Sparked by an article on PC Gamer about how the author cheated to defeat Sekiro’s final boss (and after all this talk about accessibility and difficulty in games), one tweet managed to become a meme overnight as a Twitter user quote tweeted the article and talked about how the author cheated himself, and how is victory was hollow and meaningless. But was it really? Did the PC Gamer Sekiro article author, who slowed his game down using a mod, indeed achieve a hollow victory in the end, thus rendering his entire experience with Sekiro a dull and emotionless void? Or are cheats and exploits just clever ways around a problem?
Here’s the thing about gamers: They will always take the path of least resistance. Look at Trophy hunters. They are searching for farming methods and the easiest, quickest ways to earn Trophies. Trophy guides often include a roadmap, which is a general guide on how to play the game to achieve the Platinum is as short a time as possible. Cheeses, exploits, farming methods. These things are all a part of the gaming experience. Challenge is too, but taking the path of least resistance will always show itself.
Look, for example, at Riven, the final boss fight of Destiny 2: Forsaken’s Last Wish Raid. There’s a legit way to do that fight. It’s tough and requires a lot of coordination, communication, and memory among six people. Or, there’s the easy way, where you maximize damage output and shoot a whole bunch of rockets into the wish dragon’s mouth, burning her down until she’s dead. I’m proud to say that we did the fight legit for our first clear, but in every Raid we’ve run since then? Path of least resistance. In a game like Destiny that’s all about farming the endgame, why do the fight legit when we can save time and get a sure clear using the rocket cheese? In fact, that’s what much of Destiny is about and part of the fun of it. Finding the easiest way to accomplish something is actually a part of the experience. Taking something tough and making it trivial, through whatever means available, is empowering.
But What About Video Game Cheats?
All right, so that’s an in-game exploit, which some may argue is fair game. It’s built into the experience, so it’s arguably part of it right? Even if you’re skipping a couple entire mechanics of the Riven fight, the rocket cheese is still technically a “legitimate” way to finish the fight. You aren’t hacking or modding the game. You’re simply maximizing the systems available in order to quickly bring the encounter to a close. So what about PC Gamer Sekiro guy? He used mods to complete the game in a way unintended by the developers (and not possible for us console owners). Does that make him any less of a “gamer,” whatever that descriptor actually means? Did it sully his accomplishment?
Or maybe, just maybe, that’s what was right for the experience for him. Read the article. He still had many “wow” moments throughout. He still had a bunch of tough fights. He still enjoyed his experience with the game. He just wrapped up a final boss fight that he felt was a little unfair by slowing the game down a bit. The other options? He wastes his time, continuing to bash his head against a battle that is admittedly long, slogging through early portions just to die while “practicing” that latter elements of the fight. Or—and this one is all too common—he drops the game and never actually finishes it.
Don’t believe me? Go take a look at Trophy percentages on the PSN. Here are a few to get you started. Only one of Sekiro’s ending has more than a 10% completion rate. About 25% of players have completed Red Dead Redemption 2’s epilogue. And the incredible God of War is sitting at just over 54% of people who have finished the game. In fact, most games top out at around 50% completion rate for just completing the story, let alone diving into everything else it might have to offer. When difficulty becomes a factor, time also becomes a factor, and the player has to analyze what’s worth their time and energy. Too many times, that means simply stepping away from something and never returning.
Time is a previous and valuable commodity, and as I get older, I come to appreciate the time I have more and more, though I suppose there’s always been a part of me with a sense for wanting to maximize the clock. As a Trophy hunter, I’d always seek the path of least resistance. If I didn’t have to play on a harder difficulty, I wouldn’t. I typically won’t go all the way to easy mode, but I won’t undertake the hardest challenges either. I do that to tailor my own personal experience with the game, which is what each and every player should do.
Making the Experience Your Own
For the PC Gamer author, slowing the game down started out as a way to practice the boss fight mechanics, but in the end he felt the the experience was complete whether he beat it “legit” or not. I feel a sense of pride that I’ve finished Destiny 2’s Riven the “right” way once, but mine and my Raid team’s time is too valuable to us to risk failure and lengthier play session doing it without the exploit every single time. The sense of pride at my own completion doesn’t diminish those players who don’t even know how to do all of the Riven fight mechanics. My wife loves to play games on easy mode to experience the story and low stress gameplay of popular games. That’s her experience and how she prefers to engage with a game.
My own desire for the experience has changed over the years. At one point, I was a hardcore completionist to a fault. I would finish absolutely everything. I would slog through games that I didn’t end up liking just to finish it and get the Platinum. Lately, I’m a bit more selective with my time. I’ll still (try) to complete and even Platinum games that I like, but I have no problem dropping games that I’m not enjoying. There’s no pride to be had sticking with something that isn’t making me happy. That’s truly the empty and hollow victory.
As long as the experience isn’t directly impacting the experience of another player (ie. exploiting or cheating in multiplayer), it’s totally fair game to engage with an experience in a way that makes you the most happy and fulfilled. We’re all different people. We all have different things going on. And while we all may come together to experience a game like Sekiro when it’s new, we may choose to approach it in different ways that is appropriate to our specific situation. How another person chooses to play something doesn’t take away from you.
I and many like me will always trend towards the path of least resistance in games. We’ll find ways to farm, exploit, and cheat the experience, taking the fastest paths and the ones that give us the kind of experience that we want to have. If that experience includes overcoming a significant challenge, good for you. If you were one of the ones that managed to conquer Sekiro’s final boss without slowing the game down, that’s awesome. And it all comes full circle. When I started writing for PSLS nearly seven years ago, I wrote an article about how we’re all just high-score junkies, chasing the high of accomplishment and challenge and in doing things “better” than the other guy. I get it. You feel threatened when somebody says that they beat Sekiro but they didn’t do it the “right” way. Get over it.
What I’ve learned in my three decades of gaming is that developers may have a specific vision for a game, but players will always adapt that vision to themselves. This is nowhere more true than in live service games, living worlds that are constantly updating and changing, a dance between player and developer as the developer’s vision harmonizes with how the players are engaging with the experience. But even with a single-player game like Sekiro, as much as overcoming challenge is a core tenet, everyone’s personal experience with overcoming that challenge is going to be different.
And no one person’s experience is any more right or wrong than another’s, unless you’re letting someone else’s experience define yours. At that point, you’re just diminishing your own experience.
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