Author: Will Westwater
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
President John F. Kennedy knew that it is often our challenges that yield the greatest reward. Easy feats do not make for triumphant victories—but difficult feats, while painstaking, are worth the fight.
Gamers who play on hard mode know this all too well.
Last week I spent 40 minutes on one section of “The Last of Us,” a spot that took me only one or two tries when I first played through the game. I wasn’t rusty; I was playing on Grounded, the hardest setting of “The Last of Us.”
Playing on Grounded is no small feat—enemies’ artificial intelligence is smarter, the player is given far fewer supplies throughout the game and neither the health nor the ammo count of the player character is shown onscreen.
Once-simple tasks and encounters turned into a dire fight for life. I tried again and again to sneak past enemies while making my way through a dark post-apocalyptic train station; but after one wrong move, all hell broke loose. Enemies immediately swarmed on my position and killed me.
At times I wanted to give up. I could have taken the easy way out, reloading the section on an easier difficulty. Instead, I kept going. I took a few breaths, wiped my sweaty palms on my pants, watched the same cutscene over again and used each death as a chance to learn a little more about what to do during my next attempt.
Logistical elements of playing at this difficulty (e.g. deaths, respawns and memorizing enemy locations) should have brought me out of the experience, but they didn’t. I was hooked; lost in the fiction of the game.
This was surprising, considering it was my second play through. I knew all the spoilers—what happens in the game, and what to expect from each section—yet I would barely make it out alive in many situations. The surprises were few, but the tension remained high.
In other words, the enjoyment shifted from depending on elements like storyline and character development—even in a game that executes those as spectacularly as “The Last of Us”—to the sheer adrenaline of pushing through to the end.
Playing the “God of War” series on God mode, painstakingly fighting through “Dark Souls” or trying Grounded mode on “The Last of Us” are all steep challenges, but they are worth the effort. Taking time to play or replay on a difficult setting only makes it easier to immerse yourself in the fiction of your favorite games.
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