Nier: Automata has an interesting new feature that exclusive to its Easy Mode difficulty. Players can equip Auto Chips. They’re little gimmicks that make protagonist 2B act automatically. The Auto Chips can be toggled on and off, even when equipped, and they effectively play the combat sections of Nier: Automata for you. Diehard fans of action games may scoff at this, but I argue this is a boon for videogames. It’s a moral step forward in an industry generally more concerned about profit margins than accessibility and/or inclusivity.
If you’re a hardcore gamer, who cares if a game has lower difficulty settings or other functions made to remove the challenge? Are the “git gud” folks worried about the game growing hands and strapping them to a chair, Clockwork Orange style, and forcing them to play on anything less than Dante Must Die? The fact that “Should Dark Souls have an easy mode” was ever a question powering video games discourse is a sign we still have miles to go before they are on the same level as other art and entertainment.
Platinum Games has taken strides in not only being the best source of off-the-wall action fare, but also accessibility options. Even something like Metal Gear Rising, with its super-intense parry mechanic, simplifies the heck out of it on lower difficulties. Infamous speed runner Halfcoordinated, a man who has limited use of one hand and is able to break speed records on games with customizable controls, constantly puts the developer over (and has an amazing run on Transformers: Devastation). Even as early as Bayonetta, Platinum has experimented with easy, accessible modes for people attracted to its stylish games who don’t have the ability to hang with the complicated controls.
Nier: Automata takes it to the next step, making combat not only entirely automatic, but stylishly so. The game doesn’t just behave as if the player is mashing a basic button, but it adapts and changes how the character behaves based on situational context. In execution, it still retains the look and feel of a reasonably skilled player getting through the game. Meanwhile, the player who may be interested in the story and world of Nier, but is less skilled or physically unable to play to that degree can still go through and appreciate the game to that extent. They can focus on things like moving from point to point, managing the “RPG elements,” and having fun!
Most games struggle with being this accessible. It wasn’t until fairly recently that subtitles became a no-brainer in every game. Some still start without them on by default. Color options for people with visual impairments are coming into vogue (slowly), and totally customizable controls are rare. Organizations like AbleGamers advocate for accessibility options, but it’s tough to get through. It’s likely that these options are seen as costly for a tiny chunk of the market, and hard to justify by the people with the wallets.
But, what about good will? Could a shift towards taking a moral stance, rather than a financial one, ultimately be a boon and smart business move? If companies cater more to players with unique needs, word of mouth could travel. Not only would the audience expand, but advocacy groups could take notice and signal boost, increasing mindshare. I see it as a long-term, net positive. But long-term isn’t always the safe way to go about things, and if there’s anything I’ve learned from being involved with games over the years, vocal crowds of hardcore gamers love to loudly oppose anything that opens games up to smaller, marginalized audiences. For crying out loud, Nintendo games get railed on for expanding difficulty options after you die a few times on a level.
Ultimately, more developers taking Platinum Games as a philosophical example can only be a good thing. Being able to see the pool of people able to participate in videogames expand to people who can’t even hold a controller with two hands would be awesome. It isn’t like these options infringe on “normal” experiences anyway. How great would it be if articles featuring disabled players doing cool stuff with games became not a novel anomaly, but a commonplace and normalized event?