The Last of Us Shows Why Easy Modes Are Important

Accessibility is always a good thing.
Accessibility is always a good thing. Screencap for The Last of Us Part 1
If you’ve been on the internet over the last week, it’s impossible to miss the buzz around HBO’s The Last of Us. The adaptation of the hit survival horror game is wowing fans and critics, particularly with the episode “Long, Long Time.” It’s also a perfect example of why games should have easy modes and accessibility options.

At least three friends of mine who know what a fan I am of the game have reached out to me because of the show. They’re people who aren’t hardcore gamers, but who were so moved by the series they wanted to explore the source material. They aren’t alone. Sales of the game launched it back into the Top 20 since the show debuted. Many people are dipping their toes into a very seminal gaming experience for the first time.

The Last of Us is an intense game. The combat can be overwhelming, and failure is punished with brutal cutscenes of gruesome deaths. For someone who isn’t intimately familiar with the overall evolution of game design over the last two decades, it can be intimidating.

With the re-release of The Last of Us as Part 1 last year, developer Naughty Dog fully embraced accessibility for their most famous title. It comes with six different difficulties, which unlike some games, you can switch at any time to help you out. There are numerous settings to help people with disabilities in sight, hearing, and hand strength. Whatever might have been keeping you from enjoying the game, there is an option that can help you bypass it.

At every turn, the game wants you to play it. The scares and emotional rollercoasters are still there. There is no setting that will completely remove the horror of the clickers or scramble to save a character, but there’s also no gatekeeping. The Last of Us is both apex gaming experience and introductory-level title.

There are certain types of gamers who vehemently hate this. They revel in games like Elden Ring that are famous for their difficulty and sneer at the idea of a gaming experience being watered down for anyone. In this mindset, gaming should be a rigid hierarchy where the top players are lauded for their skill and everyone else just suffers, unable to win. It’s a ridiculous, vaguely fascist way to think.

I remember when my wife got into gaming. I bought her a Nintendo DS because she gets anxious on planes and was taking a bunch of business trips. At the time, her catalogue of games was limited to stuff like Cake Mania, LEGO games, or remakes of old turn-based RPGs. Anything more involved was beyond her, and she settled in as a causal.

However, that changed a few years ago. After spending years saying games with movable cameras made her dizzy, she mastered the mechanic while playing Okami. She went from turn-based to action RPGs, and just completed Trials of Mana. There’s a definite and noticeable skill increase that is slowly opening up whole new worlds of games for her. It’s kind of amazing to watch.

It’s also the sort of thing that would never happen if the Git Gud crowd had its way. In their world, you either struggle or you piss off. Thankfully, The Last of Us is leaves that nonsense in the dust where it belongs. The show is damn near perfect, and people who have never tried the game before are now taking a shot at it. The game design itself says, “Even if you’ve never played a game before, we’ll help you along! We got hints, auto-aim, weak enemies, whatever you need! And later, if you want it harder, we have that, too”

That’s a nice future for the medium, a welcoming place where those who want a challenge can have it and those who just want to belong can have a good time. Thank the gaming gods that The Last of Us TV show is funneling new gamers into such an egalitarian title. It can only make gaming a better place.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner