At long last, it’s finally here. Years of waiting, speculating and anticipating have led to lead this moment. Elden Ring was released globally on February 25, 2022, for PS5/PS4, Xbox Series X/Xbox One, and PC. This open-world action RPG is the brainchild of Hidetaka Miyazaki (creator of the Dark Souls franchise) and George R.R. Martin (author of Game of Thrones). Elden Ring is sprawling, immersive, breathtaking…and ridiculously hard.
Immense difficulty is par for the course regarding the “Souls series” (a loose term that refers to the games Miyazaki has directed) — as is the argument to make these titles easier to play. Hop on Change.org, and you’ll find dozens of petitions for “easy mode” patches.
I get it, trust me; I struggled with the first major enemy in Elden Ring for a solid hour and a half. But I’m also a big believer in creator intent. Making Elden Ring easier would be an insult on an intellectual, artistic and personal level — and I’ve got the science to back up that claim.
“Hesitation Is Defeat” – Why Difficulty Is (Scientifically) Good for Us
A 2012 study conducted by Dr. Daphne Bavleier and Dr. C. Shawn Green suggested that action games may “enhance the ability to learn new tasks.” Bavelier and Green cite numerous trials in which groups of gamers and non-gamers were introduced to a series of new challenges. Both groups initially struggled and advanced at similar rates, but the gamer group quickly displayed “enhanced attentional capabilities” with each subsequent task.
Dr. Rebecca Marcus also believes that increasingly difficult puzzles and games can enhance our cognition. If a task or game is too easy, “the mind isn’t challenged anymore and begins to run on autopilot.” Challenge is the very essence of the Souls franchise; a player’s timing, spatial awareness and critical thinking are put to the test with every encounter. Making Elden Ring “easier” would be like reducing the steps in a waltz or playing checkers instead of chess.
So, there’s research that suggests difficult games make people (including surgeons) mentally sharper. Right on — that covers the intellectual angle. But I’ll be honest. Hidetaka Miyazaki probably didn’t have any of that in mind when he conceived the Souls series.
“The World Is Generally a Wasteland” – Hidetaka Miyazaki’s Story
That quote really sets the mood, doesn’t it? Hidetaka Miyazaki was born in Shizuoka, Japan, to a “tremendously poor” family. He frequented the library as a child, reading Western fantasy books that he couldn’t fully interpret and using his imagination to fill in the blanks. Despite this love of literature, Miyazaki studied Social Science at Keio University, then worked as an account manager for the Oracle Corporation.
His status quo remained static for years — until an old friend introduced him to the game Ico. Miyazaki was overwhelmed with inspiration; he quit his comfortable office job and applied for work in the gaming industry. Most companies turned him down due to his age (29 years old) and his lack of experience, but FromSoftware took a chance on him — albeit for a fraction of his Oracle salary.
Miyazaki slowly proved himself as a talented game planner. He volunteered to work on a little project called Demon’s Souls and worked tirelessly to prepare for the 2009 Tokyo Game Show. Critical and commercial reception was horrendous…at first. Though Demon’s Souls sold poorly in Japan, global audiences became enamored with the title. Demon’s Souls gradually achieved cult classic status, vindicated Miyazaki and paved the way for Dark Souls.
The rest is gaming history; Dark Souls garnered universal acclaim in 2011, Miyazaki became president of FromSoftware in 2014 and the Souls series remains a household name to this day. And yet, Miyazaki maintains that “the world is generally a wasteland that is not kind to us.”
Think about it: Miyazaki grew up in poverty and struggled for many years to establish himself creatively. His life didn’t come with an “easy mode” option.
Still, he’s not a nihilist; Miyazaki also believes that “light looks more beautiful in darkness” — that adversity and disparity enhance our appreciation of life. And thanks to personal experiences, I believe that too.
“May You Find Your Worth in the Waking World” – Souls Community Stories
2015 was a dark year for me. Like,”poor college grades, mounting health issues and a net worth of $75” dark. I felt genuinely depressed, and good therapy wasn’t exactly within my budget. So, I self-medicated with my PlayStation 4 and eventually saw an ad for Bloodborne (a spiritual successor to Dark Souls). I cobbled together enough money to buy a copy, booted the game up…and got demolished within seconds.
Bloodborne was remorseless; it didn’t care about my struggles or my depression. It kicked my butt over and over again — until I started kicking back. I studied each foe, learned from my mistakes, switched my mindset from “I can’t” to “I can” and beat Bloodborne within a couple of weeks. My perspective on life had changed; my real-world issues weren’t going anywhere, but I was now determined to face them — just as I had faced this tremendously difficult game.
I’m far from the only person with a story like that. The Souls community is brimming with people who encountered Miyazaki’s projects at low points in their lives. Respected YouTubers like ItsPara and Writing on Games have thanked the Souls series for helping them cope with negative thoughts, as have countless Redditors and bloggers.
For many Souls fans, Miyazaki’s works are therapeutic. We aren’t trying to “gatekeep” or bully new players by insisting that these games stay difficult — we’re encouraging them to try, fail, succeed and come out of the experience with a new perspective.
“Prepare to Try” – A New Perspective On Adversity
William Ellery Channing, a 19th-century Abolitionist and Unitarian preacher, is known for this quote: “Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.”I think that quote accurately sums up every project that Miyazaki has directed, as well as George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. It also sums up my diatribe quite nicely.
Sure, making Elden Ring easier would be an insult to Miyazaki’s artistic vision as well as the mind’s ability to learn and adapt. But it would also be an insult to you. You — who life has pulled no punches for. Who has struggled, and lost, and grown over countless years. Who has no doubt found “light in the darkness” throughout your life, and who can be a light for others.
You, who can overcome any obstacle — if you’re prepared to try.