Today’s highly anticipated video game release, Elden Ring, is the latest to enter the ongoing debate over video game accessibility. Disabled gamers argue that they shouldn’t be denied access to tough games based on their physical or cognitive ability, while defenders of extreme difficulty argue that the challenge is what makes gaming fun and that their moms should just quit nagging them all the time. FromSoftware, the studio behind Elden Ring, are notorious for making challenging games.
Committed fans have innovated many ways to further increase gaming difficulty, from the No Hit Run to the No Levelling Run and the notorious Play Without Food or Water Until I Die or My Wife Leaves Me Run. FromSoftware has only doubled down on difficulty, a fact made clear by the discovery of Elden Ring’s secret hardcore difficulty mode: playing with a disability.
But this has made certain able-bodied players feel discriminated against. “I wanna play these games as they were designed to be played. Y’know, BRUTALISING,” one able-bodied player told us. “But FromSoft have made a game that, for me, is stuck on easy mode. Just because of who I am! Every mode is easy mode for an able-bodied gamer … I’m just sick of being infantilised. Haven’t abled gamers suffered enough?”
FromSoftware have been accused of favouritism before, as the protagonist of their 2019 title Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was a disabled Japanese character. “Able-bodied people just want fair representation, and it’s bad optics when the only authored hero in the studio’s history is a disabled man,” the gamer we spoke to said. “I just wanna play as a white, bearded, able-bodied male character. Is that too much to ask?” Desperate to emulate the disabled gaming experience, some have even completed the game blindfolded in what critics call “a tasteless appropriation of disabled culture.”
We reached out to the director of Elden Ring to comment on the controversy. He told us, “Life is pain. Embrace the void. Taste of suffering’s great sweetness,” then just sank back into the darkness from whence he came. His translator assured us that “he’s like that with everybody.”
Arthur Stent, a disabled streamer, acknowledged abled gamers’ concerns. “It’s a privilege, playing these games on the hardest possible difficulty. I just hope that one day able-bodied gamers won’t be mocked for the relative ease they experience with most games. It can’t be easy playing life on easy mode.”