if—in my first 10, 20, 30 hours of banging my head against it—I'd gotten bored and ratcheted down the difficulty in the settings somewhere. The whole point was to make me learn and adapt to it.

It seems an entirely reasonable middle ground: God modes and difficulty tweaks for your narrative stuff, but hard-and-fast rules for the games that are out to provide a very specific kind of challenge. Fair enough, but where it gets murky for me is when accessibility comes into it. I've got no problem if a game is too hard for me and I bounce off it (that happened with, ah, Spelunky 2), but it's a harder pill to swallow if a player can't join in on the Elden Ring or Spelunky fun because they have a disability that prevents them from doing so and no way to adjust the challenge to compensate.

It's a tricky question, in other words, and one that—sorry to say—I don't think I'm equipped to solve for the games industry in this news piece. Personally? I'm still generally in favour of letting players have at it when it comes to difficulty, but I'm also definitely not as smart as either Derek Yu or Hidetaka Miyazaki, and I won't deny they both make excellent points.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.