I’m glad teams are taking accessibility seriously (see Uncharted 4 for at least some options beyond health / damage tweaks, options that enable more people to enjoy games how they want to) in how they design games, making them possible for more people on more different hardware to enjoy and even find mastery in (however they engage with the systems of the game). Any move “back to hard games” would be a significant step back for the industry (and towards games that more openly discriminate against people living with disabilities).
Hopefully we’ll quickly see the end of people claiming that only via lacking difficulty options can their desire for challenge be satiated as all that really means is their biology and hardware combine to provide them with games on a permanent easy mode. Basic example: if your TV has a 10ms latency (often only seen in high end systems) then you’re seeing the frames and able to react to them significantly before someone with a more typical or even sub-par model. You’re getting the game on easy mode where the timing windows for reacting are giving you masses of extra time to respond (for a game which only has one difficulty with fixed timing windows). So simply to make games possible to run “with one difficulty” on a variety of output hardware then we must consider the need to offer different difficulty options (to balance the playing field) and so, as we already need to do this, we should also make sure to include options so that different bodies with different reaction speeds can respond in the best times they can provide. Each person has a different idea of what a responsive system is and what’s possible in terms of reaction times; what a consistent best reaction they can strive for to get into “the zone” when a game feels best.
To not allow this be user configurable is to slice away at the potential audience for a game, only making it “feel good” for people who have similar reaction times to the developers and run it on similar output hardware. It’s bad game design which breeds entitled players who don’t realise they’re playing everything on easy mode due to hardware or a quirk of their biology. We must strive to be better than that.
Edit: One of the interesting things about interactive experiences and difficulty design is that we can make games that react to how you play them. A game can attach telemetry that knows exactly how quickly you can react to challenges, can track improving reactions (and get an idea of the distribution of those reactions) to various different conditions. A game can personalise the challenge to exactly what you’re capable of (combined with some options like telling it how strictly you want to be pushed to improve or how much of a lapse is enough for it to mark it down as failure).
Of course, this also applies to encounter design (how “aggressive” AI is, health and damage scaling, etc) and still needs some user input (one would be how quickly you wish to be able to progress through encounters). These things operate on multiple levels, it’s just easiest to discuss it with something very quantifiable like reaction times (especially as we have lots of data about how bodies react to sound + light reaction challenges).
We deserve to be having better conversations about this topic. One of the few disappointments about Waypoint Radio coverage of issues has been that when this topic comes up it’s only discussed as some sort of “personal preference” rather than looking at the discriminatory issues and how much better things could be if there was a wide enough campaign to improve things. Especially as this sort of telemetry-driven stuff wouldn’t just improve things for people living with disabilities but for almost all people who play games.