Homie Bites: Difficulty Modes and Framing Language in Games

Welcome to Homie Bites, homie. It’s the very first iteration of our new, short, bite-sized little advocacies in games. We generally go pretty hard on various gaming analysis in our articles (AKA, they’re thick as all hell), but these lil guys are intended to be a bit quicker and a tad easier to digest, but still provoking in thought.

Get a chomp on these tidbits:

**Difficulty Modes: Language Framing**

As a big fan of customization in games, choosing a difficulty is a pretty important element to embarking on the ideal single player journey. The presentation of those difficulties can be purely descriptive, but can also be packed with judgement. Easy/Normal/Hard/Extreme tend to pack an implicit connotation.

Some games, like Wolfenstein: The New Order, actively try to make players feel bad for choosing an easier difficulty. Kinda disparaging to read “very easy difficulty for the spineless gamer”.


The power of language and the power of imagery combine to make anyone who’s not a masterful FPS gamer feel like a incompetent fuckwit.


Compare this to the recent Shadow Warriors 2, which seems to normalize and validate playing on Easy; it specifically defends one’s decision to play on that difficulty and attempts to relate. Extra bonus points for identifying how the game will function differently.


Shadow Warriors 2 tackles a different approach than Wolfenstein and targets inclusiveness. Instead of alienating an entire profile of gamers, it uses language that attempts to relate to them. Kudos, SW2, kudos.

Rise of the Tomb Raider has classic titles for their difficulty modes and no judgmental language, but they do inform specifically how the game changes: UI and HUD will change, enemy perception, and less consumables are several examples.

Mass Effect was the first game I saw that was doing a story/combat/mix difficulty split. It’s awesome, and I believe actually reduces the amount of story if one chooses the combat-heavy mode. It’s framed per profile, but I think that it also incorporates traditional difficulty choices through easy/normal/hard.


Mass Effect 2 genuinely identifies that gamers have different reasons for playing and maps out one’s potential experience through choice. Actual adjustments to conversations and narrative focus, plus adjustable difficulties in combat give the player an unprecedented amount of choice. Solid shit right here, ME2.


Deux Ex: Mankind Divided adopted this and does a similar thing with its framing, but it doesn’t actually change the gameplay much apart from combat.


Deus Ex: Mankind Divided identifies both the “way it was meant to be played” as well as adjustments to the game based on profile.

In general I’m all for having more descriptive and customizable difficulty levels. Abstractly, more customization is generally always good.

I’m actually about to go back and play Titanfall 2’s campaign on the Master (hardest) difficulty. Though their meager descriptions on difficulty aren’t of now, they nailed it with their gameplay.

**Gameplay Design Worth Advocating For:**

  • Having various settings is almost always a good thing.
  • Game modes should be descriptive beyond their labels and let players know just how the game is changing. This is especially important if HUD, UI, narrative, or learning systems are to be altered from “normal”.
  • Unless specifically trying to alienate a subset of your audience, don’t utilize judgmental language to disincentivize players from playing how they would want. Instead, use language that relates to their experience and validate their gameplay decisions.




All images are screenshots from the respective titles and used for analysis.


Holler at us below if you’ve encountered games that handle difficulty in a meaningful or controversial way!
Posted on reddit with some extended discussion here: https://www.reddit.com/r/Games/comments/5bw640/the_language_and_customization_of_difficulty/